Review Summary: 'Djent' goes Hard Rock
“Djent” might be a dirty word to many, but according to no less a luminary than Tosin Abasi*, it’s about as good a genre-name for the Meshuggah-inspired legion as any. The djent aesthetic, while inherently limited, continues to spin off in some interesting directions, spreading the Meshuggah influence far afield and being heard in everything from Twelve Foot Ninja’s un-characterisable blend of genres to Cloudkicker’s moody post-metal to DispersE’s contemporary take on classic virtuosic progressive rock to Hacktivist’s 21st century rap-core reboot. Syqem applies the djent jackhammer to modern hard rock, with predictable yet enjoyable results.
On Reflections of Elephants
, Syqem combines the off-centre chugging riffs, electronica flourishes and instrumental virtuosity that are the staples of djent with the throaty vocal melodies and hooks of hard rock. Unsurprisingly, the formula works well in small doses, but loses steam over the course of the album and eventually the lack of variety in the musical attack wears thin.
Right from the album opener Attack of the Elephants
, you basically know what you’re getting into with Syqem. Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Bernath’s vocals run the gamut from a Chris Martin-ish level of sweetness to a metalcore level of screaminess, but mostly settle in the middle; a sort of overly plaintive level of post-grunge earnestness. Despite his often-overwrought delivery, Bernath displays a strong knack for hooks and a voice with a great deal of heft, range and control. Bernath has sufficient talent to pull off whatever he wants to sing, but he tends to overuse his tricks by throwing all of them into every song. This contributes greatly to the homogeneity of the album and is ultimately what really holds the songs back from being distinguishable from each other.
Accompanying and underpinning Bernath’s see-sawing vocal lines is the instrumental attack driven by Benjamin Shibata on the 8-string guitar and Stefan Kopetsch on drums. The instrumentalists are certainly talented and capable, but it appears that they are not quite creative enough to consistently riff in interesting ways. Occasionally the band really hits the mark such as on the superlative S.O.S
whose groove-laden riffs are downright infectious and easily some of the most catchy that the djent genre in general has heard. The glitchy breakdowns and their funky two-note leads sound almost reminiscent of a classic Michael Jackson groove and are a brilliant touch that really enhances the song.
However, the rest of the album finds the band as a whole hammering away rather guilelessly. In the context of the album the few bright spots turn out to be those instances where the band significantly dials back on the aggressiveness such as on You Phone
. It is very unfortunate that this happens so rarely on the album because the persistent use of the same dynamics in each song dilutes the album in general even when the individual songs are quite good. Ultimately, the album tends to settle into a kind of inevitable generic mediocrity, but the songs themselves show that blending the constituent genres can often result in some good, often-progressive, very-hard, rock.
*Tosin Abasi’s opinion of djent – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eq_fvJAR8d8)