Matthew Wagner - vocals and drums
Todd Lefever - guitars and vocals
Rowan MacPhail - guitars and vocals
Karen Wagner - bass and vocals
Harmony - keyboards and vocals
1 - Conformity (1:27)
2 - 2 Months In (7:57)
3 - Standing (3:48)
4 - Natio (5:09)
5 - Obitus (4:34)
6 - Darkest Eyes (3:51)
7 - Passion (5:18)
8 - Stop Programming (1:09)
9 - Love Despair (11:28)
10 - Time Out (3:35)
11 - Subliminal (9:01)
12 - Entropy And Chaos (10:42)
Produced and engineered by: Matthew Wagner
Mixed by: Joe Barresi
Oh, it´s complicated. In fact, everything about this band is complicated. But have no fear - we´ll break it down for you.
Let´s start with the fact that Alpha Galates, up until recently were called The Hollow. Originally from Medicine Hat, Alberta, the band has been based in Toronto for six years and have been a committed touring act for much of that time. Their first two albums are already collector´s items, with the search for remaining copies to intensify once A Stimulus For Reason - to be released on October 9, 2007 - and a vaulted masterpiece of intense thinking man´s music - makes its impact felt on the wider rock world.
Ok, stay with us, A Stimulus For Reason is the compressed and compact summary of a massive three-part conceptual journey. The Hollow´s first album was christened Natio (meaning birth). Their second was called Vita (meaning life). An EP called Ab Ghenna was made available on line and for download at shows - it´s this release that garnered the band the most press attention thus far. The third album? That was to be called Obitus and revolve around death. However, A Stimulus For Reason has conveniently taken its place, providing a complex, interweaving and sampling of the themes of all three previous records, set spinning within this one album´s strident, epic tracks of almost inhuman performances.
Chief Alpha male of the band, singer, drummer, and producer, Matthew Wagner figures all the conceptual madness called for a new beginning, hence... Alpha Galates?
"First Gauls is the literal translation," explains Wagner. "It all ties into the Priory of Zion stuff, and apparently it´s real. I saw it in a book called Rule By Secrecy and I just liked the name. There was some resistance group in World War II in France that was helping free Jews from Paris. I mean, there´s not really any evidence that any of this stuff exists outside of Dan Brown books and a few documents, but it´s all quite interesting."
Further on the motivation for the name change, Wagner explains that "originally there were three focused themes on the trilogy, and then when we moved some of the songs, we had to move on from the whole thing. It´s not a concept record, but it definitely has an underlying theme. We also added Harmony on keyboards and piano, which was a direction I always wanted to have. And, it just sort of fit with this opportunity to make another record. We added another guitar player, Rowan. So I thought, change the name so we can do whatever we want. It´s a lot more classically based now; not just based on heavy guitar. We have arpeggios and piano!"
"It was kind of a rebirth," adds bassist Karen. "Matthew had this trilogy that he had to get out of him, and we accomplished it and it was amazing, but we kind of felt we were ready to move on - and the sound was evolving anyway."
With respect to the title of the album itself, Karen points toward "provoking thought, getting people to question things, not just taking everything at face value, not following the herd. A Stimulus For Reason sounded good and fit those ideas."
Adds Matthew; "A lot of it is about awakening from your haze, the haze of life. People get trapped. I found myself, even five years ago, when I was writing a lot of these songs, I would just wake up and want to change something about where I was at. So, A Stimulus For Reason relates back to life, my attitude, this idea of totally changing my perception of life."
Make no mistake, the sum total of the band´s quasi-debut album is quite heavy and crushing and note-dense beyond belief. All of that barely begins to describe the wide-angled hard rock complexity - as well as the surging, roiling intensity - one experiences as some of these Herculean tracks build toward fraught fruition. An immediate influence that comes to mind is Tool, but then it´s not hard to start feeling the progressive death metal of Opeth deep within the record´s dark, lush landscapes, as well as a certain Roger Waters solo vibe, perhaps Porcupine Tree, even, on occasion the blistering riffing of Megadeth.
Yet, ask Matthew about what his dream tour would be, and he laughs; "I would like to open for Yes. But I would like to open for Yes on the ´Close To The Edge´ tour!"
"You put Close To The Edge on, and it´s like 20 minutes, but never seems that long! I´ve always loved the part where it hits that pipe organ sound - that was actually the inspiration for our song, ´2 Months In.´ We have tracks that are nine minutes long, but I don´t like song parts that dwell too long and get boring. Everything is kind of organized into four or five minutes packages."
