Review Summary: Quarantine be damned.
During the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was a defined shift in the metal world - as technology advanced, self-produced instrumental metal became more and more prominent. Animals As Leaders
, Chimp Spanner
and Angel Vivaldi
are early examples of artists that were able to push the boundaries of what one-man shows were able to accomplish simply by using a home studio. One artist, above them all, stood out to me - and that was Cloudkicker
. It may have been the absolute enigma around the man behind the name (Ben Sharp essentially stayed out of the spotlight as much as possible and turned down interview requests), or the fact that one man was capable of writing, producing and recording some of the most intriguing metal the scene had heard in years. As Cloudkicker's hype had been building since 2008's monolithic The Discovery
, I can distinctly remember my excitement towards 2010's Beacons
like it was yesterday. And that album changed my entire perception of what self-produced metal could sound like - it was emotional, it was technical, it was produced incredibly well, and it has influenced countless artists in the instrumental metal scene since its release.
Over the next decade, Cloudkicker went rogue. 2011's Let Yourself Be Huge
was a complete departure from his signature sound. Gone were the soaring riffs and polyrhythmic jams, to be replaced by soothing acoustic melodies and (gasp) even a vocal section on the album's title track. And yet, the album was a resounding success, paving the way for 2012's Fade
and 2013's Subsume
to incorporate elements of shoegaze, post-grunge and experimental song structures. One had to wonder when Cloudkicker was going to hit the wall, and after 2014's Little Histories
EP felt more like Fade
B-sides than a standalone release, he had his first misstep with 2015's Woum.
Following his very successful tour with Intronaut
, Sharp decided to take an extended leave from making music and fans across the globe wondered when or if we would ever see him return to the highs that were so abundantly prominent in the first half of his career. And while 2019's Unending
was a surprise return to the project, it came across as a retread of concepts we had already heard. There were no real risks
taken; it seemed like a very "safe" release, and many fans seemed to accept the fact that Beacons
would never have a true spiritual successor.
Enter 2020's Solitude
With a 2:16 mammoth introduction to the album in "Ludendorffbrucke", Ben Sharp delivers what could be the single heaviest riff he has ever created. This sets the stage for the rest of the album, and it is an absolute monster of a comeback release; massive in sound, technically striking and with a notable improvement in production from his last few releases. Despite drawing obvious influences from two of his past offerings (Beacons
has a distinct aura of loneliness and isolation that permeates these 48 minutes of massive madness. The drums are crafted in such a calculated and precise manner that it's easy to forget they are actually programmed - Sharp remaining one of the very best in the scene at making this happen. Album standout "Code Language" is a perfect encapsulation of the lush soundscapes that can paint pictures in the minds of his listeners, and it's perhaps the most well-crafted song of his entire career.
For every criticism about Unending
and its refusal to push the envelope, Solitude
is its superior in every category. Sharp allegedly wrote the entire album during a three-month long absence from his day job, which speaks volumes about his ability to overcome the writer's block that has plagued him since Woum
. One notable change is the appearance of Intronaut guitarist Sacha Dunable on two tracks, and I feel that Dunable had a definite positive influence on the outcome of the entire package. Sharp's bond with Intronaut has now stretched for six years, and it would not come as a surprise to see a joint tour at some point in the future. Solitude
is his greatest achievement as an artist, managing to recapture the magic that catapulted him into the spotlight without coming off as a direct copycat. His influence on the instrumental metal genre is unquestionable and will only grow larger as the word spreads about the excellence of this latest release - only, this time, he will answer our interview questions.