Theories of Light, the independently released full-length album from Italian melodic rockers Numph, is a refreshing, somewhat familiar, addition to my preliminary favorites list for 2014 (though it was technically released in November of last year, and I’m just getting to review it now). Despite their oddly onomatopoeic name, which sounds to me a lot like the noises you’d expect to hear Homer Simpson make when chowing down on a giant pizza, the music on Theories of Light is very articulate when conveying the band’s versatility and tasteful songwriting style.
I would term the overarching stylistic format on Theories of Light as melodic, semi-progressive rock; a fairly broad spectrum definition, but I’d rather not box the band as specifically this or that beyond what those phrases indicate. There are a number of different styles present in the music, from mid-’90s grungy rock to sludgy stoner grooves to melodic metal to ambient shoegaze, and then some. Fans of bands like Riverside, Söen, Porcupine Tree, Tool and even Pink Floyd will be right at home with Theories of Light, and listeners can expect to hear a fairly well-incorporated amalgamation of these influences on the album, especially when it comes to Tool. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said this album sounded “somewhat familiar,” as there are a number of tonal choices made with the guitar and bass, as well as rhythmic and vocal cadences, that could’ve come right off of Lateralus or 10,000 Days. That is not to say I feel that the similarities are deliberate, but possibly a subconscious element in the writing process.
Numph certainly have their own unique voice as a band. The writing is very song-oriented wherein the music serves as a frame for the lyrics. The musicianship itself is more than proficient, though no single instrumental element tends to step forward beyond the boundaries of what is tasteful and meaningful within the context of the songs. The guitar doesn’t own things any more than the drums or the vocals, so don’t expect the “progressive” elements in Numph’s music to come from a lot of wanking and noodling (though there are several very well-done guitar solos). You’ll find, instead, that there is a highly cooperative and musical approach, which indicates a highly cohesive band dynamic (at least as far as recording goes).
Tonally, the palette utilized on Theories of Light is very satisfying. There is an evenness to the overall mix that allows each element to breath openly, even on the mp3 versions of these tracks. The dynamics are generally subdued, given that much of the music is laid back. However, the compression on the peaks is fairly transparent, making for a very good and organic sounding overall production value.
On top of all the positive points related to the production itself, I’m always happy to find bands of this quality that are also producing their own music. I always find that there’s an intangible, yet very real element that makes these productions just a tad more enjoyable to me. Not that bands who have labels behind them work any less hard, but I just have a personal affinity for bands who are willing and able to invest the time, money and work into creating something that is really their own. Theories of Light just happens to be one of those fortunate instances when the music is also genuinely good.
Theories of Light is out now.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
When I reviewed James LaBrie’s release of Impermanent Resonance last year, I gave it high praise for a couple of reasons. Namely, that he and his band put out a very listenable metal album that, while a departure from his work with Dream Theater, was not without many of the merits you’d associate with similar performance and songwriting quality.
Impermanent Resonance was one of the better releases I came across in 2013, and to start off the new year, LaBrie has put out a nine-track EP entitled I Will Not Break featuring the album version of the title track, as well as two other tracks from Impermanent Resonance: “Unraveling” and “Why.” The EP also features three demo versions of songs off of LaBrie’s 2010 release, Static Impulse, which are more or less rough cuts of those tracks featuring vocals by the band’s keyboardist Matt Guillory in place of LaBrie’s. In addition (and get ready now), I Will Not Break includes dubstep/dance version of three more tracks from Static Impulse: “I Tried,” “Over the Edge” and “Euphoric.”
I understand some of you might need a minute to recover after reading that last bit, so take your time. One question keeps coming to my mind when listening to this album: “Why?”. As I have established in earlier reviews, I usually don’t see the point in bands releasing albums with remixed versions of their earlier work. Is it just an attempt to make more money without having to go back into another full album cycle? Or are they testing the waters to see if putting out music in a different style is actually more lucrative?
