Review Summary: Nicholas Chapel improves upon a few song-writing blunders and creates a fantastic piece of passionate music
In 2008, Building An Empire
was released by French multi-instrumentalist Nicolas Chapel, brainchild of his solo project Demians.
Chapel’s sprawling 65-minute effort was as ambitious as it was effective, and garnered immediate recognition from progressive music icon Steven Wilson. After touring in support of landmark bands such as Porcupine Tree and Marillion (with the help of a few session members), Chapel fled to a lake house on the shores of Normandy to record his sophomore LP. The finished product, Mute,
is an intelligent and logical progression from Building An Empire,
which tightens up the song writing whist retaining the ingenuity and passion which emulates from Chapel’s words.
much like its predecessor, is broken down into nine songs which expand upon a number of genres. However, where as Building An Empire
had the tendency to ramble and plod along in its 65-minute run-time, Mute
is completely focused on the individuality of each of its nine songs, and clocks in at a digestible run time barely eclipsing 50 minutes. The individual track lengths are much more manageable - two songs approached the nine-minute mark and another stretched beyond 16 minutes on “Empire,” yet only one song on Mute
has a run-time over seven minutes long. This works to the album’s advantage - the flow and cohesion between each of the nine tracks is not once broken up with unnecessarily drawn-out bouts of ambient drivel. Instead, the listener is treated to nine focused pieces of marvelous progressive music, with each song being unique and individual to itself.
evolves along with Chapel’s growing confidence and maturity as a songwriter, and includes much more dynamic and refined influences from outside genres. Alongside the typical progressive-rock sound, there is a noticeable influence of folk, electronica, post-rock, metal, and even shoegaze present with more definition than ever before. The climax of the haunting penultimate track, Hesitation Waltz,
slowly manifests itself into a frightening wall of guitar distortion and pounding tribal drums which brings sludge-metal titans Neurosis to mind, a stark contrast to the warm, lush electronics of Porcelain
or the Dredg-esque alternative rocker of Tidal
This heightened recognition of confluence also seems to have spread out to Chapel’s musicianship and vocal-work, both of which have improved and matured considerably since “Empire.” Chapel’s vocals have taken a more natural tenor range, but at the opposite end of the spectrum his higher-register vocals are conveyed with much more strength and confidence than before. On songs such as the energetic Feel Alive,
Chapel’s honest lyrics and passionate delivery soar with an unrivaled intensity since the closing minutes of “Sand,” where as tracks such as the absolutely gorgeous Black Over Gold,
or the fiercely draining and melancholic denouement of Falling From the Sun
feature some of the most moving and hopeless vocal performances i’ve heard all year.
The distorted guitars have become much more metallic since “Empire.” Album opener Swing of the Airwaves
fades in with a down-tuned sludge/stoner riff which would not sound out of place on a Mastodon, Neurosis, or even Deftones album, and chugs along as such for seven and a half minutes. Overhead
begins with an acoustic folk lick (think “Naive” off his previous album but more technical and mature) but explodes towards the end in a complex metallic riff-fest and guitar solo. Much like “Empire,” the synths provide much of the album’s mysterious air by taking their place in the background, whether it be contrasting the sludgy riffs of Swing of the Airwaves
with grandiose splendor, providing effective psuedo-symphonic violin riffs on rocker Feel Alive,
or complimenting the reverb-soaked drums of the melodramatic Porcelain.
The conventional piano is also utilized more proficiently on tracks such as the ironically dark Rainbow Ruse,
where minor chords are pounded out as the driving force of the song, or the sombre Black Over Gold,
which begins as a piano and vocal duet before tremelo-picked guitars join for the climax.
surpass it’s predecessor? In many ways, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Nicholas Chapel’s song writing has become much more focused and coherent, and his vocal performance is subsequently much more powerful and convincing. The instrumentation has also matured and improved, best shown in the expanded use of the guitar and synths. The lack of the ambiance present on Building an Empire
subtracts from the atmospheric quality of the album, but at the same time does not hinder the aesthetics of the music’s most exciting points. I applaud Nicholas Chapel for improving upon his already impressive debut with the curious and insightful work of art that is Mute,
an album that is anything but.
- The most aggressive and energetic song off of Mute. A guitar-driven rocker backed by an infectious synthetic string section and punchy metallic-guitar riffs. The chorus brings previous tracks such as “Naive” or “Earth” to mind but with added balls. After the second chorus, the instrumentation takes the back seat to a well-executed bass-riff, before slowly building back up and climaxing with Chapel screaming the song’s title and ending with the guitar and strings motif from earlier in the song. A fantastic energetic-rocker.
Black Over Gold
- This is the most moving and beautiful song I have heard all year. The song begins as a sombre piano/vocal duet with Chapel presenting the lyrics in low, grief-stricken manner which is entirely effective and empathetic. The six-minute song continues to grow in true Sigur Ros fashion as the instruments buildup with pendulous drums and aqueous tremelo picking. At 4:20, Chapel’s vocals and instrumentation climax and cascade over the listener’s ears in an overwhelming, but ultimately comforting wave of powerful mystique. The song then fades out into nothingness, losing all hope.
- Begins with a soft droning and short bursts of tribal drumming and cymbal claps. The guitar and vocals enter about a minute in with a soft-crooning, beckoning the listener into the song. This Tool/Neurosis melding of sound grows as synths and glockenspiel are added to the background. The storm continues to pick up intensity - the drums pound louder, the guitar becomes more sinister, and Chapel’s vocals become more pronounced and frantic. After four minutes of building up, Chapel’s vocals are completely lost and drowned out to a sound wall of monolithic proportions, before fading out as if nothing had happened at all. A stunning performance on all fronts.