Review Summary: Great, but flawed.
Of all of the beloved sputnik records that I have never fully understood all of the classic ratings for, none have been quite as frustrating as dredg’s “El Cielo.” The band’s most acclaimed release has been described as “flawless,” “crafted beautifully in every aspect,” and “absolutely essential.” In actuality, the album is none of these things. In fact, for dredg’s second full-length release to be compared to progressive masterpieces such as “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “Wish You Were Here” is puzzling. There is no denying that “El Cielo” is meticulously developed with some tremendous music. This is by far, the feature that stands head and shoulders above the rest for dredg. Progressive interludes and immense technical skill is something to be admired in the band’s music; at times powerful and awe-inspiring. “El Cielo” however, seems to be in a constant battle with inconsistency. While a number of tracks on the record appear to live up to its billing (The Canyon Behind Her, Sanzen), several fail to establish the cohesiveness that it is often associated with, presenting the ideal that the release is far from a perfect one.
While passion has proved to be music’s most significant quality, “El Cielo” appears to be lacking the impact that other “classics” contain. Lead singer Gavin Hayes has a rather pedestrian and droning voice to say the least, that weighs the record down a great deal. Hayes does demonstrate some significant range, but overall does not utilize his vocals properly; never appearing tense or even angry. Hayes never lashes out or gives the listener the impression that he is fervent over his lyrics. What elevates his performance however, are the soaring harmonies that are featured in various points in the record. Sanzen
is Hayes at his best; shifting to a high octane pitch in the chorus to create a chilling harmony. The devastating Sorry But It’s Over
seems to bring out the opposite though, for Hayes’ vocals are neither passionate nor stimulating in any regard, and ruin what is a musically brilliant track. Rather mundane songwriting does not help the process, for Convalescent
is plagued with lyrics such as, “Maybe you’ve never seen it, maybe you’ve never been through it. It’s the only way to understand it.” Arguably the concept’s most significant track Scissor Lock
, is presented as a half-baked written song that utilizes shoddy similes such as “buzzing white noise, it sounds like 100 bees.” “El Cielo” is beleaguered by these lines throughout, both weakening the concept and making it difficult to take seriously at times.
For every dull moment in “El Cielo” however, are musically dazzling tracks such as The Canyon Behind Her
. This inconceivable closer is technically proficient and perfectly crafted, as it is mounting with both tension and emotional impact until its final blow; a massive chorus of harmonies that seems to complete the record in epic fashion. Unfortunately, nothing else on the record seems to even come close to the stunning finale, and therefore actually dilutes the poignant effect the song is intended to have.
Maybe I’m missing the point with “El Cielo,” but dredg’s critically glorified release is presented with enough flaws to prevent it from reaching anything close to “classic” status. Massive sound, sweeping harmonies, and unique musical structuring is what illustrates the brilliance in dredg, but the band appears to be incapable of producing an album of that magnitude. The criticism is placed in the hands of front-man Gavin Hayes, who comes off as an ordinary songwriter and talented, but detached vocalist. Dredg’s second full-length release certainly contains enough virtuoso material to be considered a great album, but is lacking in several of the aforementioned areas to live up to its reputation.
It Only Took a Day
Whoa Is Me
The Canyon Behind Her