Cosmic prog-funk-metal band Chrome Hoof has, for more than 10 years, been one of the most intriguing, perplexing beasts in the leftfield of British rock. We mean beasts quite literally: In early gigs, they would often bring a giant mechanical goat onstage, clad in shiny robes that matched their similarly outré garb. Yet while their live shows are the stuff of legend, Chrome Hoof’s albums to date arguably never quite captured this elemental space dust. Until now: Chrome Black Gold, the fourth from the multitudinous, London-based, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink troupe, is one of the most preposterous, bold and enjoyable records of 2013.
Like any good prog record, there’s a narrative at play, framed by the heavy asymmetric metal of overture “Enter the Drobe” and album closer, “Drobe Out.” “Knopheria” sets the action on a strange planet, the music a Jeff Wayne-meets-Georgio Moroder explosion of mutant disco. Baroque fusion tracks like “Dysnomia” and “Exo-Spektral” take you further into deep space via futuristic space-jazz and lyrics about intergalactic travel, while also showcasing one of the most intriguing characteristics of Chrome Hoof: They offer a defiantly un-macho take on prog, traditionally the hoariest of rock sub-genres.
“Tortured Craft,” for example, is a distant descendent of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” but that monstrous riff is rendered sprightly, via a glockenspiel. The band’s heavier instincts are in no doubt: Songwriter Leo Smee was formerly in doom-metal band Cathedral, and the album boasts some hyperdriven, shredded riffs straight from Slayer. But there’s also glamour and sonic glitter in their racket, aided by the gospel belting of singer Chantal Brown, and the presence, on four tracks, of Shingai Shoniwa, vocalist with the Noisettes, who turns in an impressive, predatory performance.
Whether or not the world needs another conceptually dense album about space exploration, this is a thrilling voyage into the outer reaches of progressive pop: flamboyant, far-out and, above all, fun.