Review Summary: From re-defining progressive to re-defining "just above average."
Disperse are a young band. And, as with any young person or group of people, it seems that they're prone to a somewhat fickle nature. You see, Disperse's first album, Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
, was a free-flowing progressive metal album with a heavy leaning towards the progressive side of things. It was full of drawn-out soundscapes that painted pictures of ruby backlit poppy fields with dancing winds of melodic guitar lines sweeping through them. It shifted the style of that painting fluidly through artistic movements; never skipping transitionary phases and always developing a new technique as the record progressed. Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
is, in my opinion, an album that will be fondly looked back on years from now by critics and musicians for the unique way in which it blended progressive outlooks old and new.
But Living Mirrors
is a different story. It is an album that has a few ideas in line with its prototype, but it mostly forfeits them for rhythmic bombast. It is an album that forfeits direction and melody for a meandering, heavier sound. But, perhaps most crucially, it is an album which largely discards the band's penchant for experimentation in favor of a consistent sound. And that consistent sound doesn't just fall short of being the great thing that Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
was, it isn't even consistently good
A significant portion of that stems from one principle issue: Jakub Zytecki, Disperse's main attraction on the six string contraption, has had his role reduced on this record. While the lead guitar of the group's first album provided the wind that kept the leaves scurrying through the air, Living Mirrors
has no such current to keep its pieces in flight. Oh, sure, there are melodic guitar lines and guitar solos, but more than half of the time, they're shoved to the bottom of the mix with down-tuned chug riffing stampeding over them. Take the solo at the 2:24 mark of "Touching The Golden Cloud," for example. It's a catchy, fast paced affair with enough of its own rhythm to carry its part, yet it's paired with an obnoxious chug riff that cuts through its propulsion and holds the track onto the ground with a heavy hand.
The sad truth is that while instrumentation on the group's former album was designed to provide a frame for the axework, it's unwilling to perform that task on the bulk of Living Mirrors
. And the result is a picture without a frame, but with a lot of junk piled up in it and glued onto it. The biggest culprit is, of course, the chuggy rhythm guitar that seems to eat most of the drumming and bass on this album, but next in line are the vocals. While the drawn out low tenor of Rafal Biernacki was well-suited to the soundscape-driven approach of the quartet's previous album, it doesn't fill the space afforded to it by the rhythm-heavy approach on this album. There simply isn't enough variation in the vocal delivery for your average (or even above-average) listener to really feel moved by. Of course, repetitive lyrics ("Choices over me" set on a loop) and the gimmicky Cynic-worship autotune of "Unbroken Shiver" don't help either... Especially when the vocoder isn't even powerful to break the monotony of Biernacki's delivery.
does have a few saving graces in solid tracks like opener "Dancing With Endless Love" and "Butoh," which play a little more freely and far away from the railroad tracks of the runaway rhythm train. "Butoh," in fact, features lush bass soloing and bass-lead interplay that feels like an incredibly fresh relief from the weight of the rest of the album. That's a great thing when taken alone, but it's also an unfortunately true statement about the album as a whole. Many of the tracks do continue to feature some solid ambient sections and nearly all of them include catchy melodic leads and solos (the intros to "Touching The Golden Cloud" and "Choices Over Me" are both brilliant) but the devil becomes picking them out of the bottom of the mix once the rhythm kicks in and swallows Disperse's number one asset whole. And that's a task no listener should have to undertake.
In the end, Living Mirrors
is an album that's at its best when it's throwing curveballs - audible, soaring guitar solos and catchy leads, tracks without vocals or chug riffs, the interspersing of African percussion on "AUM," bass leads on "Butoh," and most of its ambient passages throughout. Yet, those are the curveballs
and for every oddball throw Living Mirrors
gives us, there's another boring passage saturated in prolonged, dull rhythms just around the corner. And it's for that reason that Living Mirrors
falls short of being anything good, let alone anything as spectacular as its predecessor.