September 29, 2019

It’s been four years now since Cambridge-based band 4th Labyrinth released their debut album Quattro Stagioni, and the release of this long-awaited follow-up is very much what it says on the tin, or in this case, in the title. This is Better. Even main man Marcel Kunkel – a larger than life personality who has become a Cambridge native via his native Germany – admitted that the first album didn’t quite represent the band’s identity – as best experienced in their exuberant live shows – as well as it could have, and I’m happy to say the balance has been fully redressed here.

On stage, 4th Labyrinth can be all things to all men, and indeed I have witnessed them playing two shows at the same festival on consecutive days and appearing to be a totally different sort of band on  the two occasions – deliberately, I may add. They might stretch out with some progressive material, hit you hard with some crunchy classic rock or indeed simply raise the spirits with some upbeat, even danceable, material. This album covers all of those bases.

Following the short opener ‘Intro’, the first song proper is an absolute belter. Called ‘This Is Rock’n’ Roll’, the title may not lead you to anticipate much but this one is simply irresistible. A classic Deep Purple-influenced rocker, conjuring up the spirit of Messrs Lord and Blackmore, this is hazardous stuff to listen to while driving as your foot may pump up and down frantically of its own accord. The song ends, and you can’t help but think ‘Dammit, that WAS rock and roll!’

In some ways that is the standout track, but there is another on par with it in a very different way. Closing track ‘Make It Mine’ is a seven-minute prog rock opus which is well saved as the closer, since it would be difficult for anything to follow it. It’s as if the band are saying ‘There you go, we told you we could be epic’. That isn’t the only proggy outing on the album however, as the somewhat more subdued but beautiful piece ‘Your Symphony’ proves.

Elsewhere there are different stops o the musical map, with the somber, downbeat ‘Darkness Calling’, the sprightly pop-rock feel of the title track and the driving ‘This Feeling’ and some more classic riff-rock with ‘I’m A Hunter. Much of this material has already been road-tested by the band, and you can tell. They are tight and utterly comfortable with the music, and it sounds as if it is recorded to a large degree like an old-fashioned ‘band live in the studio’ album. It certainly doesn’t sound pieced together from a thousand overdubs, unless my old ears wholly deceive me.

Perhaps best of all, it’s a nice sharp old-school  vinyl length 40 minutes or so. I say that as a good thing because, while it is great to have over an hour of material if it is all quality stuff, how many times do you finish a marathon album like that and think ‘let’s give that another listen’? Because that’s what happens here. It’s what I did.

Well, I had to get the old leg pumping to ‘This Is Rock’n’Roll’ again. It’s as close as I get to a workout!

Get the album here: