To anybody who's heard UneXpect
, you should be more than aware that they're about as unconventional as can be. When I first head Novae
off the _We, Invaders
EP, I was at a loss for words. Having no idea what I'd just heard, I shrugged it off as non-sense. Several months later I listened to it again and was, quite frankly, blown away. Fast forward three years and UneXpect have once again left me wondering. With their second full length, In a Flesh Aquarium
, the Montreal 7 piece have, for better or for worse, turned everything up a notch. Returning with the same line-up of guitar, vocals (both harsh and clean, male and female), violin, keyboards (usually playing a piano sound), drums and of course, my favourite element of the group, ChaotH and his 9 string monster of a bass. Everything you loved about the EP is back, and more. They've gotten weirder, faster, slower, heavier and softer, all on the same release. I guess that also means everything you hated is back too, but, how could anyone hate these guys?
Perhaps the greatest indicator of the bands progression, Chromatic Chimera
--which some of you may remember was the closing track off _We, Invaders
-- starts the album off just as it ended the EP. On _We, Invaders
, Chromatic Chimera was comprised entirely of piano/keyboards. On In a Flesh Aquarium
, Chromatic Chimera opens the album with the same familiar, classical sounding piano, only this time around there's an extra dash of weirdness; this time it's laden with effects, as well as being accompanied by violin. Around 52 seconds in, you realize that this was in fact a song split between three years, as the drums kick in and all out chaos begins. The song retains it's very classical sounding piano, only this time it's a little jazzier, a lot weirder and, at times, almost circus-like, yet somehow it still manages to fall into the metal category. A major highlight of this song, and the album as a whole, is the bass. ChaotH really goes to town on his 9 stringer, and thanks to the production, you can hear it in all its glory. Throughout the frequent time and sound changes, you'll find ChaotH tapping, slapping, popping and running across his bass like no tomorrow. The next song, Feasting Fools
, begins with some bass popping and guitar shred, only to speed up into a more death-metal style song, though with a violin and choir styled vocals. Much like the album as a whole, the song goes through many time and tempo changes; from fast and chaotic to slow and melodic. The vocals seem to be even more diverse this time around. The wonderfully executed operatic female vocals (done by Leìlindel) are still there, and seem to have been pushed slightly to the forefront, and rightfully so. The rest of the vocals are done by Syriak and Artagoth, and they range from chant-like harmonies, pirate-like chanting, screaming, growling, talking and of course singing. The band often breaks into several part harmonies, as well, which adds to their grandiose sound.
UneXpect excel in the very same ways at which they fail. They're bizarre, perhaps a little too bizarre for an album as long as this. Clocking in at exactly one hour (1:00:32), I felt myself spacing out by the time the three part Shiver track kicked in. Perhaps this was why the EP was such a hit; the weirdness, absurdity and chaos do become a little overbearing after such a long play time. It's not to say they don't do it well, because the musicianship is literally breathtaking, it's that with such a long record with so many things going on, you might end up remembering the album as one blur. Some parts tend to drag, such as the breakdown during Desert Urbania
. In fact, Desert Urbania seems to more or less drag as a whole, eventually fading out sounding like an unwound music box.
To go to the positives, for a minute, and there are many, I've got to talk about the bands ability to adapt and change instantly; the transitions and segues on the album are phenomenal. Somehow, UneXpect have managed to find a way to contravene your expectations even further, switching between tempos and styles at the drop of a hat. How the band manages to go from a jazzy clean section to an insanely fast chaotic Death Metal passage is beyond me. The way they manage to mesh the 9 string beast of a bass with violin and a piano (Keyboards) is certainly something worth the acclaim they will undoubtedly receive.
I realize that the basic sound hasn't exactly been addressed much, the main reason being UneXpect are totally unique. It's nearly impossible to describe what's going on. Perhaps the only way for me to go about describing the sound is to describe one of my favourite tracks.
The song begins with quick piano playing with all three vocalists saying "Let us paint", only to briefly speed up briefly before revisiting the introductory sound. 16 seconds in. The song speeds up again to a violin accompanied death metal part, only to (at 0:21) turn to a clean, smooth jazz passage. Several seconds later, the song speeds up again with both male vocalists shrieking and screaming in the background at varied levels, while the operatic female vocals croon overtop. As the song progresses, all of the sounds mesh together, until at 1:18, the song turns to a slow bass tapping interlude, alternating from the tapping spot to a faster build-up, which brings the song back to the more death metal feel, which of course lasts mere seconds before it begins alternating with the clean jazzy part. Take note, we're only 2:11 into the song so far. While the song doesn't necessarily introduce any new sounds than what I've mentioned, for the next 5 minutes it alternates flawlessly, varying itself nearly every 10-30 seconds. It sounds confusing, but they manage to create segues, allowing it all to mesh together flawlessly. One of my favourite parts of the song is at 4:24, where the song mellows out and strips itself down to just violin, soft female vocals and Victor Wooten like harmonics, only to begin what sounds like a journey through hyperspace. Summoning Scenes is truly an example of the bizarre musical journey the listener will undertake when listening to this album. The tasteful application of the violin, and it's accompaniment of the guitars, along with the powerful bass and unique, diverse vocals, make all of the time and tempo changes go down easy.
While I was at first overwhelmed by the intensity and chaos of this album, I've now digested the album for what it is. UneXpect have furthered themselves into a league of their own. They've become somewhat of an enigma, indescribable and virtually impossible to pin down. This is what you would get if you mixed Mr. Bungle's self-titled album (The Shiver - Meet Me at the Carrousel has a very "Egg" like feel toward the end), Death Metal, Big Band/Jazz all with a pinch of French Canadian insanity. At one point, they even bring in a sax to add to the insanity, adding an out of this world John Zorn like feel. In a Flesh Aquarium is truly one of a kind, and for such a bizarre and varied album, it's manages to come off quite listenable. I highly recommend it to anyone who isn't discouraged by abnormalities, as they're plentiful on this release. This is what you get when you mix the weirdest of the weird and throw it into an extreme metal atmosphere, and while it may become overbearingly weird at times, it all balances out in the end. If you've ever wanted to hear an extreme metal circus or just something new, check this out. If you're looking for the conventional, well, you've already stopped reading by now anyways. With all that this album contains, it really shouldn't work, but as a whole, it really does. Undoubtedly the weirdest album to be released in the last few years.
- A bizarre journey through an intergalactic extreme metal circus.
- Extremely progressive (see: weird) album, in a good way
- Totally original
- Excellent musicianship
- Perfect production
- It's a little too weird at times, even for me.
- The album is a little long for something so weird
- Can sometimes become a blur of weird sounds; a cacophony of circus music and death metal.
- Syriak - guitar, vocals
- ChaotH - bass
- ExoD - keyboards
- Le Bateleur - violin
- Artagoth - guitar, vocals
- Leìlindel - vocals
- Landryx - drums