Airiel
The Battle of Sealand
2007
B



happily, the Principality of Sealand hasn't actually seen any battles—other than a legal one to assert its independence. To launch an attack you'd presumably need a fleet, or some kind of aquatic invasion force with climbing equipment to scale the platform. It would be a logistical nightmare, basically. Much easier to just use sabotage, or buy your way into the Royal Family and plot a devastating coup.

So who knows what Airiel are playing at. You can't go around trying to conquer sovereign states with sound alone, even if the nation in question is a disused, floating oil rig. No doubt it'd be possible to hook up some massive, inflatable speakers and blast out music 24/7 until the occupants surrendered; but for that to work effectively, the record would need to be hugely irritating. Which it isn't. Frankly, the group should just curb these expansionist delusions and concentrate on what they're best at—fashioning aggressively layered guitar antics in the style of early Ride, Chapterhouse, et al.

Hang on, “aggressively”? Isn't this the same Airiel who released a series of predominantly floaty EPs under the distinctly fluffy banner of Winks & Kisses? Why yes, it is! But in a similar style to Catherine Wheel's progression from Ferment to the harder-edged Chrome, the band have decided to amplify the noisier aspects of their previous work. On the down side, this means The Battle of Sealand features nothing as eerily beautiful as "Firefly" from Melted. Instead, we're treated to the bare ferocity of the perplexingly-named "Mermaid in a Manhole," whipping up the froth with a flurry of churning guitars. Going one better (and handily living up to its name), "The Big Mash-Up" builds and chugs to a roaring swell, worthy of any oceanic squall.

The past is not entirely abandoned, however. Despite the sidestep away from unashamedly luscious soundscapes, there are still plenty of moments which breeze past in more of a whirling haze than a localized tsunami. A one-off collaboration with Ulrich Schnauss on "Sugar Crystals" brings predictably dreamy results—yet even this possesses an incessant, pulsing beat, hammering away beneath the sweet-toothed exterior. The impressive "Peoria" also touches upon the soaring grace of yesteryear; but the shift in priorities is cemented during the final bars of the record, where the closest link to the Airiel of old is hidden away as a thoroughly harmonious unnamed track.

Although the move towards rockier aural climes may alienate a few, such malcontents would have to selectively ignore the fact that plenty of blissed-out vibes remain firmly (well, woozily) in place. For those who favored being smothered by fuzzed-up blankets to begin with, there's no shortage of envelopment on offer. Indeed, the only realistic complaint would be a slight lack of sonic variation. With the majority of songs going for all-out attack from the outset it can take several listens for distinctive patterns to emerge from the blend. Yet emerge they do—offering a fulfilling reward for listener loyalty. None of this may be enough to topple an independent nation (even one less than 6,000 square feet in size), but The Battle of Sealand contains both power enough to make waves, and beauty to becalm the storm.



Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2007-08-27
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