Thursday, May 29, 2014

Conquering Dystopia album review

So many times, I've heard a metal band open a track with a great riff, only to abruptly lose interest when the vocals kick in.  No matter how hard I try, the guttural vocals generally just don't do it for me.  There's some exceptions to this - Opeth are an example of a band where I love the way the harsh vocals blend seamlessly with the music - but in general I just don't get them.  Which is kind of a shame, because musically there's a lot to like about many of the bands at the harder edge of the metal spectrum.

It's entirely possible, therefore, that I wouldn't have liked Conquering Dystopia if it had vocals and wasn't an instrumental record.  But it doesn't, and it is, and I do like it, rather a lot, in fact.

As a huge fan of Nevermore, I've followed Jeff Loomis since their untimely split, and hence how I stumbled across this.  And apparently the band's line-up is an enormous wet dream for some metal fans because of the combination of Loomis and some of the other guys in the band, although I know absolutely nothing about them - other than that they turn in some very fine performances here.

And performance, alongside composition, are two of the first words that come to mind on this album. Rightly or wrongly, metal (or at least some of it) is often analogised to classical music.  Conquering Dystopia is a great example of why that can be true - combining intricate, complex songs, compelling leads, and outstanding playing.  Like much classical music, there's recurring themes throughout - in this case linked to the dystopian future referenced in the title (as if song names like Prelude to Obliteration, Totalitarian Sphere, and Nuclear Justice weren't enough to tip one off to that).

And despite the inevitable sonic assault that one would expect given those themes, and that line-up, that sense of musicianship also provides enough dynamic balance to (mostly) prevent it getting repetitive.  Tracks like Lachrymose, Doomsday Clock and Resurrection in Black provide a breather - sonically and dynamically - and a break from the intensity of the heavier tracks.

Of course, to actually enjoy it properly, you will have to listen.  This is not an album that you can just throw on in the background and expect to get the most out of it.  This is an album that demands your attention and will reward you for it - there are lead guitar parts that will send chills down your spine, drum parts that will have you gasping in amazement.

And it is very much an album.  So often these days, I'll listen to a new piece of music, and instantly hook on to a few tracks.  And then maybe a couple more will grow on me.  And over time, it becomes not so much an album at all as really just a few good tracks and some that get skipped over.  On the other hand, Conquering Dystopia is a record I actually can't conceive listening to in parts, or on shuffle.  It's a beginning-to-end deal, a modern symphony of sorts.

Having said that, at 53 minutes, it's possibly a touch too long for an instrumetal record - dropping a couple of tracks could potentially have been the difference between 'very good' and 'great'.

Nevertheless, it is very good indeed, and if you like your metal a bit more cerebral then you'll love Conquering Dystopia.

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