Review Summary: The virus spreads.
There’s a case to be made for Last Chance To Reason’s prominence in the progressive metal scene. While I concede that the group's sound feels familiar enough, it’s always mattered more about the direction in which said familiarity is taken.
I was exposed to the group through its sophomore release Level 2
, and I quickly noticed that, for better or worse, much of the response to that album was based on its resemblance to its predecessors. And to be fair, the album does pull a lot from Between the Buried and Me’s infamous style of technical ability, as well as the vocoder-centric singing of Cynic’s Paul Masvidal. But the difference between Level 2
and the dozens of albums surrounding it was that the record didn’t seem to take itself seriously. I mean, let’s be honest here-- Last Chance To Reason is a concept band that makes releases about its own videogame. Sure, there’s a chance that this group is being 100% serious about the matter, and I suppose there’s a possibility that they thought their synth-laden brand of progressive metal would write a new story, instead of adding afterthoughts to the tales the group’s influences have been weaving for years now. But the album certainly didn’t sound that way, and in ass-backwards fashion, that’s why it’s sat so well with me for the last few years. When I listen to Level 2
, I hear a band that embraces the inherent silliness of expectations of progressive metal-- a group that has fun in the way it plays so many notes, powers through all of its transitions, and makes music about the things its members are passionate about. These guys just wanted to have a good time with the release, foregoing pretense for transparency. They even named one of the album’s most impressive tracks “Portal,” and yep-- it’s about exactly what you think it’s about. It’s hilarious to me that Last Chance to Reason would pull these types of moves-- they hadn’t fallen into the trap that about all of its stylistic neighbors had, getting “serious” about their ambitious music.
But maybe that day was bound to come. It may be that it was inevitable, and always will be for bands of this caliber. They mess around with quirky-- but satisfying-- music, and then, they determine their need to “grow up.”
Can a band decide to mature, though? I don't think I've ever seen such a decision successfully pulled off, because progress is an elusive thing for artists like Last Chance to Reason. The group is pigeonholed in a scene that, more or less, is defined by its regression. So Level 3
shouldn’t be a surprise to me, should it? Logic dictates that eventually, these guys would want to make an album that “cuts the nonsense.” And that Level 3
does-- the most positive thing about the record I can point out is its internal consistency, and the way it plays out without making much of a disturbance. But how concerning is it when an album’s greatest attribute is that it doesn’t make much of a stir?
comes across as the album Last Chance To Reason believes its fans want to hear. The record is tailored entirely without synths, foregoing the most controversial ingredient of the band's music. Furthermore, there isn’t a single trace of a technical breakdown here-- another former characteristic left by the wayside. Of course, maybe I’m assuming too much here. It’s possible, of course, that the band decided on its own to bypass these elements of its music. But it’s hard for me to take that stance seriously, especially considering many of the band’s contemporaries-- The Contortionist, Between the Buried and Me, etc.-- have made similar executive decisions in the last couple of years.
It must be more than coincidence that these stylistic shifts have happened, and I can’t help but be disappointed in Last Chance To Reason. I thought the group would stick to its guns, that it would know better than to see a need to change the formula that worked so well on Level 2
. But no, Level 3
is an entirely different beast-- complete with puzzling songwriting, flawed production and an overall style that’s as monotonous as can be. The tracks here function in the same manner, with syncopated guitar chugs that accompany vocalist Mike Lessard’s singing. The two are incompatible, aiming for different styles-- the music is too one-dimensional to support Lessard’s singing, and Lessard’s voice is too inoffensive to propel itself above the band.
Producer Eyal Levi also overemphasizes the album’s guitars, to the point where the other instruments sound like an afterthought. A guitar-centric release like Level 3
requires a reliable backbone, lest it give the impression of too few significant cooks in the kitchen. It's a damned shame, then, that Evan Sammons’ drumming is never given the proper space with which it can work-- even Lessard is oddly quiet, rendering the power of his guttural vocals inert. The album’s most ferocious track, “The Dictator,” does no favors for the vocalist when his shouts are drowned out by the sea of instrumentation.
The songs speak for themselves, but only if you can distinguish their voices from one another. The amount of monotony on this release is perplexing-- each track is a maelstrom of static, sterile riffing, accompanied by similarly insipid musicianship. The vibrancy of tracks like “Upload Complete” has all but been abandoned, leaving room instead for reserved-- and frankly, confused-- progressive metal.
Despite all these grievances, though, it isn’t these things that irk me the most. It’s how indifferent Last Chance To Reason sounds now, how they come across as yet another group riding the current wave of atmospheric metal. This is the same band that writes its albums as loose concepts for videogames-- doesn’t that require some degree of musical eccentricity? By throwing its previous style to the wind in lieu of a more conservative affair, the group has extracted every element of its music that made it charming in the first place. By the looks of Level 3
, 2013’s Last Chance To Reason is nothing more than homogeneous dust-- color me duped.