Review Summary: Disperse, the band of wunderkind guitarist Jakub Zytecki, move beyond a platform for the virtuoso to release an astoundingly well-written album learning from prog greats old and new.
If you've never heard of Jakub Zytecki, be prepared to. The wunderkind guitar wiz has been blowing up in the metal underground with astonishing guest solos on albums such as David Maxim Micic's Bilo 2.0
and Soul Cycle's Soul Cycle II
. But he hasn't simply been limited to guest spots, impressing audiences with the release of his own highly technical yet structured solo material in 2010, and, of course, with this release, Disperse's Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
, which has taken the band to the heights of involvement on the tech-metal heavy Euroblast tour and, an arguably higher achievement, touring with well-established prog group Marillion. Yet, while Zytecki's axework is almost unarguably the centerpiece of the album, it's the penchant for expert songwriting built from the ground up with atmospherics, rhythm, and ethereal vocals mixed in with staples of the progressive genre forgotten by other emerging artists that makes Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
the treat that it is.
Zytecki, coming from a school of guitar playing that seems to be heavily influenced by the likes of John Petrucci and now-labelmate Paul Masvidal, displays an excellent range of melody and attack throughout the album. With a tone that shifts from the vicious bite of his guitar's palm-muted lower range to bright leads that range in tone from the soundtrack of a haunted castle to the Eastern and Flamenco sounds of "Reflection of a Dying World," Zytecki executes flawlessly in terms of both technicality and emotion.
Yet the songwriting on Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
is more than mere guitar worship. The musicianship on this album shows a certain respect for forefather artists such as King Crimson in the off-tempo stutter steps of tracks like "Above Clouds" and the old-fashioned synthesizer sounds of "Spirit of Age" that come together well with newer, electronica-inspired pounding bass and keyboard rhythms. And while there's certainly something to be said of Disperse being influenced by the "prog classics," tracks like "Balance of Creators" and "Circle's Complete," featuring female guest vocals highly reminiscent of Portal's Aruna Abrams backed by high, chiming electronics also known as a hallmark of the group, make it clear that they're not without contemporary influence as well. In fact, "Circle's Complete" comes so close to the sound of Portal's "Circle" that by the final few minutes of the track that it feels like a companion track. Not in the sense of a cheap robbery, mind you, but rather like an additional chapter to a story written by a passionate and creative author who has studied the text over and over.
But while "Circle's Complete" skirts the line of hero worship in the best of ways, the album as a whole feels fresh and originally inspired, which is saying something given that all but three of its nine tracks are over six minutes in length. Zytecki's solos, which appear multiple times on every track, always seem to build off of a slow, deep bass groove or an intermingling synth spark that allows the guitar to properly launch itself and, upon return, ground itself safely for the next take-off. Drumming for the album, while certainly leveraged towards the background of the sound, is always on point and plenty technical to keep up with the rest of the sound, ranging from the frantic beats providing the undercurrent to Zytecki's equally rapid fretwork at the start of "Entering New Lands" to the subtle fills that follow. And, while it would be easy enough to launch an instrumental effort, keyboard player Rafal Biernacki also provides a vocal presence to the album that gives it just that little extra element to complement the guitar during its lower, riff-based breaks from soloing.
Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
is, simply put, a spectacular performance by an incredibly young band that displays a higher level of songwriting skill than nearly all of their contemporaries. From fast and furious fretwork to slow, atmospheric chimes of keyboards riding bass and guitar grooves, Disperse create an album that mixes the best of an established progressive sound with the best of an emerging progressive sound. And, without a surprise, it results in a phenomenal listen.