Review Summary: A big disappointment, yet still one of the better albums you'll hear in the genre this year.
It's a great feeling, surfing the web for amazing music to eventually be caught off guard by a truly outstanding record. One of my most memorable experiences of this was when I discovered Kadinja's debut LP Ascendancy
. After the slightly generic, yet intriguing cover art caught my eye, it didn't take long for me to release the music was something special. The strengths of progressive metalcore were on full display, but with an exuberance I still have yet to witness elsewhere. Speed and technicality were taken to the next level. Ambitious, expansive progressions were situated between ear catching choruses. The expert execution of this balance between musical calamity and strong hooks, soaring clean vocals making way for expertly timed heavy drops, all basking in a sheen of atmospherics created a vibrant meditative exercise that was as emotionally resonant as it was technically astounding. The music was uplifting, empowering, and incredibly heavy; characteristics I find are common in many of my favorite albums. Safe to say, I had my eye out for a follow up, and unfortunately, for one reason or another, Kadinja abandoned most of what made them so good on Ascendancy
The issues with Super 90
can be seen on an overall arrangement level, as well as on an individual song basis. To put it concisely, the overall tone is much simpler and darker. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Ascendancy
sounded like self actualized, fresh, exciting energy; while Super 90
sounds like typical teenage angst slightly elevated by a shroud of technical efficiency. The layering of synths, atmospherics, guitars, and vocals is highly diminished. The sound is uglier. The riffing is simpler. The guitar leads are all but completely removed. This may sound like someone who is simply disheartened by a band taking a heavier approach; but oddly enough, Ascendancy had a much higher abundance of harsh vocals and harder hitting riffs, their absences of which are likely the first noticeable differences to the listener. Take for example the first tracks. Empire
is satisfying for an opener, but From the Inside
contain a level of generic boredom I did not expect the band to ever pursue. The former's only redeeming quality being the brutal breakdown which is over in the blink of an eye. Up to this point the record had delivered so little of the energy that was expected.
The album does get better later on, but this is when it becomes clear the choruses are severely lacking and take replay value away from what would otherwise be solid tracks. The Right Escape
and Muted Rain
have some very interesting stuff going on but the choruses implement this straight forward dirge style and slow vocals that are so dull they are hard to come back to. Veronique
is actually amazing. Once again, it has a chorus of similar style, but with a hook and flow that makes it work well, and the meat of the track packs the energy that Kadinja has shown they can provide. The band has said this is their favorite from the album, which suggests they still understand what makes their music so great. Even then, the final three minutes of this seven minute track are entirely unnecessary and can be skipped. House of Cards
is the only track that has the upbeat type of chorus and tone that worked so well on their earlier material, but the rest of the song is so run of the mill, it seems that the whole purpose of this track was to fit this type of chorus somewhere on the album. The gorgeous acoustic version of Episteme
could not have been executed any better and would fit tastefully as a call back near the end of Ascendancy
. The incredible guitar solo that ends this album shows they can still play amazing leads, despite their puzzling reluctance to do so for the rest of the record.
Few moments here are able to escape the feeling that all this was done better before.
Because of the dramatic regression in sound, someone couldn't be blamed for thinking that this was their first effort, a highly commendable one, and Ascendancy
was the excellent progression toward their potential. Even the EP, though clearly a simplified and raw test run of what the band would accomplish on their debut LP, retains much of the key elements that are absent on their newest release. Despite all of this, Super 90
still shows a band with tremendous potential. The riffing is amazing and still innovative at points. The variety between songs helps with engagement. The musical gymnastics are still present. The energy is still on display in exciting quantities. Select moments are earth shattering. Despite it's issues, the production is defined and clear. In fact, looking back on the year this will surely be a standout in the genre. It must be said that the negativity is directly related to the high bar set by their previous work. Kadinja deserves to be in the discussion with the standouts in the genre. Whenever a band this talented is releasing new music, it feels like the sky is the limit with what they can achieve, but for better or worse it also can't be predicted what it'll sound like. Their next release may be another time for excitement, but if they can match their best remains to be seen.