Preston group WARD XVI have been together since 2013, a diverse bunch with musical influences from all over the place, Alice Cooper, Lordi, The Skintz, Stolen Babies, Diablo Swing to name but a few and since the release of their debut EP in 2015 they have gained a swath of fans through playing many gigs in the North West.
Listing their highlights to date as playing the main stage at O2 Academy Leeds in the final of the Soundwaves music competition and winning Bloodstock Metal to the Masses, these guys have a lot to give and with this album they certainly do. Released in July 2017, The Art of Manipulation is a true concept album. It paints the story of Whittingham Asylum (now closed) and its longest standing resident, Psychoberrie who is described as the UK’s most dangerous criminal. The album gives an insight into her life before and during incarceration through story-telling narrative interludes, hard and gritty riffs, melancholic keyboards, catchy melodies; it is an album full of creativity.
The album begins with ‘Intro’, the doctor outlining the patient and her psychosis, using eerie, somewhat sinister tone in his speech towards Psychoberrie who replies about her sanity and the conditions at Ward XVI. This story of ‘Intro’ helps to build the atmosphere of the album before the music takes control with the beautifully haunting opening of ‘Take My Hand’ with its pop rock, melancholic feel before exploding into frantic feeling punk influenced rock.
The tempo drops to a sluggish depressed feeling with the opening of ‘The Art Of Manipulation’, but then those fuzzy riffs kick-ass as the pace picks up and it becomes an energetic rock track interspersed with lighter tempo changes. A complex well-arranged track with phantasmic style keys that echo in the background.
‘Interlude 1’ has Psychoberrie describing her life before the asylum, “Oh what fun we had”, allowing an insight into her mind and opening the door to the tracks to follow. ‘The Flight’ full of guitars and synths, rapid paced drumming, a funky bass line and a really catchy melody topped with aggressive and rapid fire vocals and a sinister sounding music box to add a touch of creepy to the track. ‘Crystal Ball’ has a fairground feel to the music and an enthralling lyric. You can almost feel the deranged thoughts of our heroine starting to take hold. ‘Hold Me’ is a stunningly beautiful song. A lightness to the piano opening of the song and wistful guitar riffs soaring around the vocal, “There’s evil in all of us, if you let it take hold, it’ll grab you by the throat and suffocate your soul”; the guitar really is the star of this one. Stunning!
‘Interlude 2’ is another short narrative from Psychoberrie cleverly breaking the story into manageable sections and paving the way for the next few tracks. ‘Blackened Heart’ has an aggressive and angry feeling throughout from the drums to the vocal, outlining the way that she is being broken down by the love affair that she is caught up in before the wailing of sirens opens ‘Run For Your Lives’ with a dramatic diversity to the tone of the song that suggests a return of her psychotic thoughts supported by aggressive backing vocals. ‘Adrenochromania’ with the slow heartbeat intro that turns into a faster heartbeat giving effect to the title of the adrenaline fuelled mania that Psychoberrie craves. The strings, keys, lithe and wistful vocals, theatrical and rather good. ‘Cry of the Siren’ is one of the strongest tracks, a delicious synth heavy sound but it also has more of a hard rock edge to the snarling riffs and vocal. ‘Toybox’ - Well this one makes you take note and listen – there aren’t too many Accordion heavy, rock tracks out there!
‘Interlude 3’ is another 30 second evolution of the story before the drama of ‘Inner Demon’ brings in the metal voice riding alongside the anger of the guitar riffs, “I try to keep myself on track, this evil keeps on coming back”, the ‘Inner Demon’ suggested here by the aggressive male vocals. The album closes in the same manner it began with ‘WARD XVI’, a melancholic track that has an air of despair which develops into a metal heavy, angry feeling complex mix of synths, guttural riffs and rapid-fire drumming before slowing back to the initial melancholic nature of Psychoberrie’s character.
It took me a few listens of the album to really appreciate it. This is a clever, very different album; it’s so unusual, musically brilliant with its psychotic mix of styles all rampaging together and all feeling rather unhinged but also rather awesome. Psychoberrie has a voice blessed with tone, emotion and drama. Clever arrangements and careful production have made the album a bit special. That notoriously difficult second album will be just that. I do however look forward to hearing what else they can come up with.
Take My Hand
The Art Of Manipulation
Run For Your Lives
Cry Of The Siren
WARD XVI are:
Psychoberrie – Vocals
Lex Whittingham – Guitar
Dr Von Stottenstien – Guitar
Jake – Drums
Beardy McStumble – Bass
Min – Keys/Accordian
Check out the band: