Review Summary: Blending modern metal with traditional prog while not succumbing to the stereotypical pitfalls of either.
There was a time when labeling an album ‘progressive metal’ could pretty much describe the music’s direction and sound. It meant that there was more than likely going to be high pitched vocals, extended solos, 70s-rock influences and musicianship at the expense of heaviness and/or emotion. Basically, the term ‘progressive’ as it applied to metal didn’t mean progression or outside-of-the-box ideas; it only meant that the vocals were going to anger your dog and the music would most likely ensure the continued safety of your virginity. Fortunately, bands have slowly moved beyond such a limited description to the point that ‘progressive metal’ is finally becoming the open-ended genre that it should have always been – although it probably still won’t get you laid. Granted, there are still plenty of bands trying to be the next Dream Theater, but there seems to be even more that are trying to present a modern and diverse vision of prog – with the release of Recurring Themes
, Imminent Sonic Destruction are one of the latter.
The album’s opening track, “Driving Home”, might actually lead listeners to believe that the band are going to indulge in the kind of laid-back prog that Porcupine Tree have pretty much perfected; and who could blame them? The song is built around a catchy, harmonized chorus, chill clean guitar melodies, sci-fi influenced keyboards and just enough riffy goodness to remind people that this is supposed to be metal. The main thing that sticks out at this early point in the album is the vocals of Tony Piccoli. His main vocal style could best be described as a blend of Denis Belanger (Voivod
– Angel Rat
-era) and the clean singing of Chad Gray (Mudvayne
). For those that have somehow never heard one of those vocalists (how is it you’re reading this?), it’s basically a melodic, albeit nasally, vocal style that sits closer to the higher registers but without reaching any piercing octaves. The other part that sticks out while listening to the opening track is the sudden scream at around seven minutes that marks the transition to a big closing guitar solo. From this point on, though, the band moves away from the overuse of traditional prog elements in favor of a tighter integration with modern metal.
This additional influence is readily apparent as soon as the heavy, cyclic riffs and double bass of “Monster” begin and create an instant contrast with the melody of the opening track. That doesn’t mean that the band have done away with the melodic elements, though, because the choruses are still prominent and catchy, and the vocal harmonies are still used extensively. The difference is that they’re contrasted on either side by heavy riffs, darker melodies and clean singing accentuated by occasional death growls and black metal shrieks. In fact, over the extended track lengths the band are able to segue from chugging riffs and black metal screams to soaring leads and keyboard solos to mellow melodic passages without ever sounding forced. Additionally, there’s no real formula to how each element is used; i.e. melodic passages for the choruses and heavier sections for everything else. Instead, each song just flows naturally from section to section without ever losing track of the actual song or cramming in any unnecessary parts just to show off their musical chops.
When a band is labeled progressive metal, it’s hard to know whether you’re going to get the latest Dream Theater clone or if it’s one of the newer artists that are willing to be a little different – Imminent Sonic Destruction are willing to be a little different. At the heart of each song is definitely the kind of prog influence that probably came from bands such as Porcupine Tree and Devin Townsend – the kind of prog that keeps the actual song at the forefront while still taking the listener on a bit of a trip – but there’s a little more to it than that. The ‘little more’ comes from the band’s tendency to include heavy, cyclical, modern metal-influenced riffs that even occasionally signal the arrival of a little bit of death metal growls or black metal shrieks. This blend of chugging riffs and other modern elements with traditional prog works really well without ever coming off as cliché or formulaic, and the end result is an album that will require a lot of listens to fully absorb while still being enjoyable each and every time. There’s not a lot of information on this band (in fact, this album was released without a label), so I can’t tell you if this is a debut or album number ten, but I can say that Recurring Themes
is an excellent release by a band that is talented enough to blend the heaviness of modern metal with traditional progressive elements while also being smart enough to not overdo any individual element.