(Prog) Death Metal Or Die Trying
Opeth has been distancing themselves from death metal for years. Who will you look to for prog/death when they’re gone?
If you’ve ever wanted to hear Death’s earlier forays into progressive waters reinterpreted by a melodeath band, Scorn of Eternity might have what you seek. The band has managed to glue together a variety of elements, atmospheric rock and post-rock included, into their music, though never parting from their death metal influence and never allowing their influences to separate themselves from the death metal found in their roots.
Vocals are handled with a deep and dry growl, and while it’s remarkably strong, I found myself craving a more varied approach, something that would better have represented the multiple faces of their music. This is, unfortunately, where the band falls short on the whole. Scorn of Eternity features hooks, memorable lead-work and good riffs. However, there’s also blander, nondescript guitarwork and unremarkable riffs. The band knows how to use dynamics but doesn’t bank on it. The smooth, atmospheric parts are the ones that often lack memorable features, and due to this, combined with a few lackluster riffs, both the songs and the album feel stretched.
But hey, it’s much easier to point out flaws than strengths, and this is only Paean’s (self-released) debut full-length. The band has already developed an almost virtuoso-like ability to make the different elements work together, and their technical abilities are used to advance the songs, not to shine on their own, which in my eyes is commendable. Furthermore, the band mostly steers away from endless use of odd time-signatures, sudden tempo changes and challenging rhythmic-work, growing and nurturing their songs instead of rushing them (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the aforementioned “quirks”). Yet they never appear anything but a skilled group of musicians. Estonia is not exactly known for a vibrant metal scene (outside its borders, anyway), so Paean is a welcome addition to the fold.
Sapkowski and prog/death, a combination to die for. I actually found out about this band by googling the published works of Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski. Not that the two have anything in common except Polish-ness (although, the members of Gwynbleidd actually reside in the United States). I’ve been trying to write about these guys for the better part of a year now, but haven’t been able to compose anything coherent.
Of the three bands featured here, Gwynbleidd is the only one that does actually compare to the one band every single prog/death outfit gets unfairly called out for sounding like, Opeth. That is not to say they are without a character of their own; far from it, in fact. On both their ’06 EP Amaranthine and ’09 album Nostalgia, they weave elements of black and folk into their brand of prog/death, creating a mixture of their own. Their music is dominated by growls and death/black riffing, but they’ve a strong melodic sense as well and it is here that the aforementioned comparison best shows – aside some quite obvious chord progressions. What sets Gwynbleidd apart from pretty much all of their peers is the cohesion of their songwriting. Yes, many prog bands sacrifice showing off for songwriting (thank god) but rarely do I get a feeling like the one here. Predictability is not the word I am looking for, but mayhaps the concepts have something in common, Gwynbleidd’s songs don’t lack twists or turns, but at all times they maintain a natural flow. As if part A could not have segued into any other part than B, as if the band only went where they had to go, in order to get the most out of their compositions.
It has been quite some time since Gwynbleidd last released anything, but there have been rumours and ruminations. Just this February the band hinted at the possibility of a coming sophomore full-length by informing the public they had in their hands pre-production tracks of new material. Hopefully we will hear some of it soon.
Pressure Points made their debut about half a decade ago. I’ve yet to spend any time with their debut, but I’ve spun their sophomore, False Lights – released last year, plenty.
Pressure Points is much like Porcupine Tree; I don’t mean that they sound exactly alike, even though False Lights does begin with a PT-like groove before settling into a metal riff coupled with growled vocals before blossoming into guitar harmonies, an oldies-prog-section, and returning to the riff. Calling them prog/death almost seems too much as there is little else to anchor them into any kind of extreme metal besides the growled vocals. But there is no doubt they do play prog metal, yet no more important a part of their sound is metal than any other.
Six songs and an album that clocks in at almost an hour is a certain mark of prog, but Pressure Points steers clear of instrumental wankfests, using extended lengths to develop their songs. Good riffs meet working and clever arrangements, and great guitar solos that you can actually hum to. Pretty much every song includes parts that catch on and rock on in your head. Take the ending of “In Desolation”, the slide guitar of “Between the Lies” or possibly the single most earworming thing released this year – the piano riff towards “Electric Shadows'” end.
The death-y bits on False Lights are good, but the band is at their best when they’re settling on a groove or sensually caressing your ears with melodies. I did find the band through De Lirium’s Order, whom Kari Olli fronts as well, and I can only wonder why he didn’t sing on DLO’s latest himself; I can’t think of a simple complaint about his cleans here, and they’re the dominant choice of vocal-style.
Hopefully Kari Olli’s tenure as Insomnium’s live member has brought at least a few new fans for the band; they’re one of the few bands I’d actually be sorry not to see go much further.
Featured image is Stooks of Corn in Moonlight by Theodor Kittelsen (1900)