Review Summary: A distant goal falls within reach.
When artists choose to construct a double album, the most common pitfall is a disparity that exists between their reach and grasp. Far too often, perfectly capable bands set goals for themselves that they can’t quite grasp, and the project suffers for it. Sometimes they can come frustratingly close too, but setting a coherent story to over 2 hours of music is an extremely difficult task, and more often than not the concept ends up half-baked, never becoming fully realized. Some bands can bridge this gap to an extent, covering the deficiency with passion or technical ability; but this Brisbane-based quintet thoroughly understand their goals and know how to reach them, leaving no deficiency to cover over. Known/Learned
is Arcane setting themselves a monumental goal, and putting aside as much time as they need (5 years to be exact) to attain it, resulting in an expansive progressive album that precisely carves a path towards its final destination.
Arcane’s bandcamp states that “the imagery of Known/Learned depicts fragmented moments in the lives of a father and his daughter, their loss, their love, their journey.” By necessity, every narrative has moments of quiet - uneventful stretches that fill the gaps between major complications. Very few tales can be consistently exciting while staying grounded in reality, but Arcane work around this fundamental tenet of storytelling. The non-linear storytelling method employed here allows the band to sidestep convention and arrange Known/Learned
in a musically sensible manner, breaking up the character's memories and splitting the touching emotional pieces off into Learned
while keeping the exciting portions of the puzzle on Known
. This gives each disc of the album a unique character and purpose - yet they both still exist in the same universe and aren’t mutually exclusive. It creates an album that is surprisingly adaptable, where both halves are necessary to see the complete jigsaw, but the split palette also allows the discs to be listened to individually which is a remarkable accomplishment.
Diversity is the key to managing such a hefty concept, and the band provides this in spades. Clashing polyrhythmic passages put Periphery’s recent double album escapades to shame, while the incredibly powerful 2 minutes that close out ‘Unturning’ call to mind Tool at their peak; there are salsa passages, emotive piano pieces, and myriads of influences being conjured through the complex syncopated drumming and delay-driven guitar melodies, without ever sounding derivative or slavishly devoted to their idols. Many elements intertwine here, but each piece rarely feels misplaced, and they all manage to come together to form a vibrant picture thanks to the pristine production. While undoubtedly a progressive album at its core, there’s no instrumental wankery to be found here, and the songs rarely overstay their welcome despite having 11 songs breaking the 7 minute mark. Even with the album’s lengthy playtime, it’s a peculiar example of restraint in the midst of a genre fraught with indulgence and excess.
However, any album so ambitious is bound to have a stumble or two, and this is no exception. Imagining the more subdued Learned
as small blue jigsaw pieces that fill the sky in a large painting, it’s easy to see how frustrating the second disc can be after the excitement of Known
. It takes far longer to piece this more homogenous second portion together, and early listens can be taxing. The slow, graceful descent to its conclusion can be appreciated with time, but chopping and changing some of the second disc would have made for a more entertaining closure and heightened accessibility. While the singer is stellar and has a phenomenal range, his vocals are very similar throughout; an issue that becomes more prominent as the album progresses and further snowballs the problems with Learned
’s consistency. It’s a minor nit-pick, but one that has a significant impact on initial replays.
Have no doubt, Known/Learned
is an exhausting and complex puzzle, but it’s one worth solving. Few albums in recent memory have adhered this closely to a concept and ended up sounding so complete - in no small part due to the passion each member pours into his craft, and their ability to communicate this with the listener makes it nearly as cathartic for us as the final payoff for years of labour must be for them. It’s near enough to genre classics to find a welcome home in any modern progressive fan’s library, and still unique enough to be a refreshing listen for any who find themselves disillusioned with the copycats making up the dregs of Bandcamp’s deep barrel. It’s been a long time coming, but it was 5 years well spent, ultimately resulting in an incredibly engaging and refreshing progressive album that deserves to be heard.