Following 2019 comeback album ‘Angel In The Flames’ former English Dogs and Prodigy guitar slinger Gizz Butt takes us back in time with a couple of curios from the Janus Stark archives that he has made available on CD, limited to 200 copies each, all hand-numbered. Both albums are actually a collection of demos, the first ‘Rewind To A’ is the full demo version of Janus Stark’s debut album ‘Great Adventure Cigar’ released back in 1997, and the second ‘Chez Wrong’, the lost follow-up album demoed in 2002.
Both albums come with 16-page booklets and extensive liner noted from Gizz explaining the history and background of each song and the circumstances surrounding the writing and recording of each.
If you are familiar with ‘Great Adventure Cigar’ then ‘Rewind To A’ is a good place to start and an interesting listen. These demos are the sound of a band finding their feet and finding their sound. Following the name change from English Dogs and guitarist Gizz stepping into the frontman role, the band trade in the punk sound for a more commercial, pop/punk feel.
During the time period these songs were demoed (1996-97), Gizz was playing guitar with The Prodigy on the ‘Fat Of The Land’ tour, and this influenced his songwriting. Utilising multi-effect processors, Gizz experimented with Dance music and it spawned some interesting tunes that veer in a different direction to the sound Janus Stark would eventually pursue. ‘Frayed Edges Of Sanity’ is a dark, trippy ride through the songwriter’s mind and a departure from the po/punk/ that would prevail on the debut. The following ‘Only One Can Know Me’ is more experimental, Prodigy style breakbeats and pulsating bass verse that leads to descending chords and a trademark Gizz melody.
Elsewhere. The thrashy blast that is ‘Wedding Bells’ is actually an old Desecrators tune. While it’s a fun run through, the hardcore style didn’t really fit the direction the band were heading.
‘200 Duty Frees’ though, did make the album. This version is a bit more dancey, yet it still has those full distorted guitars. Sonically, as with the other tracks that finally made the album, the songs benefit from a sweet production. ‘Every Little Thing Counts’ still sounds immense even in demo form, even if the extra verse throws me off for a second or two. It’s a perfect example of how a producer cuts the fat from a demo and makes it the song it should be.
For me ‘Great Adventure Cigar’ is up there with the great albums of the late 90’s Brit Rock movement and this collection is a great insight into the development of a band who should’ve got more attention at the time.
‘Chez Wrong’ is considered the lost Janus Stark album, the sophomore album that never was. These are the final demos from 2002 at a time when the band were shopping for a new record deal. Written during tough times, it’s a heavier, more edgy collection of songs influenced by the changing musical climate and the changes within the band.
The band had been touring heavily across Europe with Die Toten Hosen and Fear Factory while these songs were formed, and the likes of Slipknot and System Of A Down were the darlings of Kerrang! And MTV. These influences are evident from the off on the crunchy ‘Near Extinction’, a riff heavy beast that channels feelings of despair and struggle and maybe pre-empting the demise of the band.
The killer opening riff of the title track brings to mind Metallica before descending into more melodic sections and an uplifting chorus that harks back to the punk/pop of the debut. With its arpeggios and jarring riffage, the Nu Metal tinged ‘Paralysed’ could be a Papa Roach outtake.
Elsewhere the fiery ‘Back To Live’ and the brutal ‘The Child Deserves A Life’ are quality highlights. The band only take the time to breathe on the atmospheric closer ‘Empty Chair’, a song that shows a different side to the band with some cool, effect-ridden guitars and cool beats. It’s an album highlight and a great song to bow out with.
These 2 releases stand tall on their own as albums and also serve well together as the perfect accompaniment to ‘Great Adventure Cigar’. They help to tell the full picture of Janus Stark at the turn of the century before the band split and descended into the wilderness years.
‘Rewind To A’ shows the development of a band with new ideas and experimentation, including songs that for whatever reason, didn’t make the final cut, but are still worth your hard-earned cash.
‘Chez Wrong’ is the sound of what could’ve been. It shows a band on the edge, changing with the times and fighting a (losing) battle to survive. Strangely, even though it covers line-up changes and personal upheaval, I feel it’s the more cohesive of the two albums.
It’s also worth noting both albums are available to purchase directly through the Time & Matter Store as a package deal for 15 notes with an additional free four track digital EP of unreleased tunes. Now, if that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is!
Author: Ben Hughes