Visions – Home (Basick Records, 18 July 2011).
Dear Reader, I have a confession to make.
I know this has the potential to forever diminish your opinion of me as a music critic, as a metalhead, and perhaps even as a person, but it’s something I need to get off my chest.
Here goes… I’m just not that into Dillinger Escape Plan. I never have been, and to be honest, I fail to understand why this band is held in such universally high regard by critics and fans alike, just as I fail to understand the majority of the music they make.
I accept that there are surely listeners out there who thrive on such frenetic chaos and see a complex beautiful sense of order in what appears to be only random madness to my simple ears. But on the other hand, I expect that there must be some like-minded souls out there, nodding in agreement as they read these words, but afraid to ever speak publicly for fear that (like in the case of the Emperor’s New Clothes) they would be ridiculed by the others who DO get it (or at least who claim to).
Anyway, the reason this discussion is sort of relevant stems from my decision to listen to Peterbourian band Visions‘ debut LP Home, which was released earlier this year. Since they are a relatively new band (formed in 2009), and given that this is their first album, I didn’t really know what to expect beyond what is written in the official press release and some other advertisements I’ve seen.
First, we have the fact that they had been signed by UK label Basick Records (and the fact that the album itself was mixed and mastered by members of labelmates Monuments and Chimp Spanner), which sort of hints at some proggy/techy/melodic-y leanings. But at the same, I kept seeing that infamous marketing phrase “for fans of…” and in every case, it seems to include Dillinger Escape Plan.
Well, if any of that made me feel apprehensive at all, I decided to plow ahead anyway (or I guess I should say “plough ahead” since we’re talking about a British band here), and let me just say, I’m really glad that I did.
Keep reading after the jump for some more in-depth analysis, plus your chance to listen to some of the songs (including one available for free download)…
I’ve probably listened to this thing a few dozen times over the past month or two, and keep finding different bits of it stuck in my head. That’s probably the biggest contrast with DEP: these songs, while not at all lacking in the technical execution department, are just downright catchy and memorable. I do like the technical skill displayed by Dillinger, and their overall sound, but the songs themselves always seem completely random to me– it ends up coming across like a bunch of meaningless noise without any sort of structure or anything for the ears to latch onto. Not so with Visions: while there is a fair share of sudden tempo and meter shifts, with sprinklings of the flying-finger fretwork that are the hallmarks of the genre, all of those exist to serve the song – not the other way around. These arrangements are never really predictable or formulaic, but everything that happens makes logical sense: from the ringing, clean, jazz-flavored chords that lead into opener “Attentive; Continuum”, to the lightning-quick, chromatic guitar runs that are interjected throughout, there is nothing here just for window-dressing, nor anything that sounds out-of-place or jarringly unnerving. So, that’s one potential source of personal antipathy defused.
Next, I’d like to address the vocals. Right out of the gate, Visions hit you with an angry snarl. These main (growled) vocals are one thing that really sets this band apart from many of their contemporaries; too often in modern metal these days, especially with the younger groups (and most frequently, those who would be described, at least partially, with any word that ends in “-core”), we find ourselves subjected to weak or insubstantial vocals. Like, you know that thing where someone sounds like they are breathing inward and shouting at the same time; and as a result, end up giving the impression that they are about to pass out for lack of oxygen, and can’t seem to manage to put any power or energy into the performance? Or just as bad, those guys (or gals!) that are maybe just too young, or at least simply don’t have an appropriate timbre of voice to be able to pull off aggressive shouting convincingly; and instead, they come across like when a little kid tries to artificially lower his voice to emulate his father or another grown-up? (To get a better idea of what I mean, imagine this: a small child playing with dolls or stuffed animals will sometimes give each one a different tone of voice, when speaking for them, and sometimes one of them will assume the role of an adult figure, scolding another of the dolls, in a voice that is the closest possible approximation to what the child hears when he himself is reprimanded by a parent. This is the image that often comes to my mind when I hear certain vocalists’ attempts at sounding angry.) Anyway, fortunately, again we can strike this issue from the list of items that would potentially be a source of prejudice against this record; while the band members do come across sounding fairly young (and this impression is reinforced by checking out that promo pic that I’ve posted above these paragraphs — the one with the invisible skateboards), the harsh vocals are delivered with enough conviction behind them to avoid sounding empty or anemic.
On the other hand, rather early in the opening track (and sprinkled liberally throughout most of the other songs, as well), a smattering of clean background vocals (either a single voice or a chorus of several) is introduced. While I’m not one to place an outright ban on clean singing, I must admit that the intrusion of pristine, saccarine voices into an otherwise ostensibly pure metallic experience is often one of the quickest ways to entice my hand toward the “skip” or even the “stop” button. Unfortunately, this is often a knee-jerk reaction, caused by overexposure to emocore bands whose singers sound like whiny little bitches, whose little tantrums are dropped all over the place like bird shit, ruining what could have been a decent song. As a result, too often I won’t even give some music a chance to show me if it is worth listening to or not, because as soon as I hear that first hint of nice, clean warbling… out comes the proverbial giant hook to yank the band off the stage. Well, since this album had already overcome a couple major biases of mine, I felt like I was obliged to overlook this one as well, and at least stick with it for one whole time through.
