Review Summary: In releasing an LP and three excellent EPs in just two years, Cloudkicker has progressed from a melodic, instrumental Meshuggah to something entirely unique and remarkably evocative.
Cloudkicker has quickly established quite a discography for itself, the kind of pacing that can be attributed in part to advancements in recording technology that allow for the production in a quickly and seemingly effortless manner. Sole member Ben Sharp has stated numerous times that music is his favorite hobby, not his job, and he simply enjoys writing and recording. Recording technology and intentions aside, Sharp is writing fantastic material at a level nothing short of prolific. He’s progressed with each release, adding more elements to keep from sounding like he’s just executing a formula...a fault of many math metal projects. In releasing an LP and three excellent EPs in just two years, Cloudkicker has progressed from a melodic, instrumental Meshuggah to something entirely unique and remarkably evocative.
Now with their (his) first LP since debut album ‘The Discovery’, Cloudkicker has clearly grown from hobby to an expression of artistic ambition. The ability to buy hard copies, pay what you wish, and pre-release previews seem to indicate that Cloudkicker has risen beyond what it has been before...something very exciting for fans of rhythmic, math-based metal. I can’t speak at all for Sharp’s mindset when writing this, but ‘Beacons’ feels thoughtful, approached, and solemn in a way its predecessors completely lacked. No longer do songs feel like just an experiment to work out a particular concept, they’re part of a whole album that work in concert to create an emotionally gripping 45 minute experience.
A unifying theme, that of a fighter or bomber going down, is the perfect concept for an instrumental album: vague enough to create without lyrics, but specific enough for the audience to relate to. Album opener “We are going to invert...” is just a loop repeated several times before heading into the incendiary “Here, wait a minute! Damn it!”. Still not a full song, but an excellent preview for what follows. It isn’t until the third track on the album, “We’re goin’ in. We’re going down.”, that we hear a track with a full structure. The main riff is an excellent mixture of technicality, optimism, with a small aspect of melancholic grandeur. The song fits the narrative arc, and is an absolute album highlight.
The clear separation between ‘Beacons’ and previous Cloudkicker releases is outlined in tracks like “I admit it now. I was scared” and “...it’s just wide-open field.” They’re both a departure from the heavy, rhythmic bashing that by now, we’re sort of accustomed to, and could easily be a track from Explosions in the Sky or Oceansize. They’re beautiful, well-timed, and help to complete an album that would otherwise be filled with reiterations of the same ideas. The narrative arc reaches its peak in “It’s bad. We’re hit, man, we are hit.”, and is the start of an incredible 15 minutes of music to close the album. “Untitled” is the most effective song on the album, as it is completely different to anything we’ve heard before. A single guitar reflecting on the events preceding until growing into something more ominous, it hits home and is perhaps the most resounding indication that this album means more than just a hobby.
Listening to the whole of ‘Beacons’ gives me a feeling not unlike Porcupine Tree’s ‘The Incident’. Individually, the songs are wonderful on their own, but when listening to the album straight through... they add up exponentially beyond just the sum of their parts. However easy it is for Ben Sharp to write and record this stuff (and he really does make it seem easy), it’s this strong album experience that makes this so listenable. Due to the instrumental nature, it’s easy to visualize the story as it unfolds...making it a personal and emotional experience. Whether this signals a paradigm shift for Cloudkicker or is just a fortunate aberration, it remains a resonant experience that shows the kind of musical force Ben Sharp is becoming.