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The Amazing Devil The Amazing Devil
Album: Love Run
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10

This disc arrived for review in the form of a CDR in plain cardboard sleeve but lovingly customised with tracklist handwritten in blue ink amidst suitably blotsome artwork. The music within exhibits a similar homemade charm, with a fiercely independent spirit, although its character is tough and unexpectedly visceral, uncompromising almost to a fault. This wilful, defiant stance extends to the band themselves, and although the "inky scratches" truthfully proclaim that the album was written, performed and produced by Joey Batey and Madeleine Hyland, the band's website names the protagonists somewhat more cryptically as Scarlet Scarlet and The Blue Furious Boy, with assistance from Catherine-Wheel, Hell Wish, The Widdershin and The Pesadelo. Their backgrounds are diverse and fascinating, with Madeleine's CV stretching from Dexy's Midnight Runners and Soho jazz clubs to the RSC, where she initially met actor-musician Joey while on tour in New York. So the theatrical influence clearly rubs off, both in the quirky nomenclature and in the nature of their live act, which by all accounts is literally stunning in the twin traditions of performance-art and folk-rock theatre. The Amazing Devil's instrumental complement, too, ain't exactly what you'd expect from a band that tags themselves as alt-folk: acoustic and electric guitars, piano, cello, flute and drums. The folk influence is arguably more in the kind of melodies they conjure than in the actual subject matter of the self-penned songs or in the actual sound of the band. A typical song will arise out of a hushed, even gentle acoustic beginning, then the groundswell will build its energy and come to more resemble thudding doom-indie-rock driven by power drumming. The magnificently dark King takes us from an ominously gothic thunder-rumbled intro up to the house at the top of the rock, then the beats come crashing in and the fairytale runs its horrific (and inexorable) course.

What's most surprising, in view of the intensely-realised nature of their musical vision on this debut album, is that the band's only been together since last year. But they've been rapidly gaining a cult following with their "raucously broken, heart-on-ripped sleeve live gigs". And after just one playthrough of this extraordinary disc, I must say I'm hooked too. There's more than meets the ear, indeed, in the complex sound-pictures created by The Amazing Devil, not least in the structure of their songs. And lyric-wise, they're not exactly typical of an average alt-folk outfit. The hellfire mythos of King aside, theirs are relationship songs, but couched less in poetry than in colloquialisms. Several songs are almost playful in tone - Pruning Shears (a kind of cross between Chumbawamba and Genesis) is a masterfully witty slice of reality-chatterbox ("We do each other's laundry in our hearts sometimes" - ha!) that features some clever interplay between the two singers' simultaneous vocal lines, and (in common with other lyrics) is selectively sprinkled with the f-word (albeit naturally rather than gratuitously). The writers have fun with punning references, even when the romance is more mournful and necessarily introspective (as on Two Minutes and Shower Day).

The closing segue of Not Yet and the disc's title song is probably the most indicative of the band's ambitious approach to song construction, while at the other end of the spectrum the stark two-part acappella of the forlorn windswept trench-ballad Elsa's Song comes as a complete surprise, a still-born epicentre of grief amidst the still-ongoing emotional dramas of the surrounding tracks. Pray and New York Torch Song are cathartic clashing chants set to a pounding tribal Banshees-tattoo. Little Miss Why So, a rather quieter acoustic ramble, is a desperate drama of interpersonal non-communication, a stream-of-consciousness that wishes it were a dialogue, typified by its mantra of a breaking-down relationship "I don't know how to reach you when you get like this, I've been waiting for you to come home ". The plaintive, cracked scratched-record sensitivity of Two Minutes also says much about a fractured relationship. Should you wish to examine the lyrics more closely - and they do bear scrutiny - then they're all available on The Amazing Devil's Bandcamp page.

Love Run is an extraordinary debut disc by any standards, a masterpiece of swirling, brooding, often epic drama that manages to connect powerfully with our psyche. Tremendously exciting, it grabs you and refuses to let go.

David Kidman