April 22, 2013 by Dan Swinhoe
Metal today is in an interesting flux. On the one hand, there’s more bands than ever across the world, and the giants of the 70s and 80s are back together, touring and releasing albums. And the fact that bands like Slipknot, Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage are regular chart botherers is testament to the genre’s ongoing and increasing popularity. But the most part it’s all pretty same-y. Since the new decade, the closest thing metal’s had to a new sound or scene is Djent, and that’s been quietly honouring Meshuggah for years. So it’s refreshing that progressive metal offers some originality, and proves we’re not just waiting for the next thrash revival.
Grayceon- Pearl & The End Of Days
Grayceon are a progressive power trio hailing from San Francisco. Formed in 2005, they’ve slowly built up a dedicated following through their mix of sludgey riffs, complex song structures and the inclusion of a cello as a lead instrument.Their latest release, Pearl and The End of Days is a two-track EP, the songs clocking in at almost half an hour between them.
Vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz, also of Giant Squid, is the band’s vocal point, providing the light to the brilliant guitar work from Max Doyle, previously seen in thrash outfit Walken. Doyle swings from dirge-based sludge to almost thrash riffs over the course of the EP.Gratz’s sultry vocals guide you along the different passages, from the opening ethereal haunting of Pearl through the doom and dirge of the latter stages. End of Days opens with doom-laden chords to pure shred later, with solo and power chords thrown in for good measure. It’s hard to keep up, and you’re often left wondering how you got to this point from where it all started, but without feeling lost or overwhelmed.
On Pearl’s lyrics, Gratz explained:
“We wrote this song when I was pregnant with my daughter, Pearl, who is now just over a year old, but the lyrics came after she was born. It’s about fear and excitement of the unknown, unconditional love, and sound waves having all the power.”
Both songs contain plenty of power, aided by Zack Farwell’s heroic off-kilter drumming. It’s difficult to draw parallels with other bands; they’re distinctly heavy metal, but with so many elements it’s difficult find comparisons. Remission-era Mastodon riffs played over Apocalyptica, but that’s doing them a disservice. Few bands can move from heavy in parts, almost relaxing in others, always with morose undertones in the same way.
On 2011’s excellent All We Destroy, there were times when it felt as if the cello and guitar were competing, but here they meld perfectly, and complement each other. And even aside from the presence of the cello, the music the band play is still a cut above most others; heavy, complex, yet without losing focus or your attention. Each record has definitely been a step up and this trend continues with this EP. An epic release from a unique band.
Intronaut- Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones)
L.A.-based Intronaut have undergone an evolutionary trajectory that mirrors many other post/prog heavyweights such as the mighty Mastodon or Baroness; start as heavy as possible, and each time bring in new elements. Their latest album, Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones), is their most adventurous yet.
Now onto their fourth album, the band, made up of Joe Lester (Bass), Danny Walker (Drums), Sacha Dunable (Guitars, Vocals) and Dave Timnick (Guitars), have created a sound that is both abrasive and jazzy, reminiscent of early Mastodon, but still thoroughly accessible, with clean picked moments and almost halcyon vocals.
The Welding is an early highlight; The opening staggered riffs underline a rhythmically hypnotic bassline (Lester’s imput is sublime throughout, and highlights why bass should be more of a lead instrument in metal), while layers of groove. Dunable’s vocals walk the line between a gravely bark and sweet melody. And most of the other tracks aren’t far off in quality.
Each successive album has seen Intronaut move away from the shred heavy sound that defines their earlier release such as Prehistoricisms, each time increasing the size of their pallet. 2010’s Valley Of Smoke showed the band had a softer side, and now each heavy segment is juxtaposed with warm melodies or serene moments to break up the chaos. The softer parts are not quite as pop-orientated as Torche, but more melodically inclined than Baroness’ latest, reaching a middle ground that sits well with the juggernaut riffs that intersperse the softer moments.
Songs such as Harmonicon, or the dark melody of Steps wash over you, offering serenity before the next chugging riff slams you back into focus. Passing through stoner, psychedelic, and jazz, Habitual Levitations covers a multitude of shades, from pure metal to almost absolute tranquility. Intronaut have created a record that is both epic and relaxing.
If you’re all about the chugging riffs and headbanging, there should be enough here to satisfy, but if you like your music complex and interesting, this may be your album of the year. Habitual Levitations isn’t an easy listen, it demands your attention, that you listen to each track intently. You’d best do what they say.
Dynahead- Chordata I
Brazil has a rich metal heritage, but is more known for its thrash than its forward thinking music. Dynahead, from Brasilia are onto their third album and have moved away from their progressive power/thrash metal roots and embraced a progressive-Djent sound. Their latest, Chordata I, is the ‘first of a two-part conceptual piece based on biological evolution.’ So the prog credentials are all in order.
Featuring Caio Duarte on vocals, guitarists Pablo Vilela & Diogo Mafra, Diego Teixeira on bass and drummer Deth Santos, Dynahead combine the brutal but groovy elements of Meshuggah with a sense of melody and accessible songwriting. Abiogenesis opens the album with cleanly picked guitar and soft vocals until the first Djent chord reverberates out and signals the coming of a maelstrom of staggered riffing and guttural barked vocals, before switching back to vocal harmonies. Beauty, brutality and back to beauty in four minutes.
This pattern continues with the might Bred Patterns; shifting from a shred-heavy opening to a cleanly sung verse that gradually builds, laying on bigger riffs and more groove until it reaches its epic chorus. Collective Skin continues this heavy/melody dynamic before Dawn Mirrored in Me provides an acoustic respite. None of the songs are particularly long, but they do throw in an array of styles, textures and time changes, and make each part stick.
The whole band work together wonderfully, and the array of riffs show real skill to move from heavy to melody and back again at a moments notice. Caio Duarte’s vocals, however are probably the most impressive. He oscillates heavy growls to soaring, demonstrating his range and power in every song. Dawn Mirrored in Me‘s acoustic interludes allow him croon before he surges into throat shredding screams.
Previously Dynahead’s records a bit disjointed; there were lots of styles on show, but not necessarily always fitting together. This one flows nicely. There’s a clear progression from point A to point B, if even if the two points are miles away. The album fades a little towards the end, the heavier parts that defined the early tracks are replaced with a greater emphasis on melody and more power/prog approach. While far from terrible, and in fact quality rock songs with progressive leanings, the songs just aren’t quite as strong as the first half of the record.
Chordata I is a fine release; crushingly heavy while at the same time blessed with soaring melodies. Quality musicians blessed with an equally talented vocalist and strong songwriting chops. Possibly the best Djent album of the year so far.