Ward XVI - The Art of Manipulation
Artful, twisted horror metal for the criminally insane
Words: Phil Weller
Ward XVI, the asylum for the criminally insane, provides the setting for the Preston band, who take their name from the fictional hellhole this demented and dramatic concept album centres around, to strike upon what is by far their most prolific and accomplished collection of songs to date.
After winning their M2TM competition and being duly rewarded with a slot on the New Blood stage at Bloodstock 2017, bringing their sordid theatrical stage show along for the ride, they managed to pack out the tent at just 10:30am. Through smart flyering and promises of free merch for the earliest arrivals, the band showed an ingenuity that, on The Art of Manipulation, bleeds into their music too.
The record’s story tells of the ward's longest-standing resident Psychoberrie, listed as the UK'S most dangerous criminal. Throughout the album she delves into her past life and tattles about how she manipulated a man, who became convinced they were lovers, into becoming her personal killing machine. Plot twists and surging melodies, that come across like a metallic Alice Cooper on a bad day, ice an album which makes a real artistic statement. The title track is one of many songs which ebbs and flows with eerie dynamic lows and thumping crescendos where Psychoberrie’s dark, domineering lyrics in the chorus are a thrilling highlight.
Short dialogue tracks weave the story together, their song arrangement echoing the theatre of those tracks. Blackened Heart masterfully conveys the uncertainty that haunts the record's protagonist at that point of the story through frantic music and unhinged lyrics, its middle section breakdown grabbing you by the balls at the perfect time. Crystal Ball ups the ante, jigging to a bewitched accordion, Psychoberrie is a charismatic and attention sucking character-cum-vocalist and she delivers another polished and infectious chorus here, whilst her voice soars on the vulnerable but musically rich and detailed Hold Me. It’s a song which progresses from clean, mournful guitars to something darker and nastier later on. To boot, guitarist Dr. David Stott’s shred capabilties – shredabilities – shine through in the song’s winding outro with his playing musically engaging and impressive all the same, his balance and approach the sign of a clever and able guitarist who knows when to put his foot on the gas and when to simply serve the song.
Since that early Bloodstock set, where they defied the odds and packed out a tent with hungover but entertained metalheads, the band have gone from strength to strength. They are a band looking at the bigger picture, from their intelligent and diligent songwriting to their lavish, cinematic stage show they have created something that is making the scene sit up and take note. The Art of Manipulation, as things now stand, now lies as their magnum opus, but you just know the future has brighter things in store for them too and they’ll work their socks off to make sure it happens.