Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole by Diablo Swing Orchestra

Release date: November 2, 2021
Label: Candlelight / Spinefarm Records

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since Sweden’s own Diablo Swing Orchestra launched back in their hometown. They’re not only one of the wackiest, surreal, swing-jazz metal groups that would make Brian Setzer a gigantic run for its money, but they can bring the house down like no other. With four studios in the can and Kristin Evegård taking up the torch of AnnLouice Lögdlund, who departed the group to focus on becoming an opera singer in 2014, Kristin can rock the house like no other!

This year, the ensemble have unleashed their fifth studio album in time for the traditional Mexican holiday Day of the Dead from the Candlelight label. Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole is quite the title. Catchy, cartoony, and balls-breaking, the name of the album is like something straight out of a Friz Freleng or Fleischer Brothers cartoon between the 1930s and late ‘40s, early ‘50s. They have raise the gauntlet with more insane ideas by cooking up something hot and spicy in their own restaurant. Mixed in with some pop arrangements, the band haven’t forgotten their roots with a swinging-metal vibe they keep bringing to the kitchen table with some flaming fires to erupt!

From the moment you hear ‘Speed Dating an Arsonist’ it starts with an electronic trip-hop swing as Kristin dances in the styles of Cab Calloway. Once Kristin goes into her soothing Betty Boop-like vocals, she transforms into this arsonist serial killer that sends their loved ones into a trap they can’t get out of. Once she turns her victims into ashes and make them collector’s item, you can tell not only she’s crazy, but Kristin and the band are having a blast doing this song. It’s quite a black comedy of sorts from the twisted animated worlds of Ren and Stimpy.

Inspired by the Day of the Dead holiday, ‘Celebremos Lo Inevitable (Let’s Celebrate the Inevitable)’ is the band’s first song sung in Spanish. It is a mournful mariachi number turned into a nightmarish whirlpool of terror with WorldService Project-like attitude that comes at you with brutal punk-like fanfares from the horn section and unexpected heavy guitars with hardcore punches that are very heavy. I can imagine it’s going to become a live favorite one day for the moment when Diablo comes back onstage and bring it to a standstill.

The opening track ‘Sightseeing in the Apocalypse’ has this nod to both Simple Minds and Queen’s second album with the band channeling mournful arrangements from Brian May and epic string orientations before kicking into overdrive with ‘War Painted Valentine’. Imagine Primus cooking BBQ with Mr. Bungle at their house somewhere in the middle of Austin, Texas. This track, is a real cooking song! Thrashing riffs, drums creating these heavy explosions, and fanfare horn sequences with some fast-sped string textures, you can hear chickens clucking like crazy as Diablo continue the adventures of ‘Tommy the Cat’ with some insane Cookie Monster and more of the Betty Boop vocals. I always love when Daniel comes up with these operatic vocals by welcoming listeners to this insane world he’s invited us.

 

You feel as if you’re inside a dream. Not only there are these insane time signatures, but you can imagine the Diablo Swing Orchestra are writing this alternate score for the 2017 video game, Cuphead. It is a crazy idea, but holy shit in a handbag, it works!

With some unexpected lively dance, ‘Jig of the Century’ is a fight to the death in the middle of the Atlantic in the band’s own pirate ship with powering riffs, drunken sing-along songs, and militant arrangements before they set up these disturbing crime images for ‘The Sound of an Unconditional Surrender’. It’s Diablo returning back to this imaginative sequel to the ‘Justice for Saint Mary’ as a reprise from the Pandora’s Piñata album as the trial begins. You can imagine yourself being inside the courtroom as you see TV cameras and news people turning this into the trial of the century.

It’s these heavy details and lawyers going back and forth arguing with each other. And then, the Judge gives out the Iron fist and shaming not only the lawyers, but the media also. As he accuses them by turning this into a circus and being exploited in front of everybody that is watching on their flat-screen TVs in all of its glory. ‘Malign Monologues’ is a nod to both Ella Fitzgerald and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.

As the horns burst into the styles of ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’, we go into this next theatre that is filled with lunacy and maddening behaviors that is brought to life as the vocals are in the styles of Jack Skellington from the Nightmare Before Christmas as he becomes the Devil taking the souls of both Cuphead and Mugman. ‘Out Came the Hummingbirds’ is a 80s video game story brought to life! From the sounds of the Atari, NES, and the Sega Master System, Kristin becomes this future-like goddess that is singing in the styles of Tori Amos, Denice Williams, Chrome Hoof’s Shingai Shoniwa, and Madonna’s Like a Virgin-era. There is some Mortal Kombat vibrations with these electronic arrangements as it becomes a fight to the death.

But with these brutal synthesizing chaos that becomes a sonic attack, it’s a combination of soul, electro, swing, and the new wave period while all hell has broken loose inside the church with its revved up organ, rising horns, and guitar rumbles for the skeletons to burst through the closet and blowing the whistle for the ‘Snake Oil Baptism’. Now this is where it gets real catchy! Here, the Diablo Swing Orchestra channel the vibrations between Zeuhl legends MAGMA and King Crimson in a romantic opera twist from the realms to do a renaissance waltz on ‘Les Invulnéables’. It starts off with a post-apocalyptic folk-like structure of acoustic guitars walking through the rubble that has happened before the duet between Daniel and Kristin battle it out in a boxing ring before they cry out to the gods once more.

‘Saluting The Reckoning’ is a surf-psychedelia rocker with a mariachi vibe. It starts off with a spiraling ska guitar-like introduction before going down into a whirlpool of terror with these punk-like arrangements as the last two tracks close the curtains for the next location that awaits the ensemble team. ‘The Prima Donna Gauntlet’ is a nod to Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance. With the string section channeling Henze’s ‘Fantasia For Strings’, it becomes a battle cry for these two women duking it out to see who will be the next queen in the years to come. Brutal chainsaw riffs and operatic vocals arrangements, it ends with this mournful folk arrangement before going out in style with a final climatic death metal growl. ‘Overture to a Ceasefire’ closes the album with a Cabaret piano-like intro. Then, it becomes an exercising foot stomping groove with the marching band in front.

It’s Kristin that steals the show as she raises the roof up on her vocals while she and Daniel re-create the dance sequence that Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek do in the 2002 flick, Frida. Pounding bass drums going left and right whilst the cello channels Kristin’s melodic vocals, it brings everything to a standstill by closing the album with thunderous applause.

Diablo have done it again. This shows that the band are not giving up. This is quite the trip that is a motorcycling adventure they’ve embarked on. As I’ve mentioned earlier in my review, Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole sounds like a cartoon short that either Freleng or the Fleischer Brothers would have used during their heyday from the Warner Bros and Paramount-era, but they knocked it out of the ball park on this one.

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