Review Summary: Distorted Harmony explore a new heavy side, but in doing so trade progression for experimentation.
Progressive metal is all about pushing the boundaries of what metal music is or can be. Pioneers like Meshuggah and Dream Theater left hordes of imitators and even spawned whole (sub-)genres in the wake of their innovative sounds. So it hardly seems like meaningful progression when Distorted Harmony blends already popular djent riffing into their sound on their third release, "A Way Out". There's no denying the continued display of musicianship and mature compositional sense on this record, but the album doesn't experiment in any absolute sense. Instead, the album's experiment is very personal. They ask themselves how far that existing attitude can be incorporated into their sound. But as we discover in the hour-long "A Way Out", it isn't quite far enough.
The main issue is the way the songs tend to divide themselves into the "djent" sections and the comfortable "Distorted Harmony" sections. The by-the-book syncopation and down-tuned, gated guitars feel like the band is playing someone else's music. The drums often seem lost in the mix; the production lacks a certain forcefulness that leaves only the cymbal keeping time. The singer's flawlessly smooth voice strains itself to reach the scream on "Room 11". Aggression means not pulling punches. On an intellectual level, I think the band understands that, but the overall impression of the record is uncertainty. Too often the songs hesitate and knock the wind out of what should be powerfully moving, heart pumping, displays of emotion.
Disappointingly, the lyrics have regressed slightly. Certain lyrical motifs are conspicuously recycled. Women smiling, smiling at women, indefinite "she"s and "her"s acting as a muse for the singer. It felt like part of the atmosphere in Chain Reaction, but to be so prominent again in a completely different musical context suggests a crutch. The overall themes lean more personal than political this time but remain serious and mature.
Thankfully, the latter third of the album is quite strong. "A Way out of Here" starts out almost like a pop ballad, but it always develops further just before it would get boring. "Time and Time Again" and "We Are Free" provide a good template for how the band might explore heavy influences in the future. "Someday" brings the album to a close with a soaring choral outro. Also, "Awaken" is a real gem on this record and shows off some of the band's best vocal work to date.
Ultimately, "A Way Out" is outshone by "Chain Reaction". For a band that I previously reviewed as drawing too much from their influences, I hoped to hear something really original on this record. Instead, they stepped sideways, but outside of their comfort zone and couldn't keep up with the bands that have built their careers on that sound. All of the good on the album outweighs the boring, and when the songs click and everything comes together, it's excellent. Hopefully, future releases move past this trial and error phase.