In this case, LaBrie has also re-released three songs from his recent full-length with no apparent purpose. My impression has always been that you release singles in advance of the album as a teaser to get people geared up to by the whole thing when it comes out. What’s the point of putting out the same songs people already bought after the fact? I can kind of understand the three demo tracks with alternate vocals, which were apparently only ever released before in Japan. But dubstep remixes of metal songs? Really? That could be crossing a bit of a line. To a lot of metal fans, it’s kind of like serving veal at a PETA fund-raising dinner. Expect some cocked eyebrows, at the very least.
Anyway, I Will Not Break was released in January so you can check it out if you are so inclined. The only songs I can really recommend are those from Static Impulse and only if you are curious about what they sound like without LaBrie singing. If you already have the last two full-lengths, there’s not much point, unless you have a secret, guilty love of dubstep. If this is the case, I hope you get herpes in your eyes.
I Will Not Break is out now on Inside Out Media.
Rating: 1/5 Stars
I have a feeling that one night in America a few years ago, a drummer and a bass player were sitting around in a basement getting drunk after band practice. The guitarist and singer had already gone home, and they had a very sophisticated conversation that probably sounded something like this (*insert various fart and belch sound effects where appropriate):
Bassist: …that’s what I’m sayin’ man. Screw those guys. Who needs ‘em. You and me are the backbone of the band!
Drummer: Yeah! Like why do they get to be up front gettin’ all the glory and the chicks? I work my ass off up there, and I always have to sit in the back and listen to those guys bitch that it’s too slow or too fast or they aren’t “feeling” what I’m playing.
Bassist: Always tellin’ me to turn down on stage and mixing me down in the studio … I’m not taking it anymore man.
Drummer: Yeah dude! I say this is the band right here! Drums and bass, brah! It’ll be totally brutal ‘n heavy!
Bassist: Fuck yeah, man! I will be the singer too, cuz singin’ is fuckin’ easy!
Drummer and Bassist: Gwwwhaaaabaaphhhh!
And so the band TOWERS was born, and they decided to record two albums worth of material right there in that very basement, the second of which is creatively titled II. Now, obviously, I’m greatly exaggerating my conjecture as to the formation of this band, but I just can’t help but imagine a somewhat comical scene in cases when a drummer and bass player somehow thought it would be a good idea to create a band by themselves. If you are Victor Wooten and Mike Mangini you can probably get away with it, but barring that level of skill, it seems very unlikely that you’ll ever produce anything very interesting.
The music on II is basically what I expected from a record that came to me with the labels “psych-garage” and “cavernous experimental explorations.” That is to say that it’s primarily sludgy, dark and droning stoner rock. The general theme seems to be the “effect” of the music, rather than a focus on creating music in the normal sense. There is really no ear for instrumental melody apparent on most of it, and the performances are not the sort of thing that can easily hold my attention. The barking vocals, which are prevalent throughout most of the record, are fairly burdensome as well (like a bad impression of High on Fire). I can see the appeal of the music, though. It would go great as a sound track to some weird independent foreign film about living in the sewers under a city that was hit with a nuke 60 years ago.
The album has a couple of brief moments where it almost seems like they might turn things around, most notably the beginning to the song “In the Room of Misfortune” which sounds, over the first two minutes or so, like it might build into something. Unfortunately, that climax never hits, and it’s just more of what you already heard on the first three songs. For me it might be because I’m subconsciously waiting for the guitars to kick in, but the reality is that there’s a lot more that can be done with just two instruments than what we get on this album. When you become aware of this, it’s hard to be interested by an album like II. If you decide to change the norms of your musical format for the sake of creating your own particular artistic vision, you need to make sure you’re returning that value in another form or most people will be very aware of the hole you left.
II is out February 11 on Eloian Empire.
