Review Summary: An ambitious and technically impressive debut marred by poor songwriting
Every once in a while comes a band with more talent than they know what to do with – The Human Abstract is such a band. Based in LA, the progressive metal quintet hasn’t been the most consistent band in the world. They’ve been through a number of line-up changes throughout the years, ex. The original singer leaving right before the release of Nocturne
, their bassist bailing during the recording of their sophomore slump Midheaven
, guitarist and backbone of the band A.J. Minette taking a break from metal after their debut (then returning for 2011’s Digital Veil
), rhythm guitarist Andrew Tapley fired during Digital Veil
’s recording sessions, etc. The point is, the band’s been through a number of changes and even though their three LPs contain very different influences from these various musicians, the core talent is still there and has been present ever since their 2006 debut Nocturne
contains my personal favorite THA line-up: A.J. Minette and Dean Herrera on lead and rhythm guitar respectively, Kenny Arehart on bass, Brett Powell on drums, and the infamous Nathan Ells on vocals. Minette is undoubtedly the heart of the band, writing most of the riffs and being able to sweep, tap, and basically whatever other guitar lingo there is, plus the ability to sound effortless doing so (solo in ‘Mea Culpa’ is the best example of smooth sweeps along with being the most epic moment of the album). His classical influence on acoustic guitar shines through as well in songs such as ‘Harbinger’, ‘Polaris’, and ‘Channel Detritus’. This is a metal record of course so there’s plenty of heaviness to be found. Namely, the breakdowns of ‘Self Portraits of the Instincts’, ‘Mea Culpa’, and ‘Vela, Together We Await the Storm’ are pretty much guaranteed a headbang upon listening, and the perplexing time signature changes in ‘Nocturne’ and ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ are as confusing as they are impressive.
One of the most controversial aspects of Nocturne
is the presence of vocalist Nathan Ells. He joined the band last minute, replacing Nick Olaerts as frontman right before heading into the studio. You have to cut him some slack for learning all the songs so quickly, but his unique voice can pretty much define whether or not you like the band. Technically speaking, he’s not that great of a singer. His range is relatively stagnant and his tone ranges from decent to dreadful. The middle of ‘Nocturne’ when Nathan whines, ”No wonder here, just an echo resounding”
, is just painful to listen to, and his crooning over some of the nicer acoustic passages is downright cringe worthy. Screaming wise he’s actually solid, but when put next to Greg Puciato or Rody Walker he’s way out of his depth. Having said that, his unique contrast between the harsh and clean vocals is very interesting. For the most part he sings and screams in the appropriate places, often combining the two to add some extra beef, not to mention he can come up with some infectiously catchy choruses (try listening to ‘Polaris’ or ‘Self Portraits of the Instincts’ without having them pop up in the back of your head later on). Nathan has some screaming highlights too, like the breakdown on ‘Mea Culpa’ where he yells, ”I failed and I don’t know why!”
, you can hear the emotion in his voice, as much as he’s straining it, and it sounds damn good.
Regardless of how you feel about the vocals, the instrumental work is definitely the highlight of Nocturne
. The rhythm section is incredibly tight – no matter how many sweeps and taps A.J. is doing, the other members hold the beat together like glue. Even the bass has its moments to show off, and usually while the lead guitar is harmonizing arpeggios, the rest of the members are doing something interesting underneath to add more layers to the sound. Drummer Brett Powell is probably second to A.J. when it comes to talent, throwing ridiculous fills in the most appropriate places and even having some speedy double bass work in ‘Echelons and Molotovs’. Where the band falls short is in the songwriting department. There are plenty of amazing riffs and ridiculous licks from a technical standpoint, but none of the songs really feel
like songs; more like a bunch of ideas loosely connected by a repeating chorus. The first three tracks are the biggest culprits of this as they travel from riff to riff without smooth transitions to hold them together. It’s easy to manage them in short bursts, but when listening to the album in one sitting the spastic songwriting can get a bit tiresome.
At the time Nocturne
was released, The Human Abstract was noticeably a young and naïve band, however their ambition and talent is so painfully obvious it’s easy to ignore most of their flaws. And at the end of the day, even among all progressive metalcore outfits and all the pseudo-progressive technical wank bands flooding the metal scene these days, not one sounds quite like The Human Abstract did on Nocturne
Self Portraits of the Instincts
Crossing the Rubicon
Vela, Together We Await the Storm