Review Summary: Less sweepy, more stinky.
The Human Abstract’s Nocturne was one of the more exciting releases of 2006. This up and coming California metal outfit, while not displaying the strongest songwriting, showed that they were a force to be reckoned with. Nocturne was chock full of arpeggio sweeps, quirky technical sections, and catchy choruses. While not being well received by the entire metal community, I felt that Nocturne simply worked and was just an easy listen. Now after losing their poster-boy and borderline one-trick-pony, A.J. Minette, where was the band to go? I assumed The Human Abstract would only mature from here, furthering their somewhat progressive sound into something much more interesting than Nocturne. What I got was Midheaven, an incredibly disappointing and irritating listen.
While there are still plenty of shreddy bits on Midheaven, it’s no longer the main focus of the album. Instead the album is much more focused on vocals and keyboards, and it is much worse off for doing so. Full-time singer and part-time pompous douche bag Nathan Ells is much more noticeable on this album, which makes him exponentially more annoying than on Nocturne. While his past vocal works were about half-and-half in the screaming/singing realm, it’s not the same this time around. Ells sings almost the entire time, occasionally throwing in some decent post-hardcore style screams or hilariously lame spoken word parts in an attempt to mix things up. I really didn’t think he was that bad before, but now he either sounds too flat, too nasally, or just plain stupid. When the main focus of your album becomes the main nuisance, you know you’ve got a major problem on your hands. And did I forget to mention that the lyrics are laughably pretentious and awful?
Musically the album is a little hit, mostly miss. The production on the guitars here doesn’t have nearly enough attack as it did before and comes across as generally weak. Most of the riffs and leads just seem to blend together as one and few are memorable. Shredmeisters Dean Herrera and Andrew Tapley certainly know their way around a fret board but ultimately fall short of making anything truly stick out to me. And while the listener is not being bombarded with dweedly-doodly bits, you’ll be forced to either choke down trite alternative/mainstream rock riffs or failed attempts at progressive metal. The newly added keyboard player to the band also makes himself known constantly throughout the album’s forty-three minutes, always adding in additional melodies to compliment the guitars. Sometimes it works, but a few of the experimental parts (such as random jazz organ riffs) do much more harm than good. The rhythm section always provides a solid backing for the band and is usually the most enjoyable part about Midheaven.
So ultimately what went wrong with this album was the “too much, too soon” issue. The Human Abstract just put too many styles into one album without knowing really how to navigate around them. Combined with lackluster songwriting and a poor vocal performance, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. No song really sticks out on here as amazing, though “A Violent Strike” would be my choice cut from the album, as the outro kicks a legitimate amount of ass. I won’t give up on these guys just yet, but Midheaven is just a textbook example of a band going through sophomore slump. Better luck next time.