Rating: 1/5 Stars
If you scanned my thoughts while I was listening to the debut EP release from We All Die (Laughing), you wouldn’t find much brain activity at all. In fact, if you were looking at a scan of my brain you may have thought I’d died (while not laughing). It’s unfortunate, but that ridiculous wise crack is really the highlight of all the material I was able to get from Thoughtscanning. And as you may have noticed, it has little to do with the music.
In a word, this EP is boring. Of course it’s packaged like something prog nerds like me would be in to: The EP is made up of a single 33 minute long track which implies a “concept” album. The name of the band and the EP’s title seem to denote some sort of intellectual basis for this work … some sort of high-brow joke or insight for the initiated. The PR copy that came with the demo I received even used phrases like “boundary-pushing,” “multi-verse of musical possibilities” and “French-Bulgarian Progressive Extreme Metal” which says there really must be something to this.
Well, if there is, in fact, something to this album, one of two things are possible: either I’m way too dumb to understand it or I’m being lied to. The more I listen to Thoughtscanning the more I suspect the latter. The music is essentially your basic low-tempo, 4/4 riff-based metal. It sounds at times like it wants to be at the same party as some other European melodeath groups like Swallow the Sun, Novembre or Anathema, but frankly, it doesn’t even approach that. The entire time I was listening to the album I felt like I was listening to the same collection of riffs over and over. The music doesn’t really go anywhere … which is a big let-down for an album touted as being “progressive.”
To be fair, the music does incorporate a fair amount of dynamic changes, mixing some clean passages with the dirty ones. But for me, there just isn’t enough variety. The entire 33 minutes is basically the same 4/4 groove with no major changes other than an occasional switch to 8th note or 16th note accents when they want to present the illusion of having sped up the tempo. The few lead guitar sections that peak through here and there are competent, but nothing special. The vocals, which are the obvious focus of this music, are a little bit too far out in front of everything else. The singer, Arno Strobi, while fairly diverse in the range of styles he uses, seems to be overdoing it a bit and trying too hard to be artsy. There are several changes between clean crooning, death metal growls, black metal screeching, rumbly whispers, flat-out yelling and a hoarse, lunatic howl that gets very obnoxious, very quickly. And while it’s very likely that this manic approach is meant to encompass a wider variety of emotions (and has even been pulled off quite well by some vocalists), the effect in this case is about as often interesting and musical as it is not.
It’s clear that the emphasis is on the lyrics, but I couldn’t glean anything particularly profound about what was being said. I’m sure I may not fully comprehend it, but all I got was the world is shit, I am not the way I should be, neither is anyone else, the beast inside is out of control and so on and so forth … all generally acceptable themes about self-loathing and an antisocial perspective that pretty much every metal band has written about. But the way the concept is presented in Thoughtscanning – a bipolar, mildly Shatner-esque spoken word album set to inconsequential metal music – certainly not doing it any favors.
Like I said, this EP is not very good in my humble opinion (valued on today’s market at exactly two cents). If there’s anything avant-garde or thought-provoking about it, it’s certainly not of the sort that would make me want to go back and listen to it again. Music is music, and while I’m sure someone will like this, I would surmise that Thought Scanning falls way short of expectations for most fans of progressive metal or just metal in general.
Thoughtscanning is out January 14 on Kaotoxin Records.
Rating: 1/5 Stars
Musician and writer Evil Jon brings a unique perspective to the reviews he pens, and one thing is certain: he really digs prog metal. Following are the man’s top releases of 2013, in no particular order.
PROTEST THE HERO : VOLITION
TURRIGENOUS : BLACK STONE OPUS
DETHKLOK : METALOCALYPSE: THE DOOMSTAR REQUIEM – A KLOK OPERA
SCALE THE SUMMIT : THE MIGRATION
CHTHONIC : BU-TIK
CHILDREN OF BODOM : HALO OF BLOOD
OCEANS OF SLUMBER : AETHERIAL
OCTOBER TIDE : TUNNEL OF NO LIGHT
JAMES LABRIE : IMPERMANENT RESONANCE
THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN : ONE OF US IS THE KILLER