Review Summary: A one-man powerhouse of atmospheric, progressive instrumental metal.
It takes a lot of work to write, record, master and produce an album. It takes even more work to play every instrument on that album, including multiple guitar layers, bass, and drum programming. But Ben Sharp, aka Cloudkicker, the one man band from Columbus, Ohio, pulls this off in a seemingly effortless way, delivering a breath of fresh air in the genre that is instrumental metal. "The Map is Not the Territory" fits five solid tracks into just twenty-five minutes, each song filling it's own niche. The sound of the EP is different from Cloudkicker's other releases, and probably different from anything else you've ever heard. The music is a mix of Meshuggah-esque guitar/bass drum rhythms, Protest the Hero style riffing and leads, and the sensibilities of post-rock bands like This Will Destroy You (that is: unconventional, atmospheric, sometimes ambient songs).
"Hold On" gets the EP off to a good start with a small tapping section leading into a Meshuggah or Periphery-sounding guitar section. The drums (computerized, mind you) kick it up a notch a little before a minute and a half in, leading into some awesome-sounding (don't get the wrong idea) breakdowns and guitar harmonies. Halfway through the song takes a sharp left turn into a quieter, just drums and bass section. It builds back up and some beautiful guitar ambience can be heard in the background before the song ends. And that was just the first song.
The rest of the songs on the EP do all but follow in "Hold On"'s footsteps. While some of the syncopation and rhythms sounds similar at times, every song has a distinct sound. For instance, song two, "Tip Your Van Driver", while still featuring some guitar/bass drum syncopation sections, focuses more on solid riffing and odd time signatures, and less on groove than song one. "Seriosity", the next song, is my personal favorite off of "The Map is Not the Territory". Within the first two minutes, the song has blastbeats, some technical death metal riffing, an odd-time breakdown, a heavy groove, and an ambient section. The rest of the song is also top-notch, making it my personal favorite. The next song, the title track, is essentially a heavy post-rock song, and provides a good breather. The drums play a somewhat simple beat the whole song, while the guitars build, layer upon layer. It's definitely a cool track and gives some more variety to an already pretty varied EP.
As for the last song, "Ever Thus to Deadbeats", it combines everything good about the other four tracks. The grooving, the progressive tendencies, the inventive riffing, and the atmospherics of it all. It even starts out with a melodic death metal-sounding guitar riff, adding yet another influence to this short release. The guitar-made ambience in this song is especially good, providing an excellent backdrop to the breakdowns.
However, nothing is perfect. Some parts of the album tend to drag on, especially the second and last tracks. You may find yourself thinking "didn't I hear this part already"" And, although I talk about the album being varied, there isn't really anything very surprising; the album sticks to it's cool-sounding yet structured sound. There are too many "chug-chug-polyrhythm" parts and not many leads, which can get boring.
All in all, "The Map is Not the Territory, although just an EP, is Ben Sharp's best and most inventive release. If only he would get a full-time band together and tour the country, but now I'm just dreaming.
(The EP is a free download on the Cloudkicker Myspace)