Review Summary: It's UneXpect, on all cylinders, full-bore, hatef*cking thine ears into the Devils Circus.
If you're the type of person who enjoys simple hooks, pop-crafted songwriting, and familiar composition structure, and (most of all) subtlety
, then move your mouse to the X button in the top corner and close this window. UneXpect is not your cup of tea and probably never will be.
Making their name in the underground metal and avant-garde scene by being completely fu
cking insane, UneXpect is such a huge mish-mash of musical stylings and approaches that to describe what they do can be as mind-scrambling as the music itself. It's the Devil's Calliope, all the pomp and bombast of a Broadway production, the vileness and intensity of black metal, progressive song structures, the rapid-fire changes of grindcore, and all the glory and operatics you would expect from an act that sees pretentiousness as a watermark of effort as opposed to something that should be avoided.
With Fables of the Sleepless Empire
, UneXpect have taken their insanity and molded into a aurally streamlined killer (with little filler), complete with all of the dark circus feel, eastern European tinges and blast-furnace metal hammerstrikes that have become their trademark. The difference here, and especially from their previous effort In a Flesh Aquarium
, is that the music has been cut lean and seared smooth, and while it makes small tiptoes to more accessible structuring, the result is simply just a more enjoyable album on first listen. The music is just as dense as it ever was, and with repeated listens unfurls into a remarkable piece of work. It's not an easy listen, still
, but there are more immediate fist-pumping sections and hooks here than ever before.
The music employed here is less of a typical band arrangement and more of a small-scale orchestral construction. There are very few times that all instruments are blaring all at once, allowing the strings to accentuate the more morose and delicate parts, the synth to come in and give a more dark atmosphere or even ragtime feel to things. The rhythm section is the only really permanent music being pumped out, with playtime on the disc at around ninety percent, and the basslines and drum work here is absolutely mind boggling. I don't even want to go into detail, because I'll be here all day. It's astoundingly good, and almost worth the price of admission alone. No matter the instrument, however, the music twists and contorts on itself, opposing time signatures and scales, guitars stretched past the breaking point and twinkling interludes create a blizzard of glimmering notes that quickly give way to curb-stomping grooves. Ghostly female vocals and screeching male vocals accentuate every alcove and corner and are as dynamic and completely fitting as anything else here.
The first six tracks are among the best (Arguably the
best) the band has ever produced in their career, but it's the last five tracks that end up being hit or miss. Both of the ambient tracks ("In the Mind of the Last Whale" and "A Fading Stance") could have been reduced in time, absorbed into a song in a truncated state, or gotten rid of altogether. I never got the sonic break or feeling of dread that I believe these were intended for. The last three "real" songs on the disc are good, very good in fact, but just don't hold up to the intensity, creativity, or massive scope of the first six. The album ends up being front-loaded as a result.
However, these small misgivings can be forgiven when the small shadows these missteps cast are blasted away by the power of tracks like "The Unfed Pendulum" and "Unsolved Ideas of a Distorted Guest", a pair of giants that stand tall in an album full of giants. These two tracks are amazing, and worth checking out (almost worth buying the album for) alone. The five year gap between releases for UneXpect makes sense when taking into account the complexity, density, tightness, and fully-fleshed out results. This is an avant-garde album that truly shines amongst other avant peers (Ephel Duath, Rope) as both incredibly twisted and somehow welcoming at the same time. A train wreck, rubbernecking on the highway, or gore-porn horror movies share similar characteristics, only this time nobody gets hurt.
Absolutely incredible. Highly, highly recommended.