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Gog Magog – The Trials Of Cato.

Dec 8, 2022

Kerpow! They’re back with a recording and if you want headlines only, it’s even better than their first – which was quite a cool object in its own right and won a Folk Award for Album Of The Year. Now you know so you can confidently get weaving and obtain a copy. For the rest I’ll elaborate a bit further.

Since The Trials Of Cato emerged and hit the folk scene with all the force of a ballistic missile lots has happened. That initial burst of workaholic proportions established their idiosyncratic approach and sound as a must see/hear before the world turned upside down. Then the pandemic shut with a steel door and a new reality set in. Will Addison exited reducing the band to a duo who had to find somebody equally as eclectic and broad minded as them. Enter former Magpie Polly Bolton, sublime of vocal and pretty damned hot on banjo and mandolin. Cato were back to three and had a new mind set to boot. ‘Gog Magog,’ displays this splendidly.

The title track is a slow build instrumental which has some Eastern twists and turns banjos to the fore, an electric bass provides the anchor when things warm up nicely. ‘Balls To The Wall,’ is chunky and similarly has winding Arabic patterns and shifts buoyed on keyboards  it speeds and slows at will with some passages that’d tire a whirling dervish. ‘Dawns’ is a more reflective piece which you can imagine being composed to reflect the changing hues that sunrise brings. The introduction of more electric guitars, rhythms and even samples is subtle, never out of keeping but does give Cato an increasingly contemporary  edge. Take ‘Boys Of Bedlam,’ the first sign of this new thinking which emerged over a year ago, based on the old Steeleye arrangement of the song it’s a creepy, spectral number which even samples Span’s version – spot it if you can – as the rhythms use drop beats, pauses, haunted vocal techniques and lots more to conjure pictures of increasing lunacy.

Given that they never claimed to be a straight folk band ‘Gog Magog’ shows how they’re cleverly altering traditional sources to create new intriguing compositions. ‘Ring Of Roses’ has at its core the old playground rhyme about the Black Death yet the lyrics hint at Covid without actually mentioning it, the track is actually a timely choice for their second single and has a chilling coda in the lyric “They all fall down….” By contrast the track in Welsh ‘Aberdaron,’ has a real Celtic swing with a singalong melody, even if you can’t speak Welsh, it’s the closest they get to the trad form anywhere on the album, as a celebration of place it takes some beating, no doubt it’ll go down a storm in the clubs and at festivals. ‘When The Black Shuck Roams’ is another song based in legend, this time a ghost story but there is sympathy here in the lyrics which have the spirit wandering lonely, looking for a long lost companion forever denied her. In some ways that turns the terrible in on itself. The real gem though is ‘As Green as You Are,’ which at times seems like Pink Floyd have invaded the song, there is an absolutely corking piece of electric guitar work from Tomos Williams which lifts proceedings to a whole new level, the melody swells and rises making the track seem as big as a mountain after a wandering line on keyboard and banjo which fill round an echo ridden vocal. An excellent album closes on a belting track which hopefully indicates the road The Trials Of Cato will follow.

Remarkable…. not a lot more to say. So I repeat what I said earlier, get weaving and obtain a copy. Yes, that means now and it is compulsory!

Simon Jones.

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