Review Summary: Jose Baena and company take us on a musical trip of prog rock essentials and while failing to create something timeless, they have certainly crafted something special.
It has become difficult to define the term "rock" as it stands here in contemporary times. The term in itself takes on different meanings depending on the demographic you're speaking to. I can bring up the word "rock" in front of some close friends at Starbucks and images of Alex Lifeson shredding his guitar onstage for Rush or Pink Floyd delivering a live vocal performance of the oh so famous song "Comfortably Numb" in the midst of their prime. The problem of course is that my other buddy doesn't have the same images flowing through his mind as he imagines Darroh Sudderth bursting out the lyrics of "Dance of The Manatee" on stage or Chris Cornell pouring out his soul while onstage with Soundgarden. Then there's of course that emo/scene kid who reveals him or herself in the corner of the room and exclaims "yeah, I love groups like The Cure, Disintegration is one of my all time favorite albums". There is of course somebody who has knowledge of all these groups sitting in the room, drinking his frappe with proper hipster poise as he presents an album review of SÆTH's latest project.
There's a reason that I begin this review by bringing up prominent artists from several different eras, because you're going to find at least one element or two of each of these mentioned artists in the work of Baena's group. SÆTH is an interesting monster, merging the post punk sound of The Cure with the progressive elements common to prominent groups like Rush, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd. At the same time though, some of their work here is going to have a metal based influence too, as Toni Ferrer pumps out some interesting melodies with his guitar highly reminiscent of Soundgarden's harder moments. There's no denying the 90's feel here, especially when listening to progression of "The Fall", a song that fits a four minute time frame. In these four minutes, you're going to here a vocal style that seems to highlight the majority of this album as Jose Baena's vocal style seems like a powerful mix between Robert Smith and the vocal range of Chris Cornell in his prime. As far as the vocal style being utilized here, it seems to be a mix somewhere between Darroh Sudderth's (Fair To Midland) wails and Gavin Hayes' (Dredg) enthusiastic performances. In this respect, there's a rich soup being stirred together here and this is exactly the problem I see hurting Jose Baena as there is already a group that has taken these influences and carried them out more effectively. If you've listened to the debut release of In The Silence, you'll notice that they're doing something fairly similar to what SÆTH is doing, with the exception that ITS simply does it better.
I'm of course not going to say that there aren't some gems on The Human Essence as such a statement would certainly be misleading as SÆTH has certainly experimented on this album in ways that other groups wouldn't. This little group from Spain has certainly learned how to hold down the fort in terms of putting together some spectacular choruses that simply stick to the listener's ears for hours on end. Baena's Spanish accent adds an interesting twist to his vocalization of certain words and as a result he can really carry out those rolling "r's" on a song like "Tailon's Eye" (a masterpiece that demands repeated listening). In terms of personal favorites, I would certainly have to say that "Subliminal" is the stand out track on this project as the song opens up with some luscious acoustics and metal based rifts to eventually enter into Baena's addicting voice where some thought provoking lyrics begin to unfold. Things begin to get a little intriguing around the two and a half minute mark as the aggression of the track dies down in favor of a more emotional bellowing by the vocalist and an eventual rebuilding of the original melody that begun the song. The result is a five minute period of euphoria that leaves the listeners craving for more from the artist.
There are of course, some issues with The Human Essence that become more than obvious. While I feel that it isn't being done intentionally, some portions of this small album are being heavily influenced by that of Dredg's El Cielo and while this album is spectacular in the least, I could always go back to Dredg's earlier work if I want something a little more experimental. At the same time though, there probably isn't another artist combining the 90's alternative rock sound with the emotional depth that Baena can break out. I could compare the relationship to that of A Perfect Circle versus that of Rishloo. Few will doubt Maynard's incredible work with APC and Tool, but it often comes off as much more mechanic than the emotion that Andrew Mailloux was able to deliver on the majority of Feathergun during his time with Rishloo. In truth, there are superior artists out there that would demolish SÆTH in terms of experimentation and overall aesthetic pleasure and one can always go back to the older records that influenced this group if that is what they truly adhere to. I still have to play devil's advocate on myself here though, because the reality is that there really is a strong collection of songs here that are loaded with repeated listening and it would be foolish for me not to keep an eye on where SÆTH goes from here.