Save Us From The Archon
How Terrible, The Undergrowths Jaws That Tangle.


4.5
superb

Review

by johnny of the Well USER (50 Reviews)
January 26th, 2015 | 18 replies


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A real broadening of technical music's horizons

How Terrible, the Undergrowth's Jaws That Tangle is an incredibly technical, dense instrumental album that has more (musical) notes than anybody has hours to count them. In fact, to come close to imagining the amount of notes that this album has, you should find a disgustingly long book (let’s take War and Peace, Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest as models, but if you don’t have anything comparable to hand, a copy of the Bible will do), flick through the pages from cover to cover, and imagine each individual word as a note. If you have not previously read the book that you have hopefully just flicked through, then you probably just had a very similar experience to the one you can expect from a first-time playthrough of this album.

The album is both highly melodic and prone to resorting to aggressive breakdowns at any moment, and relies on a decisively heavy rhythmic backdrop over which the majority of aforementioned notes are performed. A very, very, very expedient way of thinking of this is as a bastardisation of The Dillinger Escape Plan with Protest the Hero, specifically Calculating Infinity meets Scurrilous. Now that you have a rough idea of what the album sounds like, forget that comparison immediately (unless it gave you a better idea of the amount of notes, in which case you can hold onto it for the short-term future). In any case, we’re dealing with some pretty intense music that can be uncompromising as hell for the first few listens.

However, as accurate an impression as the above paragraphs have hopefully made on anyone reading this, I can almost hear the sceptics crying out something along the lines of this:

“This sounds like a heap of extravagant wankery!”

If you are not concerned by this remark’s potential validity given what this review has covered about the album thus far, then my work here is done: go and listen to it. If, however, you are worried that the quoted exclamation could indeed be accurate, then let me offer some words to the contrary. It may be that my persuasive talents are insufficient to prompt any such naysayers towards a positive experience of this album, but I’ll give it my best shot regardless. The premise for Save Us From the Archon not being guilty of extravagant wankery, here defined as “an attitude to creating music that utilises excessive and superfluous technicality in both musicianship and songwriting” is based on the following evidence:



Cross-examination of Witnesses #1 and #2 for the Prosecution: John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess


The most obvious example of a band frequently accused of extravagant wankery is Dream Theater, and the most self-indulgent members of Dream Theater are John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess. Although picking out self-indulgent Dream Theater moments is as easy and heartless as shooting fish in a barrel, allow me to illustrate what might be considered as definitive extravagant wankery with a few examples: the seemingly never-ending midsection of The Ministry Of Lost Souls, the final three minutes of This Dying Soul and the closing section of the otherwise breathtakingly focused Fatal Tragedy.

Now, these examples all point towards technicality used for its own sake: all three of these Dream Theater songs have strong elements of narrative that are developed very convincingly in other parts, but the sections referred to are essentially crudely inserted shred jams that reference the motifs from the rest of their songs very little, if at all. Since How Terrible, the Undergrowth's Jaws That Tangle does not even have a structural basis from which to launch into such technicality (very few ideas, let alone sequences of ideas, are repeated in the album), it could easily be accused of displaying even greater self-indulgence than the band used as a yardstick for the attribute. However, this would neglect a crucial aspect of Save Us From the Archon’s approach: unlike Dream Theater and bands of that ilk, they do not use technicality as an end in itself, but rather as a means to another end. That end, as will be discussed, is none other than the narrative discourse that Dream Theater so often forsake in favour of heightened technicality.


Witnesses #1 and #2 for the Defence: Abstract Narrative and David Lynch


The aspect of narration is quite a complicated one to pin down concisely, but a good definition would be as follows: “the act of giving an account describing incidents or a course of events.” Traditional narrative is generally chronological and contains events that correspond to another to some degree, but this does not necessarily have to be the case. In fact, narration is best understood by its Latin root: narrare (to tell/relate); the nature of the narrative substance and the means of narration are insignificant as long as the telling/relating are occurring.

Now, this ties into How Terrible, the Undergrowth's Jaws That Tangle because the music, for all its convoluted structures and lack of lyrics, seems to impart some form of discourse – in short, to narrate. Believe it or not, I do have reasons for stating this beyond a personal feeling that the album “takes me on a journey” or any such sentimental triviality. The first is that there is definite progression of moods and atmospheres throughout the album. For instance, the soaring ecstasy of the first half of the album, which culminates in centrepieces 3a. Take care of yourself, and be careful. and 3b. So you had a dream about this place., transforms into intense catharsis of album climax 4c. (Silencia) 1612 Havenhurst, only to be reverted to an energetic sense of contentment on closer 2c. To get rid of this God-awful feeling.. It is admittedly difficult to keep track of changing moods and themes to begin with, due to the challenging pace at which musical ideas are presented, but a certain thematic progression certainly becomes evident upon further listens. The exact nature of this progression is subjective, as it relies on emotional interaction between the listener and the music, but the foundation on which it is established is certainly present in the music.

Further evidence for this instrumental narrative can be found in what seems to have been a source of inspiration for the band: the song titles are all quotes or references to David Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Drive, which this reviewer highly recommends. The film showcases a sophisticated level of narration and confusing presentation of ideas that has much in common with the album: both works can be described as structurally nonlinear, unpredictable and challenging for first-time audiences. Their similarities are limited – the pervasive sense of dread and mystery in Mulholland Drive is a far cry from How Terrible, the Undergrowth's Jaws That Tangle’s melodic urgency – but they present comparable instances of narrative; they both render their audience unsure of what exactly is being related, but produce a form of discourse that is unquestionably real, even if its exact nature is uncertain.

