Review Summary: El Cielo is quite simply one of the most complete and deep albums of all time. The band perfects their dreamy atmosphere through delay-heavy guitar effects, deep-toned melodic basslines, atmospheric drums, and Gavin Hayes' beauteous tenor.
There is an aspect of my personality that, possibly more than any other aspect, makes me who I am. I strive to find the hidden meaning, the deeper meaning, the true meaning in everything. I stand by the philosophy of everything having a meaning. There are no coincidences, unless one lets an event become a coincidence. Everything possesses meaning. Everything relates to me; everything relates to everyone. Perhaps it is this sleight of hand, bestowed upon me by God, any other religious deity, or purely genetics that forces me to love and adore everything about dredg’s El Cielo. El Cielo is the pinnacle of my philosophy. It took a painting, a medical condition, a certain state of dreaming, and the grand idea of change for dredg to create this album, but not just that. It took every memory, every regret, and every hope of each member of this band. All of these concepts, ideas, and inspirations blend into one stimulant: music.
Embark with me upon a journey into the mind of Salvador Dali. A surrealist and one of the greatest of the era, Dali painted some of the most abstract and complex art of all time. His famed melting clocks form a dreary, desiccated landscape of haunting proportions. Inside his large catalogue of paintings exists a small footnote with an unusually large title. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee Around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening sets the precedent for El Cielo. The painting portrays just as it states, a dream. The dream, apparently only lasting for a second, is extremely detailed. It showcases two tigers ready to pounce upon the dreamer and a large elephant in the background that walks in the water that makes the back setting of the painting. Dredg manages to make direct references to this painting on multiple occasions. Track titles such as Elephant in the Delta Waves and The Canyon Behind Her both point out details about the picture. While not obviously apparent on the album, this painting is crucial to fully understanding El Cielo.
View the picture here: http://www.jigboxx.com/jps/ed/ed04017.jpg
Dali’s work of art also sets the tone for sleep paralysis, a medical condition during which the victim experiences the inability to physically move his/her body although he/she is awake. During this state, the victim often hears white noise. Overall, it is a truly terrifying experience. Sleep paralysis is an interesting enough conundrum but is it enough to make an entire album? Of course not, unless one takes upon the stated philosophy and applies it to sleep paralysis. Although there is no evidence of any band member being a victim of sleep paralysis, El Cielo sounds like one of the most personal albums ever. Scissor Lock
, stated by the band to be the song that defines the concept of the album, goes through a personal account of sleep paralysis. The lyrics flow perfectly, garnering every typical symptom of sleep paralysis. Gavin Hayes, vocalist, writes nearly perfect vocals throughout the album, and Scissor Lock
showcases some of his most concrete lyrics. Despite an overall concept of sleep paralysis, he still steps out of that realm and makes his lyrics go from love to society to just about anything else. His lyrics apply to so many different spectrums at once, as seen in Same Ol’ Road
. The lyrics apply to falling in love, moving on, and falling back into the same traps again. His poetic language flows perfectly as he pours out one of his best stanzas of all time on the track:
All you need is a modest house
In a modest neighborhood
In a modest town
Where honest people dwell
Making the cleanest energy
For the greenest plants to grow
Richest soil that is drenched
With the freshest rain
And you should sit in your backyard
Watch clouds peak over the tallest mountain tops
'Cause they unveil honest opinions
About the stars
However, no matter how good the lyrics may be, an album with such a dreamy and spaced out concept needs equally as dreamy music. Dredg steps up to the plate and puts out the perfect music for this album. They reinvented themselves from Leitmotif, their first full length which showed a much more aggressive and raw sound. Had that sound transferred onto El Cielo, the album would have quite possibly been ruined. Same Ol’ Road
, one of the best songs both lyrically and musically, showcases the dreamy soundscape of dredg. The band often allows a melodramatic Drew Roulette to carry some melody with his inventive basslines, and Same Ol’ Road
is the best example of that. The verse lives on a two note descending bass line. Mark Engles fills in with ambient guitar noises and later begins to take his own melodic spin, letting the song grow and climax at a rocking chorus. The ability for dredg to switch from placidity to aggression is phenomenal. The beauty and sparseness of the piano ballad A Walk in the Park
mixed with the rich, deep, and distorted wall of sound that Of the Room
and Sorry But It’s Over
produce gives the album immense variety, making 51 minutes an easy listen.
Despite all the variety, dredg contains two constants throughout the entire album. Gavin Hayes’ beautiful, tranquil voice conveys a tone of longing and pure emotion throughout the entire album. The highlight of the album, The Canyon Behind Her
, combines quite possibly the densest instrumental sound on the entire album and the most melancholic and tragically beautiful vocals on the album with Gavin singing “Does anybody feel this way? Does anybody feel like I do?” The Canyon Behind Her
also showcases the second constant, the driving force behind the entire band, Dino Campanella on drums. He relies entirely on feel, never going too far out in rhythmic complexity, since that draws away from the overall sound. Also the band’s piano player, Dino shows a great understanding of musicality and never goes to the stereotypical drummer mode of distastefully hammering everything. He pulses everything forward, never letting anything drag and pulls the band through many time switches, especially in Triangle
. Composed much like a sonata of three movements, the song goes from an airy introduction to a dance-like ¾ movement which spans for most of the song. Dino then leads the band into a tribal chant-like interlude and somehow pushes the band into a climatic and heavy chorus. His drumming adds all the atmosphere the album needs to push anyone into a dreamy, euphoric trance.
El Cielo is best viewed as an overall statement. It features many superb tracks, but what makes El Cielo a classic album is its overall consistency, variety, and replay value. Hundreds of listens later, I still find new nooks and crannies in the album that add so much meaning. The album has so many surprises. The staccato attacks at the end of Sorry But It’s Over
can frighten a listener on the first listen, and the album ends with the best surprise of all, a huge, amazing men’s choir. The chords suspend and release into more suspensions, a mesh of incredible harmonies. They expand upon the main melodic theme of the song, a beautiful descent, like the sun setting on a beautiful summer day. And when the sun sets, we sleep. Who knows what we will find in the morning. Will we be paralyzed, or will we find ourselves in a dream that we can control, a lucid dream? Will we wake up and find ourselves the same as the night before? Or will we wake up rested and ready to change ourselves for the better? These are the questions dredg begs. That is what El Cielo helps me answer.