Review Summary: A transcendental curveball carries Disperse from dull djent to inspired metal that grooves and pops in all the right ways.
Bands that classify themselves as "djent" commonly fall flat by overemphasizing low-end and technicality. Though Poland's Disperse managed to avoid this common genre failing in their first release, the sublime Journey Through the Hidden Gardens
, they fell right into it with follow-up Living Mirrors
, leaving a lot of questions about what listeners could expect from Foreword
. Would we get something prog-centric, airy, and purposeful with some kick as we did on Journey Through the Hidden Gardens
, or another smattering of shred and balls-out djent as was presented on Living Mirrors
While I'd readily welcome a true sequel to Journey Through
gives us something altogether different - atmospheric and pop metal in the veins of The Devin Townsend Project and David Maxim Micic's Eco
that feels like a breath of fresh air for the group, and maybe even the genre as a whole.
Though guitar shredmaster Jakub Zytecki undoubtedly puts his stamp on the album, he manages to do it in a much less intrusive way than on Living Mirrors
, allowing Disperse to be its own entity, rather than just a vehicle for Zytecki to shred on the high end and crush on the low end. And the new space available allows the group to flourish. Drums are free to set up some tasty grooves and fills throughout while the bass has a space to build a current that's much more free-flowing than anything audible through the tight constraints of Living Mirrors'
rampant 8-string low-end. Atmospheric keys and and vocals (both performed by Rafal Biernacki) take a prominent position on the album alongside light, well-devised electronics. This is particularly noticeable in early tracks like "Stay" and "Bubbles," where the slower tempo and more deliberate and evocative nature of the music is established counter to Living Mirrors'
comparatively frantic pace.
But perhaps most noticeable is that Zytecki's guitar work isn't so much scaled back so much as it's been made more attentive and intentional. While there were moments on the previous album where it felt like the guitars were throwing in everything and the kitchen sink simply to show that it could be done, the guitars on Foreword
remind us how well Zytecki can set a scene and build an environment. Whether that's by hanging back and allowing some air to fill the space or by throwing together a slick rhythm that delegates the propulsion of the song to the other musical elements and providing solid support, its clear that Zytecki and Disperse have evolved as songwriters on Foreword
What's that? You want specifics? Well, while the album on the whole has a dancy pop meets metal with a healthy dose of atmospherics vibe, there's plenty of room for some really heavy riffs (especially early on), very technical (if sometimes masterfully subtle) soloing, and mid-range vocals that round everything out in a comfortable and pleasing way. Tracks like "Tether," "Neon," "Gabriel," and "Does it Matter How Far?" have an incredible feel-good bounce to them that Disperse have never really showcased before, while title track "Foreword" shows off the group's electronic prowess and "Stay" and "Surrender" show that the group's metal chops are as strong as ever.
"The bros" will probably want something heavier when it's all said and done, but Disperse have put together a bit of a transcendent curveball with Foreword
, showing that technical prowess can be sculpted into something tight and beautiful by breaking the djent-based progressive metal mold and embracing atmospherics and pop/dance sensibilities as well as a focus on the group, rather than just the guitar. While it sounds to me as though this is a band at a peak of cohesiveness and creativity, I can only hope that Disperse retain that creativity-nurturing, group-centered approach moving forward. If they do, we'll be in for a lot of great releases for years to come.