Dredg is a rare find in young modern rock bands these days. Though not completely submerged under the surface of mainstream exposure, they�ve yet to receive any stardom on the music scene, which is not a bad thing by any means. Their massively loyal fan base drives the band, as anyone would relate after having been to one of their live shows.
Some would describe Dredg as a cross between the harsh prog metal of Tool, the psychedelic prog works of Pink Floyd, and the alt/art rock tendencies of Radiohead. While this description is not entirely untrue, it doesn�t necessarily give Dredg due justice. Their prominence and importance in Art/Alt/Prog Rock and Metal has been overlooked by the critics, but revered by fans of the underground. They�ve managed to find a sound that is truly all their own, which is why describing them as a mix of different bands doesn�t quite sum up their appeal. While fans of the aforementioned bands will probably be very interested in this band, it still has no bearing on the impact of this CD, a landmark in Art Rock.
The appeal of Dredg is simple: their music is progressive, strange, multi-instrumental, original, unique, and most of all, powerful. Their musical outlook is complex, interweaving many, many elements into their songs that take awhile to swallow, yet are still unforgiving in their emotionally-driven sound. On this album alone you will find elements of jazz (New Heart Shadow), Eastern music (Elephant Caught in the Delta Waves), and of course metal. In their debut release, Leitmotif, they included elements of agro metal and allowed the music to wander to various musical segments, which, while still somewhat present here, has subsided itself in order to allow the band�s message to be sent through more coherent and focused songwriting. Gone is the screaming and ultra-heavy guitar chugging, and in its place are more pieces of beauty, intrigue, and fresh variety.
To give you an idea of the talent among these individuals, Dredg incorporates the use of many instruments into their primarily guitar-driven rock sound. In some vocal sections, the band has the singer singing through a trumpet for a certain vocal effect, as well as the use of some bizarre instruments by lead singer/frontman Gavin Hayes. Bassist Drew Roulette is great, going all over the fret board, his riffs driving and rhythmic yet subtle. Mark Engles, one of my favorite guitarists, dabbles in various chord formations and voicings, usually straying from the rock norm of power chords dripping with distortion. His guitar sound is luscious and full. Dino�s beats are never dry or uninteresting, never fluctuating and always keeping the band tight. On Leitmotif, there�s a message from the band that says �All sounds on this record are real, no samples.� While there�s no such message on this recording, the band definitely knows how to use their instruments to full capacity.
Now, down to more specifics, El Cielo is a concept album based on a few things. All the songs on here take on the same subject, while bouncing off various themes and taking the subject at hand from different points of view, applying them to different aspects of everyday life, and attempting personal discovery through disorder. That subject: Sleep Paralysis. To make a long story short, sleep paralysis is a disorder in which sufferers will find themselves unable to move either before or right after sleep. During this time of paralysis, a person may experience hallucinations and other imaginary scenarios, as well as an overwhelming sense of terror and feeling that death is upon them. In the songs on this CD, Dredg explores this disorder and different aspects of it. Interestingly enough, for each song there is a corresponding letter from various anonymous individuals who write about their experience of sleep paralysis. Hayes crafts his lyrics through these letters, cleverly and effectively incorporating the themes and ideas discussed in the letters into his lyrics, while the pumping instrumentals paint a perfect backdrop that reflect the somber melancholy thematics.
The album opens with Brushstrokes: Debtfoabaaposba,
which stands for Dream Caused By The Flight Of A Bee Around A Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening
, a painting by Salvador Dali (). It�s bizarre collection of ideas meant to portray a dreamlike state of mind, often with weird and disturbing occurrences. And indeed, you will feel as if you are moving through a dream; the songs on this album are dreamlike, hypnotic, and ethereal, yet powerful, melancholy, and strange. Now that you�ve viewed that painting as you listen to the first track, (which I can give no real insight into, just listen to it as you view the painting-it will prepare you for the remainder of the album.) we progress.
Now comes the first real song, if you will (there are five tracks with the label, Brushstroke, and they mainly serve as atmospheric transitions between tracks and also effectively become conclusions and/or introductions to movements of songs, a flow concept similar to Leitmotif. These are by no means meant to be skipped over). Same Ol� Road
is a pretty good indicator of the rest of the album: it�s melancholy and dreamy, yet has a good pulsating bassline to open it, complemented by a sparse guitar riff before pumping into the heavy chorus with one of the greatest vocal parts ever, it soars above the guitar chords with prominent dignity. The singing is melodic and beautiful, full of emotion. Such is true about every song on this album. There�s little to be said about aggression here, but that doesn�t make it any less powerful or in your face. The arrangements are masterful, dropping down when you expect them to get louder, but reversing it the next time around, which I guarantee will hook you on it. The subject matter can�t be explained too easily, but read the letter that goes along with it (found in the inside booklet) and you will immediately begin connecting with the lyrics.
The next song, Sanzen
opens with a building dynamic and goes into the verse with a strummed guitar riff and a good vocal melody. Contrast is an important part of this album, and Dredg uses this element perfectly to their advantage. Mark�s guitar riff is quickly-strummed and upbeat, yet the chord is a melancholy voicing and Gavin�s vocals are high and dreamy, ethereal. The chorus is another wall of sound with a great backdrop of chords into which Mark weaves a lead-like riff that keeps the harmony with the vocals. Beautiful.
