Heaven’s Basement may be one of the best musical discoveries I’ve made. At a loose end after UFO’s set at Download 2013, I wandered over to see a band I’d heard great things about: pure, unadulterated hard rock bursting with energy. Seeing them various times over the next eighteen months was a joy and it looked like they were making their rightful claim on the big leagues. However, frontman Aaron Buchanan left and has struck out on his own with his new band, Aaron Buchanan & the Cult Classics.
With their debut album, The Man With Stars on His Knees, Aaron is fully in control of his own destiny. Having heard some of the songs last year on their debut UK tour, it was obvious he wasn’t going to continue the Heaven’s Basement sound without them. Starting from scratch again may be disheartening but with a solid band backing him and an album like this, it won’t be long before they’re playing to sizeable audiences.
Firmly rooted in rock, it’s easy to see where Buchanan has taken his cues from. Fusing the flamboyancy of Queen and Queen II with the grit and anger of Jazz and News of the World, there’s elements of grunge and blues and a dash of Foo Fighters for good measure.
More often than not, influences like that are at odds and it makes for a disjointed mess. However, this has been lovingly crafted into a tight, cohesive package. More importantly: it’s infectious. Throughout all its well-balanced multitude of flavours, you can’t help but hit play once it’s finished.
Then there’s the other overwhelming thought as you listen to it. Opening track “Show Me What You’re Made Of” starts as a slow burn with Aaron’s vocals dulled before the song swells, kicks into life and you hear it: Aaron’s distinctive roar. It’s good to hear his voice again.
The music of the album matches Aaron’s voice and stage presence perfectly: full of confidence and swagger. It’s not all in-your-face rock as title track, “The Man With Stars on His Knees” shows; a slower number, bluesy in areas and with the song composition itself, it’s grandiose like those early Queen songs and there’s even a guitar solo you’d swear Brian May composed.
Whilst Aaron may be the band’s namesake, The Cult Classics section of the band are as equally talented. The first name you may recognise is drummer Kev Hickman (who we’ve covered in the past during his time with RavenEye). One of the most fun drummers I’ve had the pleasure of watching, there’s a finesse to his playing, not over-complicating his work and hitting a less-is-more approach. Then there’s Laurie Buchanan (Aaron’s sister), playing with an almost-virtuoso level of skill, across the eleven tracks, she exudes versatility. Between the sultry blues of “A God is No Friend” and the chunky Les Pauls riffs found on “All the Things You’ve Said and Done”, she’ll be a guitarist to keep a close eye on in the future.
She locks in well with fellow guitarist Tom McCarthy as they wind around each other with the dark and grungy “Morals”, firing off shots as they lead into the jolly pop-tinged closer “Fire in the Fields of Mayhem”. It’s these last two tracks where the pair show off their prowess as a double act to the full extent.
Largely it’s an upbeat record with a couple of sombre moments but even in those songs, there’s power exuding from the entire band. As previously mentioned, with all the different influences, they manage to rein everything in so it’s not disjointed. Yet they manage to avoid the trappings of an album where every song sounds the same. The track sequencing of peaks and valleys plays into this, each segueing to the next effortlessly. It may not be the straightforward rock being pumped out at the moment and it’s this which ultimately gives it the edge over so many current albums and bands. It’s complex without trying to do too much.
The Man With Stars on His Knees has been a long time coming. However, you can see the effort which has gone into the record and it’s paid off. It’s a statement of intent as Aaron Buchanan sets out to remind people who he is. He’s not just set the bar for albums this year or even debut albums (twice now); he’s made a blueprint for albums full stop.
The Man With Stars on His Knees is released on 26th May