Review Summary: Different, unexpected, and rather brilliant.Tera Melos
And the review will begin with a video…..
My reason for starting the review with such a video is that I believe that it represents Tera Melos in their prime. They are indeed difficult to pin down to one genre, throwing in equal amounts of Jazz, Electronic, and Post Hardcore to create their own special mix brand of What-The-*** instrumental rock. Still, the aforementioned video displays everything that I have come to love about the band, despite the rather poor recording. Between the technical tapped sections, the ridiculous drumming, the electronic/noise break, and the simply gorgeous post rock section in the middle, Tera Melos’s performance in Salt Lake City stands as a testament to why they are one of modern music’s best, tasteful and most original bands.
However, much has changed since that night in 2005.
One of the most significant changes was the departure of guitarist Jeff Worms, the second half of Tera Melos’s fretboard dream team. To compensate for his absence, the band significantly changed their sound for the EP Drugs To The Dear Youth
. They said goodbye to the complex intertwining tapped guitar parts that had become so identifiable with their sound in favor of a more experimental and stripped down approach to their music. The results were no less spectacular than their self titled, and guitarist Nick Reinhardt proved that he didn’t need another guitar player to burn a hole through modern music.
And so now, we arrive at the 2007 Complex Full of Phantom’s
split. Changes have once again taken place, albeit that is a bit of an understatement. The obvious" Well, the music is more convoluted and random than ever before, the band cuts through time signatures like absolutely nothing, moreso than on previous recordings. Tera Melos have always been an absurdly technical act, however with the new split they truly take it to another level. It’s hard to keep up with the music as the instruments absolutely explode from the speakers. The new split is also the first time vocals have served as major part of the band. They were present on their self titled LP, however weren’t utilized to nearly the extent of Complex Full of Phantoms
. The band hasn’t exactly made it a secret that they love Tegan and Sara, and the vocal approach reflects their interest with Indie Pop. Whereas the vocals on S/T served as another haymaker to the chaos that was Tera Melos, on Complex
they do just the opposite, soothing the listener with catchy hooks and offering a break from the band’s instrumental insanity.
As for the actual album, it is another excellent outing. Every track is of the highest caliber, and Nick Reinhardt and co. are more impressive than ever. The production has vastly improved from the DTTDY
EP, and as a result the performance sounds much tighter. Each band member just tears into their respective instrument, and each riff is just as creative and fantastic as the last. Despite the hyper technicality of the music, it never comes across as tasteless, pretentious, or dull. The band has indulged in their catchier and more accessible tendencies moreso than ever before, creating music that is surprisingly accessible for being so convoluted.
There is a slew of highlights to be found, each track has it’s own special charm. The addition of a Horns on Party With Tina
is wonderful, giving the song a whole new dimension and a sense of individuality. The tapped theme of When Worms Learn To Fly
just kills, and hooks the listener like a javelin to the leg. Melody 9
, an atmospheric piece that isn‘t a noise track, serves as a break from the madness. Last Smile For Jaron
proves itself to be the best song on the record, every single section is just another hook that leaves the listener begging for more. And thus is the true strength of Tera Melos: Whereas most bands that employ such excessive amounts of technicality become boring and stale after a brief period of time, Tera Melos stays consistently interesting throughout the entire recording because of how well crafted and thought out all their melodies are. The juxtaposition of fast and slow parts is utilized perfectly, and the contrast that Tera Melos creates is what gives the band it’s crack-like addictiveness. As for the vocals, they only add on to the already sugary sweet vibe of the record. Gone are the harsh screams of “Melody 2”, and in their place are melodies reminiscent of groups like Tegan and Sara
, Maps and Atlases
, and Brilliant Red Lights
With all it’s strengths, the only weakness of Complex Full of Phantoms
is largely interpretive. Tera Melos have truly departed from their original sound. They no longer have that intensity, that aggression, or that experimental insanity that their earlier recordings had. Their newer material feels much more formulated, and much more thought out; as opposed to the freeform improvisation present on Drugs
. The thing is that Tera Melos have more or less replaced their Post Hardcore influence with an Indie Pop vibe. There are no 8 minute songs to be found on Complex
, no psychotic noise breakdowns, no gorgeous piano parts, and no thrashing punk rhythms. What they have gained in catchiness and accessibility, they have lost in aggression and originality. This leads to one of the most important reasons I began the review with that video: That song that they closed with in Salt Lake City is the original version of Last Smile for Jaron
. Although most of the parts are the same, the presentation is vastly different. Whereas the Phantoms
version is six and a half minuets of delicious experimental Indie, the live version is an emotional masterpiece, and is probably what I consider to be the zenith of the band. I cannot explain the juxtaposition any better than watching the video, but they are truly two different bands. Even the way that they place together, the intensity and stage presence of Nick Reinhardt, especially during the clean section, makes the newer recording feel almost lifeless. It isn’t really fair to compare the two different renditions, however it is my oppinion that the newer version pales in comparison to the old, and thus is how I feel largely about the record, that it is not at the level of their previous work.
