Wot Gorilla? – Kebnekaise

Wot Gorilla?


Wot Gorilla? are a math rock four-piece from Halifax, England who strive to juggle heavy prog rock and pop melody amidst complex time structures and furiously tight musicianship. Kebnekaise, Wot Gorilla?’s debut full-length LP, finds the band excelling on the technical side of the equation while unfortunately coming up short in any worthwhile pathos.

First and foremost, Wot Gorilla? (Mat Haigh on lead vocals/guitar, Jonny Hey on bass, Ben Farnell on guitar, Si Marks on drums) are the math rock equivalent of British Special Forces with instruments in lieu of weapons. They are a heavily oiled machine that pulls off death-defying turns at full speed like an Aston Martin doused in lube.  The band’s brand of rock adorned in inventive compositions and sharp time signatures is achieved with a rubber gloved clinical precision.

That’s not to say Wot Gorilla’s songs ride off into the sunset bursts of five-minute perfection. The crux of the flaw inherent in the majority of math rock is the lack of personality and melody in the music. Though the band aims and claims to avoid this fate, Wot Gorilla? is no exception. Why do so many bands believe math rock, charisma, and pop sensibilities must be mutually exclusive? Why has no band ever attempted to be the math rock equivalent of the young, cool geometry teacher who coaches the basketball team and blasts Paul’s Botique during the final minutes of independent study while the class works through theorems? (In full disclosure, I had that very teacher for tenth grade geometry.)  Why must the majority of these bands be the equivalent of disarmingly intelligent mathematics undergrads skipping class to soak up Cursive/Thursday/At The Drive-In records, only to fall face-first at incorporating the vitality and passion at the heart of core of those bands’ catalogs when trying to craft their own songs? For every Happy Hollow, Full Collapse and Relationship of Command, there is an endless parade of lesser albums by bands trying to craft albums of equal impression but sadly lacking in crucial strands of DNA.

Kebnekaise should fully sate fans of the genre, but it will be an uphill climb for Wot Gorilla? to convert fans outside math rock’s constrictive walls. The album opens with “I beat up the bathroom. I’m sorry.,” an instrumental jam clocking in at 1:38 that shows a great deal of promise by leading in with a rootsy groove that ramps up the tempo before finishing with a crunching assault.  When Haigh’s vocals kick in on the second track, “Melted Welly,” the composition feels equally inventive, but the sound gets a little stale courtesy of the lyrics and vocals. When Haigh sings, “If I ever made you feel awkward, I’m sorry…I have no one to blame,” it’s impossible to shake the emo territory the band’s pulling you towards when the vocals play a prominent instrument. No matter how much you’ll wish not to admit it, you will have heard this exact vocal register in varying incarnations amongst countless emo bands over the past decade. Lyrics like “Don’t bother to open your mouth/Your eyes tell me what you think” (“is”) and “I’ll hold my breath/ And I won’t make a sound/ You won’t know I’m here”  (“655”) delivered in Haigh’s familiar whine won’t be much ammunition for fueling the belief that you’ve stumbled onto something legitimately groundbreaking.

It’s a shame the perpetual string of fresh and interesting fragments in the compositions of Kebnekaise can’t amount to songs that are slightly better than fleetingly memorable.  While the band plays the hell out of their respective gear, producer James Kenosha (Pulled Apart By Horses, Marmozets, Lone Wolf) tries a skilled hand at bridging the divide between impassioned virtuosity in the playing and a casual sense of melody, but the work never gels to the point of fully engaging songs.

The band has received a good deal of critical praise on the strength of two EPs (Wot Gorilla? and New Arrival), and it’s nearly impossible to fathom the idea of Wot Gorilla? not putting on an exemplary live show.  This full-length debut should garner additional acclaim for the Halifax four-piece, but the wealth of promise demonstrated throughout Kebnekaise sadly outweighs any veritable achievement in indelible songwriting.


Wot Gorilla? – “Snow White” (Official Video)

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