Review Summary: The carnival's back in town.
Five years is a long time no matter how you view it. When Unexpect's In A Flesh Aquarium
dropped, I was a freshman in high school who was just getting into metal. Oddly enough, that was one of the albums that pushed me over the edge into the world of all things heavy. Whereas most bands seemed cookie-cutter to a metal outsider, Unexpect were just so ***ing weird that it necessitated multiple listens to make sure that what I was listening to was actually real. From the odd time signatures to the disorienting vocal switches and unconventional instrumentation implementations, In A Flesh Aquarium was pretty much the equivalent to getting hammered, spun around and then taking a stroll through the local carnival at night; it was confusing, scary, and fun.
But that was FIVE years ago. I'm a sophomore in college now. I fall in and out of metal and the same things don't hold the same weight with me as they used to. Through that time, I've constantly check Unexpect's Myspace for updates (remember when that was cool?), dropped my jaw when I saw them live, and given up hope that something new would ever have come out. Leave it to Unexpect to quietly drop their third full-length in the middle of the crazy hype train that is 2011, I guess. Fables of the Sleepless Empire
, I'm happy to report, is everything that made Unexpect great in the past and so much more.
Let's back up to In A Flesh Aquarium
again for a bit. I love that album, but it did have a few glaring flaws. For one, it was really long and making it through one consecutive listen was draining from all the weirdness and oddities. Another thing that bogged the album down was that it felt like a collection of great, great songs, but it never really felt like it came together. The opener was flawless, there's a cohesive trilogy near the end, and the finale was an eleven minute epic that was somehow weirder than the rest of the album; but maybe it was too much.
, on the hand, finds Unexpect becoming more comfortable with their sound and, dare I say, less gimmicky. The opener, Unsolved Ideas of a Distorted Guest
, is a good indication of what to expect from the rest of the album; by that, I mean you don't know jack-*** about it. It's somehow both a groovy and classical sounding tune that quietly underlines the excellent new bass production and the band's better use of the keyboards that has few equals. It's also weird as hell. If you were one of those people who managed to wrap your brain around IAFA, good luck here: this album is probably weirder.
After that hodge-podge of a song ends, you're treated to an album that is, more or less, flawless in its opening half. Words
opens up with a jaw-dropping combination of Chaoth's unparalled nine-string basswork and Leilindel's beautifully haunting vocals.Orange Vigilantes
finds the band writing probably their poppiest tune yet with a groovy, catchy....chorus? What follows suit is probably what this album will be remembered for: the one-two-three punch assault of the BTBAM-esque Mechanical Phoenix
, weirdness of The Quantum Symphony
, and probably the best track on the album, The Unfed Pendulum
Each song from the album's first half is untouchable and downright perfect in every regard. The only 'problem' to be found on this album is in the placement of the tracks after the aforementioned songs. Something feels...off
when the album's two ambient pieces are placed so close together, especially after the unforgiving first half. Granted, both pieces are fine but it would have helped the pacing if they were spread apart a bit more.
Other than that, there's really nothing to not like on here. Fables
is everything that you liked about Unexpect turned to eleven. The wonderful bass finally has the presence it deserves, the fat that plagued their earlier releases has been removed, they've somehow gotten weirder, the instruments work together better, and this album is just littered with moments that will drop your jaw. 2011 has seen it's fair share of high-profile progressive releases, but it's Unexpect's third full-length that takes the progressive crown (so far). The Canadian outfit, unlike Protest the Hero and Between the Buried and Me, have successfully taken their sound to the next level by making an album that provides more of the better and less of the worse. With the avalanche of metal releases provided this year, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. Whatever you do, do not let this album pass you by.