Tattoo Vampire

Happy to hear this new album by Bram Stoker, No Reflection (BRAMCD18001), which arrived as a complete surprise following a message from the original band member Tony Bronsdon. It’s a very accomplished set of very melodic prog-rock styled songs. I have a soft spot for Bram Stoker, though I appear to be in a minority to some extent…due to my unashamed love for Hammond organ and early 1970s prog, their 1972 LP Heavy Rock Spectacular appeals to me massively. When I finally got hold of a vinyl copy, I was personally delighted, but my record-collecting friend soon put me in my place. Both he and his old compadre who ran a record shop in Clapham (and now runs a nice line in high-end vinyl rarities) not only despised the record, but also shot withering glances of contempt at any customer who displayed the lack of taste in buying it. This snobbish attitude might have something to do with the cover art of Heavy Rock Spectacular, which makes use of colour negative printing in a manner that clearly belonged to 1969 or earlier; indeed the image has been memorably described as “K-Tel Gothic” by one online reviewer.

Well, Bram Stoker reformed in 2004, and since then put out three albums beside this one, which I never heard, including Cold Reading, Bete Noire, and Rock Paranoia; it seems to be a propitious moment in the zeitgeist for these old proggers to have another shot at the carousel, for example see the renewed careers of Dr Strangely Strange, Comus, and Kaleidoscope (although the latter were more correctly a psychedelic band, they later became proggish through their Vertigo album as Fairfield Parlour). Bram Stoker continue the “gothic” vibe even more explicitly with these new records, all of which have fairly naff cover art, and No Reflection is no exception – all garish oranges, it looks like the poster to a really bad Dracula movie from the 1990s. However, there’s a more literary aspect to the Goth quest within, with songs such as ‘Spirit Of The light’, ‘Pictures Of Light And Shade’, and especially ‘Otranto’, a song which attempts to recount themes from the famed Horace Walpole novel The Castle Of Otranto from 1764 (generally regarded as the first example of this literary genre known as the gothic novel).

This one is sung by Jo Marks, a talented lady who has become the second lead vocalist for Bram Stoker, and whose lush soprano tones also shine on ‘Joan Of Arc’. Both these tracks couldn’t help but remind me of Kate Bush records – not just the singing voice, but the “quirky” melodies and the sparkling arrangements and production. Indeed the whole of No Reflection could easily have been released in 1984 without anyone batting a mascara’ed eye; it’s as though any recent developments in popular music and record production have passed the band by. However, that’s also the strength of the record; well-produced, well-crafted songs, and well-played instruments too – even if Bronsdon, the main man, seems to have forsaken his Hammond organ in favour of various digital keyboards now. This array of 88s is best heard on songs like ‘Gotta Get Outta Here’ (an awful title which really belongs on an LP by Foreigner or Rush), and although that sickly string-chorus keyboard sound is a bit of a commonplace, Bronsdon still retains a lot of the attack and verve which I savour so much on Heavy Rock Spectacular.

Current lineup also includes guitarist Neil Nog Richardson and drummer Warren Marks, although another original member John Bavin was around for the 2004 reformation. This reminds me that the original personnel of this Bournemouth band was either unknown or disputed by listeners in 1972, who assumed it was a more famous band doing a contractual obligation record under an alias. Can’t think why anyone would come to that conclusion. At all events, while this release isn’t really essential, I was surprised how listenable and enjoyable it is, never outstaying its welcome. From 30 April 2019.

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