Review Summary: James McCabe shows off a lot of potential in the instrumental progressive metal arena with his first full-length release as Cloudyhead.
There's a certain line between the human and the mechanical that instrumental music, in particular, seems to tread. I say instrumental music because there's a particular emotional quality to singing that seems impossible to emulate, making vocal music (well, at least good vocal music) inherently human. But instrumental music can all too easily become a factory assembly line. One man has a good thought that is then copied, disassembled, reassembled, tweaked, slapped together, marketed and, boom! There you have it, folks, an album.
, the first full length release from St. Louis native James McCabe, is an album that seems to teeter on that line. At its best and most jazz influenced ("Something," "Smile," "Oaken"), it reflects the mellow, yet warming sense of optimism that McCabe says he targeted on Abstraction
; at its worst, the album is a grinding conveyor belt lined by stale, tired factory workers placing part into part in satisfaction of gestalt theory.
And, for the most part, the whole is
greater than the sum of its parts. Though some tracks seem to commit too long to particular riffs and cycle through them on repeat a tad past the ideal stopping point, the album as a whole feels energetic, inspired, and interesting. While the heavy, often cyclical rhythms plod along, there are usually strong melodic leads that carry the track and, if not, those rhythms are usually countered sooner, rather than later by pepped-up jazz or electronic-styled drum beats. Still, the relatively consistent tone of heavy distortion becomes weighty over the album's fifty-three minute run-time and can make tracks bleed together, though they might sound brilliant on their own.
What may be most bothersome is that tracks like "Aliens Made of Wood," which rely wholly on the gear-grinding mechanic of low, crunching, repeated riffs, often precede great moments like the free-flowing introduction to "Oaken," which then forgets its beginnings and falls into the factory routine all over again. It's like seeing brief flashes of brilliance which feel a personal pain for standing out, yearning to conform.
Given that Abstraction
is McCabe's first full-length release under the Cloudyhead moniker, it seems likely that this is a bug to be worked out in his own personal machinery and nothing more. For being only twenty years old, producing music at this standard of quality is highly commendable and, provided McCabe dedicates himself to what he's doing and balances himself a bit more firmly on that line between the human and the mechanical, his next effort could easily be outstanding. In the meantime, Abstraction
is a worthwhile addition to your collection for even its most average moments, which are better by at least a sprint than most other releases in the same realm.