"The band doesn´t consciously set out, or intend to write nine minute songs," says Karen in agreement. "It just flows from one point to another. It´s a story; it doesn´t have to necessarily fit in three and a half minutes - it might take a bit longer, but in our eyes, it´s amazing! It´s about feel and mood. We tend to write almost classically, in movements."
And just as Yes impresses with vocals heaven-sent, Alpha Galates make voices - armies of voices - a central theme. Hard to believe amongst all the jaw-dropping mathematical playing shooting like fireworks out of all corners of this band, but, there, in torrents are thespian, passionate vocals, polishing each sound sculpture like burnished gold. "We´re doing 5.1 mixes right now," comments Matthew, "and I was loading up the song ´Passion,´ and there are like 140 vocal tracks, just vocal tracks, and you can down-mix them and bounce them, but still, that´s a lot of vocals!"
With respect to key vocal inspirations, Matthew cites The Beach Boys and their seminal Pet Sounds record as an influence, as well as George Martin and The Beatles. But he is also quick to name-check modern era King Crimson, Queen, Tool, Black Sabbath, Meshuggah, and Devin Townsend´s Strapping Young Lad as well.
As that vocal list as much as everything else might illustrate, it´s still quite complicated. Take the song "Obitus." Matthew and Karen smile at each other knowingly when asked about this one. Forget progressive metal; this is progressive psychedelia, "Obitus" moving toward and inside a parallel universe of song structure previously unimagined, let alone ever explored.
"It´s upwards of 300 tracks that we recorded," sighs Matthew. "It was originally a medley of every single part from every song, in the entire trilogy, and then we put them together. We ended up rewriting it a little bit, but it was originally just a track that summed up the entire trilogy. Complete with shifting time signatures and shifting keys to make it all fit." Adds Karen, "You hear parts from every single song, playing together, working together..."
And aside from the dizzying array of parts, songs like "Obitus," Natio," and most notably the sprawling and immense "Love Despair" are loaded up with texture, many sounds being unidentifiable as anything you´ve heard on other records.
"And a lot of that comes from the keyboards," points out Matthew. "Harmony´s really into constructing these sounds from the ground up. She starts with a sine wave or whatever, so a lot of that is her. And a lot of it originates with vocals too, and then adding effects to them. And getting the bass to sound like a guitar, recording techniques too, lots of mics, different amps..."
"Everybody is pretty immersed in music," adds Matthew. "Especially Todd. He´s the in-house music guy; very educated, with a music degree. Everyone is versed music theory. We´ve all been taking music lessons from young ages."
Such a frenzied, obsessive work ethic can be experienced at nearly every point on this record´s arced trajectory. But if you wanted to get linear, to find something to use as a sanctuary of sorts, you could start with "2 Months In," the first track proper on the album, an explosive modern metal masterwork that dramatically stomps into view after an elegiac, almost spiritual intro sequence.
"I was working on that song," begins Matthew, "and one morning I woke up after a dream, and I had heard the whole song in the dream, the chorus and everything. I was singing the chorus, and I woke up, and I wrote down the lyrics. And it was the first time that had ever happened. And then I basically spent two months trying to figure out what the hell that dream was about. It was like, two months into working on it, before I finally had it sorted out."
Elsewhere "The Darkest Eyes" stands out as the simplest, most innocent song on the record, the only one not kaleidoscopically fractured of light and heat. What seems like a lifetime of musical sky-straddling later, Alpha Galates approach, late in the sequence of exotic events, the apocalyptic with "Entropy And Chaos," a strange mix of slide rule prog, early ´80s Crimsonian angst, and modern emo. Still, Matthew can laugh and distill its 11:00 minute whirlwind of sonics down to a quip and a chuckle, indicating with a point of a finger across the table to Karen, "That´s about her."
The only obvious question - obvious to any musician who dares to try dissect what is going on all over this record - becomes: how in the world do you pull this all off live? It´s quite doable," says Karen, allaying all fears of Alpha Galates proving unable to pull off this magnum opus of music live. "Maybe to somebody outside, and not so immersed in it, I can see it being kind of complicated. But I guess when it´s your project and your thing and you are so involved in it, the songs are what they are, and you don´t ever mix anything up. Each song sounds like a series of movements. From beginning to end, it flows. It just becomes kind of ingrained in you."
And maybe that´s the lesson to be learned here. That, in the end, it doesn´t have to be as daunting or quite as complex as it initially has been made it out to be. Suffice to say, that after only a handful of listens to this substantial, action-packed album, melodies begin falling out of it like cherries from the tree, and hooks embed themselves in one´s consciousness effortlessly and at will. With some ardent dedication on behalf of the listener, A Stimulus For Reason opens up and becomes an enormous challenge fully realized and achieved, and, on the part of the spectator, progressively understood and finally, actually...hummable.