Dynamics. Very important here as well. The bridge of Sanzen is a quiet, almost jazzy guitar riff and high bassline before blasting into the final pounding chorus to end the song. Within songs, there is a very good sense of dynamics and the band weaves in and out of quiet, loud, and medium volume like a thread. Within the album, there�s a huge sense of dynamics, with a great variation of loud and quiet songs. Brushstroke: New Heart Shadow
is a quiet, ethereal, clean song with a jazzy beat and an atmospheric guitar riff, which goes straight into Triangle
, almost continuing the song but in a new movement. The tracks flow very well together. Triangle has a quiet high guitar line and very ethereal feel, with a great vocal melody before going into a more upbeat section of the song. Very atmospheric throughout, with a whispered vocal line mirroring the main vocals. Again, a wall of sound chorus and great guitar riffs in this song.
This song includes what seems to be Dredg�s catch phrase, their motto. The chant of �We live like penguins in the desert; Why can�t we live like tribes"� works its way into this song. It gives it a very Eastern, tribal feel before going back into the huge wall of sound of the bridge. Then, quite, Eastern-like section ends the song, going straight into one of the heaviest riffs of the album on Sorry But It�s Over
. The verses are quiet and sparse, the choruses heavy. Another perfect example of contrast. The vocals throughout are eerie and hypnotic, the instruments sparse and then heavy again without warning. All this contributes to a very ghost-like and dreamy feel.
is a very upbeat, groovy tune. Still, it remains atmospheric. It seems that this is the outro to this group of songs, which started with New Heart Shadow. In the bridge, Mark goes into a very high, lead riff, yet the drums and bass hold down the low end and the song never feels empty, showing the quality of Dredg�s rhythm section.
The new �group� of songs begins with Brushstroke: Walk in the Park
, which leaves me speechless. It is an extremely beautiful duet between a melancholy piano and ethereal background strings. This goes straight into Eighteen People Living In Harmony
, which begins with Gavin singing through a trumpet to give his vocals a muffled and distant effect. The guitar riffs are similar to Sanzen here, contrasting Gavin�s ghost-like vocals before melding in with him in the chorus, which really gives the song an interesting edge. Scissor Lock
is one of my favorite pieces on this record. No distortion will be found here, but stunning and shimmering clean guitar lines float around underneath a beautiful vocal melody from Gavin. Also, we hear Drew through a weird vocal distortion making him sound alien-like, saying, �auditory hallucinations.� Creepy, yet brilliantly atmospheric. The lyrics in this song are the most obvious reference to sleep paralysis. The descending bassline into the final chorus is great.
The sleepy ambiance is continued with Brushstroke: (Reprise)
, which is a dreamy and ghostlike rendition of Same Ol� Road, but shorter and without the distorted guitars. Instead, there is a floating guitar part and distant vocal melody. Then, it goes into an acoustic strumming riff with a high guitar riff gliding over it. Very sleepy and a good outro to the previous groups of songs.
More energy comes in with the building intro of Of the Room
, my personal favorite from this album. The verse is a sliding guitar riff with odd intervals that locks in perfectly with a contrasting bass slide and a great vocal melody from Gavin, per usual. The verse builds into a colossal chorus with great chord voicings and a huge atmospheric sound. Absolutely amazing emotion in this song, it�s an extremely melancholy and beautiful song, yet it is still heavy. Elephant in the Delta Waves
is a tribal, Eastern piece that does very well in capturing a visual medium that goes with the sound. It is a very interesting piece that feels like it gives closure to Of the Room.
It Only Took A Day
opens the new group of tunes, and the final stretch of the CD. A great, catchy chorus in this song, the vocals, guitar, and bass are in unison, which is surprisingly not repetitive or boring. Other than that, it is usual Dredg fare, although not a bad song by any means. IOTAD stops suddenly and Whoa Is Me
opens with a sparse trumpet note before tremolo guitars create a background for Gavin�s vocals. The arrangement of this song is somewhat awkward, but it works, especially after subsequent listens of the song. It has a similar feel to It Only Took A Day, which works to its advantage. It feels as if the ending three songs of the CD is all one movement, staying very linear for the first two songs, and then branching out beautifully for Canyon Behind Her
. A fairly long song, clocking in at 6:40, this is possibly the most powerful song Dredg has ever written. An atmospheric and ambient guitar, keyboard, and bass soundscape open the song, and there are distant vocals spoken in another language until huge wall-of-sound guitars crash in and Gavin makes his entrance. His vocals are hypnotic and sad, giving off a feeling of loneliness. A faint back up choir can be heard until it builds up to an absolutely huge and epic conclusion with a full choir backing Gavin [�Half of me is gone, the lonesome part is left. I cannot find the other half�]. The CD ends perfectly with a somber choir, giving the record a great sense of closure.
This record manages to capture the spirit of Dredg�s music�and within that a spirit of man�s own soul. It is an artistic entity that communicates with emotions on different levels and paints pictures in the mind along with the dramatic soundscapes. They weave in and out of various sounds, transcending genres and always kicking ass. Their live show is brilliant and never to be passed up. It gives them a harder edge, but they pull off every song perfectly.
The songs are melancholy and sad, but never overly gloomy or sludgy. There�s always a "light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel" feeling to the songs. Whether you connect or not with the sleep paralysis concept, it is intriguing and the lyrics will have you feeling bitterly connected to Gavin's emotion. Rarely does any piece of art induce so many shivers down my spine and leave me feeling sad and happy at the end.
A "pinnacle of broken bridges," this is a vital and definitive release for Art Rock.