Well, as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, that turned into numerous repeated listens, because over the course of the ten tracks here there was enough to not only hold my interest, but enough subtlety and complexity to keep me coming back. The songs are well-crafted and well-performed, and (again, as I mentioned earlier) pretty damn catchy. Overall, the band shows a potential to stand out from many of its peers on this debut release, and this leaves me with an optimistic feeling about what the future may hold for these lads, as they start to realize that potential. I’d like to touch upon a few of the highlights, before leaving you with a song you can download for free, a video for another song, and finally some links where you can hear the rest of the album and then grab a copy for yourself.
My favorite song on Home would have to be the fifth one, “Into the Sun”, which pretty well encapsulates the dynamic range displayed on the album, into a single track. Opening with a riff that could accurately be described as Pantera-esque, both in terms of its ferocity and its head-bobbing groove (and starting out with vocals that, like much of the unclean singing on this record, are also reminiscent of some of Phil Anselmo‘s more aggressive moments), the song builds for a couple minutes until it all falls apart into some intriguing, jazzy, clean guitar lines. On top of this they add some sweet, harmonic singing; weaving in and out of the furious shouting and powerful chugging chords, the harmonic and melodic parts keep building to the song’s climax; ultimately bringing to mind the medley at the end of Extreme‘s III Sides to Every Story (particularly the final song on that album, “Under the Sun”).
Elsewhere, we find more examples of juxtaposing anger and beauty, such as a point most of the way through the ninth track, “Delete the Sky”, where some clean backing vocals emerge above a sea of metallic harshness, taking on a unique harmonic consonence that sounds like the same interval of tones in a train whistle (this type of chord is also used, with an equally chilling effect, by the choir in “Neptune” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets Suite). The preceding song, “Creations”, also ends with an intriguing combination of sounds, with some happy-sounding major-key chords paired with some straight-up blastbeating in the drums.
The band employ what would commonly be referred to as a “breakdown” near the end of the album’s second song, ”Machines”, where the fluid movement of all the instruments grinds to nearly a halt, leaving a fairly minimal rhythmic pattern, before the song kicks in again. While this seems to be a clichéd device for changing up the dynamic flow of a lot of today’s music, it can nevertheless be effective when used as sparingly as it is here. At other moments of this album, the guys use various other techniques to add variety to the sound; for example, in the waning moments of “Attentive; Continuum,” we are treated to the slightest hint of some barely audible keyboard; the last few seconds of track six, “Autophobia”, also features some ghostly atmospherics; and later, following the end of ”Delete the Sky,” there is a minute-and-a-half-long interlude, that combines the feeling the listener gets near the end of 10,000 Days with some ethereal piano notes that could just as easily have been lifted from one of the tracks on The Division Bell.
Lyrically, the album is not narrowly focused enough to the point where it could be considered a concept album, but it does center around some repeated themes. One of the more obvious of these is a sort of rumination on the idea of time, and the importance of taking advantage of it before it slips away from you. “Time waits for no one/but I’m the lucky one who makes his own time” is an important declaration in the opening track; later, the fourth song, “Desinent”, features mentions of ”borrowed time,” while “Into the Sun” repeatedly implores, “don’t you waste your time.”
Another line that sticks out would be the words that close the tenth and final track on the album, “Attentive; Reverie”…
They thought that we’d lose all hope
But all we’ve done is prove them wrong-
This final word sustains and fades out; as it continues to ring in this listener’s ears, I realize how true it is. Despite the many factors that are present here which I might have expected to lead me away from this album, kicking and screaming; in the end I’ve found that the musicianship and songwriting chops that are on display here have really won me over and sucked me in. This is Dillinger Escape Plan for people who hate Dillinger Escape Plan.
As promised, here is your free gift: Basick has offered the last song on this album, “Attentive; Reverie” for you to download absolutely free. Just visit this page to take advantage of that.
And as a FREE ADDED BONUS, don’t forget about that free label sampler that I mentioned last week — if you grab that compilation, it includes another song from Home, “Oceans.”
There has been one official video release from the album so far, for the song “Desinent”…
…although I have heard that the band has recently been working on a second video.Update 9 March 2012 – today they have officially released their second video, for “Attentive; Reverie”…
To hear the rest of the tracks on the album, as a sort of “try before you buy” deal, you can either take advantage of the little “play” buttons scattered throughout this review, or feel free to head on over to the Basick Records Bandcamp page for all of them in one neat package; and finally, you can buy your very own copy here on CD, or here as a digital download.