Still, Tera Melos have succeeded again and released another marvelous album. The technicality" Check. The catchiness" Check. The heart" Well, I think so. Is the new Tera Melos sound inferior to the old" That is up to the listener. However instead of cursing the addition of vocals or crying over the death of 8 minute masterpieces, I’ll raise a glass to Complex Full of Phantoms
and to the future of the Tera Melos sound. Who knows what may come next"
By The End of Tonight
Despite all this raving over Tera Melos, it would be a crime to overlook the By The End of Tonight
half of the split, a move that only a lazy jackass could be capable of. The band is sort of….well…very similar to Tera Melos. They have the same ultra technical Math Rock sound, however without all the Indie and Electronic influence. They are also a bit more composed, a bit less convoluted, and their material found on Complex Full of Phantoms
is as majestic as their counterpart.
On to the actual music, By The End of Tonight have departed a fair bit from the sound that they had established on previous records. In A Letter to the Sandbox
sounded a bit too much like a Tera Melos clone, and at times was too chaotic for it’s own good. It was an early record that established the basis for their sound, however suffered from some tasteless over indulgence as well as poor production. Their Tribute To Tigers EP
was a healthy evolution for the group, and toned down the messiness of their earlier recordings, also succeeding in incorporating slower sections in a very tasteful manner. The EP was a great effort, and until this release served as their crowning achievement. Thankfully, with Complex
the band has managed to push their sound forward once again. However, in doing so, they have ditched a lot of their more spontaneous and scattered sound. Don’t take that the wrong way, time signatures still go out the window at the hands of ridiculous drumming and mathematic guitar, but the songs don’t go on the same sort of adventures that their previous work did. There is no Setting Sail In April
to be found here, with it’s gorgeous clean picked passages. This is very much stripped down(which is almost a contradiction), and the songs are much more coherent and structured than on their last releases. Not structured in the sense of musical composition, but structured in their general sound
However, this has actually worked to the bands favor, because By The End of Tonight
have never sounded better. The production is just superb, and the guitar tones, bass presence, and drum mic’ing are perfect. Every instrument is where it should be, and it makes the band sound perfect together. Speaking of perfection, the songs are all performed with expert precision, and BTEOT has never sounded this tight. The drumming is just off the wall, and the whole band work sin unison like a refined machine to create some very, very original music.
BTEOT’s half of Complex of Phantoms
is truly a trip. The album title really seems perfect for it, as the whole thing has an ethereal feel to it. The band shifts in and out of complex mathy passages and drawn out atmospherics. This juxtaposition is extremely effective, as there is no happy medium. They are either thrashing their instruments at 1,000 miles an hour or are tremolo picking a note over a wash of delayed chords. In any case, every song works to the benefit of the others(something that can’t be said about the Tera Melos side), and is even more rewarding to listen to as a whole.
Of course, the band as not only progressed with it’s sound, but all the members have really come into their own as songwriters. Almost every melody on Complex
is beautiful, and the various polyrhythm that they employ make the music sound both original and innovative. It’s beautiful in songs like Jealous Of A Ghost
, around the 1:30 second mark, when the simply brilliant lead melody is carefully dodging it’s way in and out of the chaotic instrumental backdrop. This is the case for many of the songs, and there are more incredible moments than I can count.
As for flaws, there aren’t many to be found. Their side of the split does sound very similar throughout, and it’s hard to distinguish one song from the other. Philthy Collins
and Jealous Of A Ghost
sound almost identical without ever really being similar in composition. And that’s generally not a good sign for long term listening. Also, the track Cold Hands
is a very slow point on the album. It was clearly put in their to calm the listener down, and provide a soothing experience between all the madness, but three and a half minutes it goes on for far too long and just gets boring. Had this been an entire CD, it wouldn’t be such a problem, but there is such a limited amount of music here that it sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, these complaints are menial, and as a whole the BTEOT split just slays in terms of technicality, individuality and originality.
And that’s the great thing about Complex Full of Phantoms
as a whole, that it sounds original. It would be very easy for this split to become boring, due to both bands playing such a similar style, however the music never gets tedious because of how inventive each band is. What the listener is treated to is essentially one band that has reinvented themselves and is pushing their sound towards great new goals(Tera Melos), and one band that has come and out produced the best material of their careers(BTEOT). These two spectacular performances make Complex Full of Phantoms
a phenomenal split, and one of the best recordings released in 2007.