In any case, the premise of narrative driven by instrumental music is one that elevates How Terrible, the Undergrowth's Jaws That Tangle from extravagance – since its immense technicality contributes to an end product that has significance greater than a mere display of self-indulgence, it can hardly be described as superfluous or excessive.


Cross-examination of Witnesses #3 and #4 for the Prosecution: Omar Rodr*guez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala


However, one might produce The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodr*guez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala as examples of a different form of extravagant wankery. Whilst The Mars Volta were by no means innocent of musical excess, they also managed to turn narrative itself into a form of self-indulgence. As anyone vaguely familiar with the lyrical concepts of De-Loused in the Comatorium or Frances the Mute can testify, these guys would compose narratives so bloated, complex and inaccessible (especially with the lyrics as a sole point of reference) that, in the eyes of many, they turned narration into a form of excess in itself.

Save Us From the Archon avoid The Mars Volta’s example of wankery-as-narrative for the simple reason that their narrative is related primarily by the moods and atmospheres invoked by the music. Therefore, it is implicitly an authentic experience; the listener themselves is an integral, organic part of its realisation, so it is not possible to condemn this form of narrative as an extravagant form of artifice on the form of the band. The simple version: The Mars Volta present us with a finished product that might be described as extravagant wankery, Save Us From the Archon present us with a wordless experience that can only exist as narrative long as it is experienced by the listener; the individual is responsible for projection of narrative value, so that although the album is composed in a manner that is bound to inspire such projection, any projection of narrative that might be described as extravagant wankery is no fault of the band.


Witness #3 for the Defence: Who Cares?


At the end of the day, it’s just as possible to overanalyse the levels of excess and direction and narrative and meaning and whatever else in How Terrible, the Undergrowth's Jaws That Tangle as it is to write the album off as being too much, too fast, and too hard to follow. It’s fun, uplifting, energetic and even inspiring, but only in so far as the listener is willing to embrace it as such. All my talk of projected narrative is meaningless if the listener isn’t open to a piece of music that will be very challenging initially. It takes repeated listens and a decent amount of faith in the band and the experience that they reward you with once you get your head round all those notes and transitionless changes, but it’s very much worth it.

Anyhow, if you’re still reading this, it’s high time you went and found the album on Bandcamp, where it costs a very generous $2. Go ahead, pay up – if I’ve deserved your attention in this review, it’s only because these talented musicians have more than earned a little bit of cash in return for their hard work. I hope to hear more great things from them in the future, and I hope that you won’t be disappointed.



Disclaimer: the attribute described here as “extravagant wankery” should not be seen as an inherent evil. Its definition relies of subjective interpretation of what is “excessive and superfluous”, review’s stance regarding this interpretation is directed towards those who would, perhaps, apply these words more freely towards music such as this. I personally enjoy Dream Theater and The Mars Volta greatly, despite seeing them as shamelessly self-indulgent.



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user ratings (43)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
johnnydeking29
January 26th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Holy crap, that was a mouthful to write!



Anyone concerned about the review length should bear in mind that the first two paragraphs are the only essential part, and all the rest is justification and exploration of the album's technicality

johnnydeking29
January 26th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oh, and here's the album page: https://saveusfromthearchon.bandcamp.com/album/how-terrible-the-undergrowths-jaws-that-tangle

Tunaboy45
January 26th 2015


15513 Comments


Nice one Johnny, enjoyed reading.
Pos.

OwMySnauze
January 26th 2015


1682 Comments


Is this a new release?

Digging: Adventurer - Sacred Grove

johnnydeking29
January 26th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks, Tuna :]



"Is this a new release?"



Nah, it came out 2012. The band had a new album out last year though.

OwMySnauze
January 26th 2015


1682 Comments


Ah okay. I have their newest release 'Thereafter' Didn't see this on iTunes though. Shame.

johnnydeking29
January 26th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Check out the Bandcamp link I posted - this is even better than Thereafter!

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Staff Reviewer
January 26th 2015


6282 Comments


holy shit

Veldin
January 26th 2015


2976 Comments


I'm gonna read later, but I'm stoked. "Thereafter" was refreshing.

Calc
Contributing Reviewer
January 26th 2015


15746 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

when reviews address claims of wankery thats always a red flag for me lol. this band knows what the hell they are doing though.

ScuroFantasma
Contributing Reviewer
January 27th 2015


10781 Comments


Cool review johnny, would of taken forever I'm sure

Digging: Russkaja - Peace, Love & Russian Roll

johnnydeking29
January 27th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"I'm gonna read later, but I'm stoked. "Thereafter" was refreshing."



I hope you dig - this is even moreso.



"when reviews address claims of wankery thats always a red flag for me lol. this band knows what the hell they are doing though."



It would have been hard to do this album justice without addressing any such claims, and yes they do!



"Cool review johnny, would of taken forever I'm sure"



It was not quick...





johnnydeking29
January 27th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

As a general question, does anyone prefer Thereafter to this?

StarvingArtist
January 28th 2015


72 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I definitely don't prefer Thereafter, but I love both. some of the best parts of Thereafter remind me of this one too. Was not amazed by the middle EP though, as technically impressive as it was it was no where near as... Moving as this.

johnnydeking29
January 28th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, they have quite a bit in common but I think the heavier edge on this takes it to another level. I've yet to check the EP in full, but will probs do so soon, even if it ain't all that...

paradox1216
Emeritus
January 28th 2015


730 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

These guys are one hell of a band.

Calc
Contributing Reviewer
January 29th 2015


15746 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

the band user on this site put this review on the band's facebook

johnnydeking29
January 29th 2015


11411 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Holy shit, they did as well! Happy days



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