Mike Ross’s ‘Third Eye Open’ draws on Hindu mysticism to take a filtered look at the world around him and seeing things as they really are. And if he doesn’t much like what he sees – especially the insidious growth of corporatism – it still inspires him to a career best album.
‘Third Eye Open’ is the perfect meeting of strong songs, killer riffs and a nuanced production in which his core intensity is given a warm glow without dulling the jagged edges of his lyrical meaning and flinty riffs. Ultimately everything is hinges on a locker full of previously unused riffs that he variously sharpens, fleshes out and polishes up with a melange of tones, textures and booming choruses which facilitate real flow.
It’s an old school guitar-led rock album which eschews synths and rocks hard He’s also spoken about the more obvious reference points like AC/DC, early Aerosmith and even Sabbath, but you could easily add Zeppelin and a later period grungy feel to the list.
There’s an authenticity to the album, which perfectly matches his perceptive and at times abrasive lyrics, while the ever changing guitar tones reflect his changing moods.
It’s a well thought out album, one in which Mike wishes to remain wholly independent while circumnavigating the music industry’s icebergs. The result is a hard hitting album which carefully straddles burgeoning rock, deep grooves and enveloping walls of sound. They frame barely disguised rants, sundry booming hooks and ever present spirited guitar playing to give the material real edge.
Overall, it’s a massive sounding guitar album which he calls: “a thicker sounding and angrier record.” And it’s the way he channels his anger creatively that gives the ‘Third Eye Open’ its frisson and in the case of the riff led lead single ‘The Preacher’, its
palpable zest and swagger.
The animated vocal duet with Jack J. Hutchinson is full of buzz guitar and thumping bass, an uplifting chorus and gnawing suitable guitar resolution. The album opens with the big sounding ‘I Swear’ and a chanted hook surrounded by a drone given its shape by Darren Lee’s powerhouse drumming.
UK SOLO TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT! Can't wait to hit the road again this September. I'll be playing stripped back versions of songs from new album Third Eye Open & much more besides!— Mike Ross/The Mike Ross Band (@spindriftmike) June 1, 2023
Check my website now for full details and to order tickets https://t.co/xQc602nzw1 pic.twitter.com/ogp3bnVHpA
He extends the drony feel on ‘Cool Water’, a thudding, edgy-riffed track on which the exclamatory vocal and relentless bass reminds me of late career Rush and provides the perfect gateway to what is to follow
And what follows is the almost grungy opening title track – all 8 minutes of it – with a familiar Joe Walsh sounding ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ riff, as Mike attacks his vocal with gusto.
The tension building staccato intro leads to a post psychedelic dropdown with George Harrison style slide and Floydian vocal collage, which exemplifies his arranging and production skills. In short, the greater whole is always the sum
of its parts. A muscular change of tone and burgeoning bass pushes the track back to the core riff as he vents his anger at everything around him. But as with the album as a whole, he oversees everything with his perceptive vision – effectively his ‘Third Eye Open’.
The counted-in acoustic ‘Born To Me’, offers a change of pace (which he revisits on the down-home sounding ‘Face By The Window’), but this track is predicated on Eastern sounding tones before the riffs and pounding drums punctuate a mellifluous groove.
The apparent botched intro to ‘Fallen Down’ offers a big clue as to the original live feel that he was aiming at, and it was probably important to retain that edge even when he fattened the sound.
If the lyrics suggest learning from your mistakes and the notion of making your way through the material world by embracing the spiritual, then the propulsive music suggests you should always move forward.
Both the lyrics and music thrillingly coalesce on the concluding mantra; “Why go working in circles when you should be walking in lines. Why do you keep on talking, when you know you’re living a lie.”
‘Ugly Brain’ has a Roy Wood Wizzard sound – all rumbling bass and
claustrophobic toned guitar – except that Darren Lee never settles for anything less than a huge drum sound. Ross in turn adds lashing of slide on a stomping rocker with more angst ridden vocals on atrack slightly mixed too far back.
‘Eulogy’ feels like capturing lightning in a bottle, on an incredibly heavy riff-led track that dials into King Crimson’s ‘Red’ era. The clarity of vocal and choogling rhythm section is topped by ethereal tones, choral vocals and more dense riffs.
Hell, if you’ve come to rock you have found the right album, though it makes the following ‘Be With You Tonight’ vocal duet with Jess Hayes all the more surprising.
The anthemic ballad is a breath of melodic fresh air amongst a landscape of riff-driven intensity, albeit the guitar tone evokes New Order’s ‘Elegia’. Jess provides the perfectly top-line before the two perfectly harmonise empathetically
‘Never No More’ is another highlight. The deep acoustic-into-electric groove meanders into Neil Young grunge territory and delivers a core lyrical message, in a perfect example of prosody.
“I never hear this kind of story on my radio, It’s all about the chorus, but the words just ebb and flow, stripped of any meaning, well the message can’t be told, now I’ve seen the truth I want the soul.”
Mike Ross is that rare voice in contemporary rock, an inspired independent musician who channels his anger and rage into great music shaped by a visionary overview which in spite of all the madness feels optimistic.
The closing ‘Kicks Like A Mule’, is a final sting in the tail, as he rebuilds hi solo from the ground up to seize the moment with a climactic burst of repeated notes, a belated solo into the fade and a concluding humorous line; “ kicks like a mule and walks like one too, your nothing but a fool.” Life ain’t easy when you’re viewing it through your third eye, but it sure makes for some kick ass rock music.