Review Summary: A step forward musically, a step sideways thematically
If Your Wilderness
was the summer stay in the countryside, then 8 Years Later
is the train journey back to the city and the new Dissolution
is the city itself in a bleak and dark late monsoon, early fall. It is a natural evolution that features drum maestro and now-permanent member Gavin Harrison in a much more prominent songwriting role and this is apparent in the increased muscularity and maturity of the musical arrangements. The bucolic charm of Your Wilderness
gives way to a heavier, urban setting in a shade of industrial rock.
The album begins with Not Naming Any Names
which is a ominous piano based track which serves as an introduction. It contains bleak and doomy prognostications about which Bruce Soord sings in metaphors. It’s a track that sets up the album really well.
In Try As We Might
, we get our first taste of Gavin Harrison’s complex yet accessible drumming. This is a track that is guitar driven with the acoustic guitar like the simmering medium flame before the latent aggression of the electric takes over. It is a short track, but has a concentrated whomp that makes a good first impression.
On my second listen, the few problems I had with the album seemed to converge on the next track- Threatening War
. While I thought the music was great, part of me felt that Soord was not able to reconcile that part with the lyrical themes. About the song itself, I felt it was a verse too long despite the interesting things in it like the drums and bass interplay or Gavin’s cross stick technique. However, since most of my problems landed here [spoiler alert], the album just gets better beyond this point.
Uncovering Your Tracks
is a very important part of the record. On my first listen (of the album), the immediate thought was that the whole thing was quite turbid. Now, I don’t mean the songs are homogenous or same-y but they’re too dense- there’s a lot going on. This track introduces some fresh new elements and changes the pace. The beginning sounds like Steven Wilson’s ‘No Twilight Within The Courts of The Sun’ with some delicious Gavin Harrison ghost notes among a prominent bass line (he played on the Steven Wilson track too). We also get to hear a signature technique of his called ‘barking of the hi-hat’ which is reminiscent of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Anesthetize’. There’s a shaker in the chorus, and a screeching guitar effect that also appears later in the album. This track not only sets itself apart, but also provides a much needed clarity for the rest of the album.
All That You’ve Got
is quite simply an energetic and propulsive rocker. I’m willing to bet that this is going to be a crowd favourite number in their upcoming tour. It just keeps the flow going and if listening fatigue has to set in, it’s going to happen at this moment. There’s a hint of dulcimer in the verse, before lacing into an anthem like chorus.
is one of the singles of the record, and the way it was marketed, it was almost as if they wanted it to be the ‘In Exile’ of this album. And in short, it does live up to that. To expound, I felt Far Below is what a modern progressive rock song should be. It’s not simply neo-prog and over 10 minutes long. Rather, it’s concise and still has a journey present in its different sections. There is an early bridge where the track comes to a stop and starts building all over again with some synth action, Soord’s chanting and a hefty tom rhythm before the guitars take the fore. And then there's a crescendo where the song levels off before falling weightlessly through the last section. It a lot of fun to listen to and deserves to be the single that represents this album.
Pillar of Salt
is basically an interlude track. In an album this dense, I think a track which is basically downtime is very much welcome. It isn’t substantial in itself, but perhaps that is what was required from it, while we prepare ourselves for the third act and the climax.
I was not a fan of the big track of the previous record- ‘The Final Thing on My Mind’. However, I feel White Mist
is one of the biggest highlights on Dissolution
. The band really gets to stretch its legs here. Jon Sykes’ bass comes alive very early on, you have Gavin Harrison playing with equal amounts of exactitude and brio, you have the guitar constantly morphing from melodious notes, to clean strums, to undertow-y riffs and to surprise solos and last but not least, a bit of e-piano and electronics of which there really should have been more on this album. You could loosely divide it into three parts but all of it is seamless and you’ll remember it as one solid experience. Among all its intertwining arrangements, it also has a very recognizable chorus.
Shed a Light
is the only track on the record where the band expresses their delicate side, which seems oh so far away at this point. We have some of that ornate flourish from Your Wilderness
come back for a bit. But this is not a track that is going to keep waving goodbye until the music fades. It is here to make its own point- in a world so drab and gloomy, it doesn’t hurt to share a little bit of happiness with someone, if you’ve given up on yours, at least let somebody else have it. And I realized then that this was the first time I could connect with the album’s lyrics. Was I mad that it took the last track to make it happen" Surprisingly, I was not.
is a step forward for the band. Gavin Harrison’s contributions feel much more congruous and synergetic than they were in Your Wilderness
. However compared to their last release, this one does lack a strong thematic presence in both its lyrics and artwork. Production wise it is on the industrial side of things, most of it being guitar driven (maybe a little too much, not to any detriment however). The master and the mix are sublime- Steve Kitch really knows what he’s doing. The first listen might come off as dense for some, but it is actually quite an easy album to listen to, and definitely one that invites you to play it again in part or whole. It is contemporary and song oriented, yet it is also dynamic and progressive (and not in the archaic sense of the word) and is the perfect album to listen to on a cold and cloudy autumn afternoon with signs of a fading monsoon still hanging overhead. Bruce Soord and company have crafted an album that perhaps does not have the elusive vision of Variations on a Dream
or the one-time abandon of 8 Years Later
, but it does take them a step closer to realize what it means to make “The Pineapple Thief” music.