Review Summary: More progging, less chugging.
Throughout music history, the best way for a band to get noticed has always been to innovate. It is all well and good to faithfully adhere to a genre or template, but the bands that get remembered the longest are the ones that brought something new to the musical table. There is a reason genre innovators such as the Beatles, Tool, Jimi Hendrix or Nirvana are still relevant today: they pushed the boundaries of their respective musical genres, and did it well enough that they changed the paradigm for each of them for decades to come.
Of course, once such a shift takes place and an entirely new sub-genre is created, a host of second- and third-generation bands will happily slide into the spots left vacant by the pioneers. Recent examples include Airbourne taking over AC/DC's mantle or Dragonforce filling in for Rhapsody (Of Fire). Now, a new name is added to this list, as Irish prog-deathsters Chosen attempt to fill in the gap left vacant when Opeth decided to become a full-fledged prog band.
In fact, even a cursory listen to the duo's debut album, Resolution
, shows Chosen to be playing with some of the same cards Mikael Akerfeldt and company used in the early stages of their career. Experimentation, loud-quiet dynamics and complex lyrical poems which stray away from the genre's typical blood-and-guts imagery are all present throughout these nine songs, placing the Irish newcomers in the same ballpark as the Swedes. The difference is that Chosen update this formula to include the newest sensation in 'extreme' circles, deathcore. The vocals here have a slight hardcore edge that Akerfeldt never possessed, and there is chugging aplenty. The final result is something which, while still miles removed from its inspirations, manages to present a modicum of quality and attractiveness in its own right.
Unfortunately, however, these attributes are not constant throughout the album. Resolution
is notoriously bipolar in this regard, going from distinctly above-average and truly original moments to long stretches where the band does nothing to differentiate itself from any other run-of-the-mill metalcore act. The former are usually linked to the more experimental passages, which are invariably gorgeous, whether they be centred around the more common stuff (acoustic passages, clean vocals) or something slightly more surprising, such as the strings that suddenly pop up at the start of The Narcissism Epidemic
to create the absolute best moment of the album. The latter mostly have to do with everything in-between, as the 'meat and bones' of Chosen's songwriting unfortunately consists of well executed, but rather uninspired chugging.
This dichotomy extends to the vocals, one of the most important parts of any band's sound and one which, sadly, brings the Irishmen down a notch. As with the music, every instance of clean vocals on the album is beautiful, with the vocal melodies often following vaguely familiar, almost poppy lines; on the flipside, however, are the harsh vocals, which, despite traces of thrashcore and early Killswitch Engage, cannot be considered more than average. At no point do Paul Shields's screeches ever distinguish themselves from those of a score of other vocalists of this genre, and when coupled with the similarly unremarkable chugging, this contributes to the brutal portion of Chosen's sound being a little too nondescript.
Thank goodness, then, for the progressive sections. As mentioned before, they are gorgeous, and mixed into the band's sound well enough that they never seem like attempts to throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. Instead, what comes across is a cohesive sound, which just happens to mix melody and aggression. Unfortunately, as with everything else on this album, the songwriting itself is extremely hit-or-miss.
The first three tracks showcase the best the band has to offer: Engines Of Belief
throws an all-too-brief old-school thrash solo into the mix, Defective Prospection
hints at what the band would sound like if they balanced out the cleans and harshes a little more (spoiler: better), and The Narcissism Epidemic
rounds up this killer trio, building from its beautiful, surprising beginning into one of the best songs on the album. After this point, however, the listener is likely to fall into a stupor, to be brought out only on occasion (usually when another semi-catchy clean section pops up). Large sections of Retribution
therefore become little more than background noise, and only penultimate track Metaphysical Contradiction
manages to fully garner interest again, with another appealing, mostly clean vocal performance. Closer The Departure Lounge
also stands out, mostly for being a semi-instrumental, but is no better or worse than anything else on the album.
As it stands, then, Chosen's debut album is a valiant effort, but one which does not quite fulfill its objective. Technical execution is above-average throughout, and there are handfuls of good ideas scattered across these nine tracks, but the songwriting itself needs work - mostly so the group can learn to balance the brutal and melodic aspects of their sound a little bit better. This is, admittedly, only a first step, and there is plenty of time for Chosen to stake their claim in the prog/death/core scene. One cannot help feeling, however, that perhaps this album would have been better with more progging and less chugging.
The Narcissism Epidemic