Echopraxia – Pumpkin Palace (self-released, 31 October 2017)
“But Halloween was like two weeks ago,” someone will surely be whining; “why would you be writing about a Halloween-themed metal album now??” For starters: it’s my damn website and I’ll write about whatever I want to. But also: just because the calendar turns over to November doesn’t necessarily mean that celebrating All Hallow’s Eve has to come to an end — in the immortal words of The Ghost of Christmas Present, “It is the season of the spirit / the message if we hear it / is make it last all year.” And I’m pretty sure that song (“It Feels Like Christmas”) was meant to be universally applicable.
And more seriously: especially now that the clocks have changed, it’s completely black outside both walking to the bus in the morning and coming home from work in the evening, the air is often cold and foggy, everyone in the neighborhood still has a whole bunch of pumpkin-based decorations (some of which were designed vaguely enough to work for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as well, but many of which are just the result of being too lazy to put them away and drag out the Christmas stuff already), and one evening last week I happened to hear this five-song EP during my walk home and it seemed strangely appropriate. (Not to mention, at just under twenty minutes in length, it coincided with the journey from bus stop almost perfectly.) And therefore, regardless of the actual date, I felt like sharing this music with you.
Echopraxia, a psychological term for the unconscious or involuntary repetition or imitation of another’s actions, is a single-member band, consisting of Nashvillian guitarist/producer/engineer Austin Woodward. Outside of the band, Woodward‘s main job involves composing and recording soundtrack music for video games, which comes as little surprise after hearing the whimsical and almost cartoonish songs that make up Pumpkin Palace. While the inspiration for this record comes from all sorts of places, ranging from classical to jazz to actual horror movie soundtracks, it quickly becomes very clear that the most significant influence — which the songsmith readily admits — is former Oingo Boingo frontman turned movie and television soundtrack composer Danny Elfman.
Highly renowned as the creator of The Simpsons theme song and the soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas, Elfman‘s early credits also include music from offbeat comedies like Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure — both of which tend towards the dark and sometimes grotuesque, at least as far as films geared towards a family audience go, and each of which features a suitably over-the-top and larger-than life score. Macabre and carnivalesque in equal measure, these movies’ soundtracks always seemed (to my ears, anyhow) to draw inspiration from earlier twentieth-century innovators like Stravinsky and Khatchaturian — and now under the guise of Echopraxia, Woodward in turn has taken Elfman‘s style and inserted it into the context of modern blackened extreme metal.
The compositions on Pumpkin Palace incorporate orchestral arrangements, often with a special emphasis on pizzacato strings and mallet percussion sounds like vibraphones, among other elements that give off an impish vibe — like an instrumental cousin of Svartby — alongside lightning-quick and highly technical metal music. Opening track and first single “Ratzinger’s Waltz” is an excellent example of the blend of dark yet circus-y mood, peculiar in that most of the track is actual in 4 (or sometimes 8) rather than 3 like a typical waltz — until the last minute or so where a definite waltz rhythm is played by echoey chimes and clockwork-style sounds.
Some of the songs here (“Chinkana,” “Grasp of Malok”) delve a bit more into the metal side of things, being somewhat more distorted-guitar-oriented, yet still having the orchestral parts dotting the background (and taking center stage in occasional breaks) — but regardless of which instrument is playing the lead part, the melodies retain a sense of adventure and whimsy. Later, “Tin Noses” tends to swap dazzling runs back and forth between the guitars and what sounds like an ensemble of synth-accordian and similar instruments, with metallic syncopated rhythms serving as support; and finally, “The Holy See” serves up a nice contrast between reverby bells, crystalline sounds, and ambient strings, interspersed with some of the heaviest riffs to be found throughout the EP.
Buy yourself a copy of Pumpkin Palace right here.
* * * * * * *