Latest release: Matriarch (Riot!/Warner)

In the first half of 2010, Melbourne’s four-headed experimental metal monster Five Star Prison Cell went on an extensive national tour taking in every state and territory to promote their third album, Matriarch which is on many critics’ lists as one of the albums of the year. Hitting the shelves a full three years after the flawed but inspired Slaves of Virgo, the latest release is undoubtedly the most assertive statement yet from a band that is infuriatingly difficult to pigeonhole.

“The first album we were just four guys who wrote X amount of songs in the eight months we were together,” singer Adam Glynn begins “[On] Slaves we were going through some dark times and that translated into the music so we made a dark and nasty record. I guess you could say it was our Empire Strikes Back. This one, again, is something a little different. There’s still the odd times and the slighty left-of-centre stuff, but I find that the new stuff is more of a natural progression. I know all bands say that, but for us it is!”

Five Star Prison Cell has never been a band that has let their songwriting be tied to any set of rules, and on Matriarch any semblance of linear structure or standard format has been left in some place unreachable. Almost no stone has been left unturned in this band’s quest to make the most interesting and unique music possible.

“We’ve explored the musical world a little more,” Glynn says, with unintended understatement. “It’s a lot more breathe-y, more ambient, not so cut-and-paste like the other stuff. I think there’s only so much noisy, heavy music that’s in a stupid, odd-time that you can listen to. There is some stuff like that, but we’ve broadened out. There’s an instrumental on there that’s rather beautiful and eerie and we actually have a friend of ours — she’s from the band Captains — who’s actually speaking some lyrics I wrote that she’s got translated into Farsi, and there’s some lyrics on there in Greek as well. We’re just trying to do a bunch of different stuff. There’s a song on there called ‘Forlorn’, where Cam’s playing a double bass and it’s a bit jazzy and jammy. There’s not one song that sums up the album. ‘I Curse This Vessel’ isn’t exactly where it is, but it’s a nice middle ground.”

Matriarch finally sees Five Star displaying the full potential of which the previous albums only promised. The Complete First Season was done quickly at a time when the band was still only considered a short-term thing and Slaves of Virgo was marred by production issues and personal problems affecting the group’s members.

“I know for most of the band, recording that album wasn’t necessarily a good experience,” Glynn explains, “just due to lots of things going on in our personal lives and other things that we don’t need to go into. So nobody wanted to pick up their instruments for a while. Then we started writing, we got about three-quarters of the way through, looked at each other and realised we weren’t happy with what we were doing. So we scrapped everything, kept a few riffs here and there and started again from scratch.”

The singer goes on to say that the current album and tour — combined with a new label and distro deal — is like a whole new beginning for the band after leaving Faultline Records for reasons “I don’t really need to go into”.

“It’s a new deal. We feel like a new band,” he says. “We’re pretty excited because the new album and the back catalogue is all coming out through Riot! and getting distributed by Warner. So everyone will be able to get our music again.”

There will be few places left on the map that won’t have heard it by the time Five Star Prison Cell finishes touring either. Scoring a government touring grant has allowed the band to be on the road every week for the last three months, playing everywhere from Bendigo and Ballarat to the Blue Mountains, Lismore and even Darwin.

“With this touring grant, there’s a criteria of a number of gigs you gotta do, and workshops in schools and stuff,” says the singer. “I’ve never been up to Darwin, and the guys are keen to get up there and play some music and see some of the country that we’ve not seen before. I used to have that attitude about only doing the major cities. But there’s only so much you can do and achieve by doing that. And there’s people who live further out who unfortunately can’t make it to those shows and you find when you go to these places that you broaden your horizons and attract more people to your music. I think that because they are so starved for it they get into your music a lot more. And that’s really great to see. That’s what you do it for. I love travelling but I don’t get to do that much of it. With the band, it lets me kill two birds with one stone.”

The allowance was also the final kickstart the band needed to get the album completed.

“With every album we’ve done in the past, we get it out, tour the butthole out of it, have a bit of a rest and then work out what we want to do with the next album and begin writing,” Glynn says. “We were sort of taking our time about it and then we got this government touring grant, and that was the kick in the butt that we needed. Basically that got us to pull our fingers out and finish the album.”

Now a well-established veteran of the music scene, Adam Glynn still gets excited about touring and releasing new material.

“It’s exciting putting out a new CD,” he says. “For me it’s the most rewarding part of being in a band. And getting out on the road and travelling. It’s a cool thing.”

Emphasising the difference in style to the first two albums, Adam is hoping that Matriarch will attract new fans while admitting that some older fans might not embrace it so readily.

“Hopefully we’ll draw some more people to us, ’cause there’s a lot of different stuff on this album that previous fans might not dig but we will hopefully draw new people in to,” he says. “Having said that, it’s not like we’ve gayed out and done the Black Album or something, because that’s not what we’ve done. But to be a master of good music you’ve got to embrace everything and interpret everything and try and do as much as you can and challenge yourself.”

As he sees it, that aspect is the very essence of Five Star Prison Cell: to be as demanding as possible. The first two albums certainly outlined this mission. Matriarch redefines it while adding a more accessible element. To dredge up a hoary old phrase, it’s music for the thinking person.

“That’s the backbone of this band. Trying to challenge ourselves and challenge our audience. You can listen to any pop song on the radio and sure, it might attract you in the first 15 seconds because of the catchy melody or beat or whatever, but these songs are always quite frivolous. And I’ve always found from my experience that the best music requires involvement from the listener. If you want to get your head around something you can and you will do it. Ever since I heard bands like Bungle and Zappa and TOOL and Cult of Luna, they’re the bands that inspire me amongst many, many others, and that’s the best thing you can do with music. There’s just too many bands that carbon-copy what’s popular at the moment and jump on the gravy train and I don’t think music will ever change in Australia unless someone is prepared to take one for the team like we are. We’re just trying to broaden people’s minds and create something different. The art, not the product. That’s the way it should be.”