Two years ago, Saigon Kick singer/guitarist Jason Bieler made quite the impression with the debut LP from his latest project: Jason Bieler & The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra's Songs from the Apocalypse. Full of endearingly histrionic variety and ambition, it was among the most commendably daring and eclectic new projects in metal. Expectedly, Bieler and company have done it again with Postcards from the Asylum. In both name and style, it's a clear successor to that first collection, with the same sorts of gratifying musicianship, playfulness, and boldness permeating the experience. Thus, it's another unmissable entry in Bieler's continuously fascinating catalog.
As with its predecessor, Postcards from the Asylum features a host of guests, including drummer Marco Minneman (The Aristocrats, The Mute Gods, Steven Wilson) and Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard). In fact, almost every song—if not every song—has a unique bassist and/or drummer, which goes a long way toward ensuring that each composition is sufficiently unique. Even the press release notes: "The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra's music has been described as Nordic Ambient Post-Classical Satanic Love Songs for Nomadic Peoples Living Above the Arctic Circle catering specifically for those who staff Musk Oxen Rescues and wear hemp based sweaters."
Um, yeah, that's about right.
Naturally, much of the LP harkens back to Bieler's hard rock/heavy metal origins. For instance, "Sic Riff" oozes sludgy guitarwork, manic percussion, ruggedly multilayered vocals, and myriad eccentric effects and change-ups. As such, it embodies Bieler's knack for quirkily sophisticated and imaginative compositions in the vein of Haken, Steve Vai, and Devin Townsend.
Elsewhere, opener "Bombay" is delightfully hectic yet melodic, with irresistibly catchy hooks and harmonies amidst its theatrical production and zany twists and turns. Of course, some other tunes—"Numb," "Heathens," "Beneath the Waves," and "Feels Just Like Love"—chart a comparably straightforward and familiar late ‘80s and early ‘90s arena rock path; however, even they incorporate enough peculiarities (horns, interlocking vocals, etc.) to capture Bieler’s spirited creativity.
The wholly madcap prog metal odyssey "Flying Monkeys" deserves its own tip of the hat, as it's easily the most wonderfully intricate and strange piece here. With its colorful timbres, playful lyrics, and off-kilter rhythms, it might as well be the newly discovered and rebranded musical love child of Guns N Roses and Mr. Bungle. While everything on Postcards from the Asylum is great in its own ways, it's tracks like this that best demonstrate what makes Jason Bieler & The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra so praiseworthy.
It's not all weird and frenzied, though, as the record houses several superbly warm odes as well. The Bon Jovi-esque arid reflections of "Mexico" and "Human Head" are clear highlights, with lovely acoustic strums, harmonies, and strings peppering its fundamental serenity. Afterward, "Birds of Prey" harnesses a similar vibe but with a whimsical soft rock aesthetic (oddly enough, its introductory piano chords evoke Kate Bush's lovely "All We Ever Look For," too). Then, "The Depths" is hypnotically ominous and sparsely nuanced, whereas "Sweet Eliza" and "9981 Dark"—which are admittedly the two least interesting inclusions songwriting-wise—nonetheless standout due to their vibrantly adventurous arrangements.
Just like Songs from the Apocalypse, Postcards from the Asylum is a brilliantly exploratory and urbane voyage as only Bieler and company could make. It's easily on par with its predecessor—if not slightly better—and it showcases Bieler's aptitude not only as a captivating composer and performer but also as an expert at selectively utilizing the characteristic talents of his guests. Best of all, Postcards from the Asylum reveals new layers with each listen, so it's almost endlessly rewarding and engaging.
It may have only two releases under its belt, but Jason Bieler & The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra has already solidified itself as a reliably special treasure.