The only word that appears on The Ballad of Baberaham, the latest from prog-leaning instru-metal crew Matter of Planets, is "yeah," which is shouted twice as a battle cry of sorts at the outset of "Baberaham Lincoln."
The only word that appears on The Ballad of Baberaham, the latest from prog-leaning instru-metal crew Matter of Planets, is “yeah,” which is shouted twice as a battle cry of sorts at the outset of “Baberaham Lincoln.”
But even absent dialogue the album still spins an elaborate tale, according to drummer Joel Chastain, chronicling the exploits of Baberaham, a warrior in the mold of Barbarella or Red Sonja, as she takes on the evil Count and his horde of insect-monsters with the aid of imagined characters like the Gigantortoise, a horse-sized land turtle.
“We’re ultra-ADD dudes … [and] we have really hardwired, creative brains, so we just kept writing and it was like, ‘This is cool. And this! And, wow, this is where this is going to happen in the story!’” said Chastain, 31, who joins his bandmates for an album release show at Ace of Cups on Saturday, Oct. 25, during a recent interview at a downtown coffee shop. “We just got really excited piecing everything together. It turned into a fun, big, loud puzzle.”
This is true of both the music — songs incorporate elements of prog, metal, ambient and, on “Water Wolves,” dub-reggae — and the narrative, which remained a centering element in spite of its admittedly out-there story arc.
“Without some kind of structure dictated by an idea, there was nothing to give the music direction,” Chastain said. “I’m big on storytelling and narrative because it’s how we pass down traditions and mythologies and everything else. It’s wonderful, and it’s important to me.”
Matter of Planets formed roughly five years ago, and, much as its galactic name suggests, has evolved greatly from this initial big bang, doing away with a vocalist two-and-a-half years ago in order to pursue life as an instrumental crew.
“We were just so heavy and loud and busy that it seemed like the logical progression,” said Chastain, who describes the band’s current sound as “sci-fi, post-prog metal.” “Our music is very kinetic, and any more a vocalist might have a hard time figuring out where to fit into everything.”
Nowadays, most of the band’s songs are born of extended jam sessions — an approach rooted in Chastain’s background as a jazz drummer. “It was like, ‘OK, you’ve got something cool? Let’s riff on it,’” he said.
One thing the drummer’s previous life couldn’t prepare him for, however, was the intensity this music required of him, and Chastain said his arms used to stiffen like “lead cables” when he bashed away during early sessions.
“Now it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go!” he said, balling both fists for effect. “The music is loud and it’s aggressive, but it’s still full of emotion and organic and alive.”
Photo by Meghan Ralston