i believe that i'm ok to write this, however if i am wrong, i trust that the relevent parties will get in touch so that i can remove this.
this is all relatively hurridly put together, so if it's incoherent and full of obvious typos and grammatical mistakes, well tough! it's basically a collection of thoughts and initial reaction and should be thought of as nothing more.
ok, so three new tracks that the band have been demoing. people will have heard amnesia at the evo 3 and 4 gigs, and some people have heard revelation in soundchecks for those gigs. but for me, with the exception of hearing amnesia at evo 4, this is the first time to hear them, and more importantly, actually sit down and listen a few times and try to figure them out a bit.
but to throw in a disclaimer / word of caution. it can be a mistake sometimes to try and judge things too early on. i'm afraid that i'm of the opinion that people proclaiming tool's lateralus to be a masterpiece after just 1 or maybe 2 listens were fooling themselves. i've been listening to that constantly for 3 or 4 weeks now (however long it's been out), and i'm still only begining to get a handle on it. so you have to take these things with a pinch of salt sometimes. but that said, here's first impressions after living with these songs through about 15/20 listens each now (4 times this morning before getting out of bed for work). but really the time to judge them will be six months down the line. nearly a year after first hearing it, i can still play arc'tan'gent any time and enjoy it in its entirety. i think i'll be able to say the same thing for these songs, but in truth, only time will tell with that.
3 songs, running time for those interested is 16 minutes 37seconds.
first impressions then are these. it's kind of fitting that they cancelled the june gigs to take a break and work on this. because it means their last gig was "evolved". and that sums these tracks up quite nicely, especially in relation to the days of low def. this feels and sounds like the work of a band who are at one time settling down more comfortably with who they want to be whilst at the same time changing their sound and structure. it's a contradiction in that the songwriting is becoming increasingly more involved, yet the sound is becoming increasingly more accessible.
what that means in short is that if you want aggression, if you want the sounds of the first two albums, well, you've got those albums. best keep on playing them. i can see people whinging and complaining "maaaan, there's no aggression, they've lost it, easy way out. cop out."
this is in fact the harder route. harder because the band are letting their collective balls hang out in the wind by relying on and putting songwriting first and foremost. to me, some bands can disguise bad or limited songwriting scope and vision by just coming up with a few interesting riffs, disguising it with distortion, and then relying on lowest common denominator of people to go "woarh, primeval, pound, beat, woarrrrgh". one emotion, one feeling. here, they stand or fall by the songs, which showcase different sides to the music. and that i think is a brave move. it started on arc, and if you take the vocal melodies of tat twam, prd and walking day, marry them with the more progressive, epic song structures of yellow fever and binary, then perhaps that starts to hint at what's going on here. or i could just be talking absolute bollocks of course. it's up to the individual to put their own slant and meaning on anything.
the easiest thing to say, yet at the same time the lazy and unfair thing, is that this is a progression from arc'tan'gent. progression in terms of the bands melodic side shining through more. progression in the songwriting department - there's choruses again (not always as obvious as some of those on arc, but they are there all the same), distinct sounds. it's a progression in that heaviness for heaviness sakes is out, the guitars are more comfortable with playing riffs and textures rather than just downtuning and distorting. progression in that the bass, for the first time ever if truth be told, leaps out from an earthtone9 recording. indeed, it may be argued that the star turn here is dave on bass. bringing a new sense of adventure to the sound, it helps to allow things to breath more.
the other noticeable thing from the recording point of view are the vocals. yes, there's an improvement in the singing once more, a definite sense of calm, melody and control. but the other noticeable trait, is that the vocals appear to be in front of the music. that sounds dumb i know, but i don't really know another way of putting it. listening, it's like the vocals are louder, as if the band are playing behind a curtain, while karls is out front. that doesn't mean things are muffled, don't get me wrong, it's just there's a level of separation between them and the music. at first it sounds a little bit strange, but it's like most things, the more you accustomise yourself to something, then the more it makes sense.
in fact, that kind of goes for the whole sound and production. whereas the first two albums were 5 people competing for the same space, everyone basically doing the same as everyone else, arc'tan'gent saw a move away from that, more separation and clarity of the instruments. here's it's taken a further step forward, so you can now start picking out those subtle little things on future listens - this is what i guess i tend to call, maybe incorrectly, the textures. rather than there just being one riff that someone wrote and everyone goes "cool, let's repeat that until we can't think of anything else to do with it or we get bored", it's a sense of "yeah, nice. and i can do this while you do that" from everyone.
oh, and these rock. rock baby rock. this isn't hardcore. it's not really metal. it's rock. it's still heavy, but it's just, well more classic. more roooooooooooooooccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkk.
amnesia is the first track - 5'17". i heard this for the first time at evo4, and it sounded ok, but didn't stick in my mind. and there was a heavy bit that felt unecessary. it felt disjoint and tagged on, a little like that part at the end of enertia from off kilter. but that can be the problem sometimes with judging things on first impression, especially when first impression comes from listening live. anyway, that start, what the fuck is it from. i know this sounds very very familiar. it's going to come to me in a minute. it better had or else i'm going to go mad. anyway, it's kind of drum and bass led, things then build to a more straightforward rock chorus, as karl sings "i know you are a gift to me". there's a choppy stop start guitar element reminiscent of the tat twam chorus in there, before it breaks down again. it's got like a dance rhythm going on in there. i am going to remember what it reminds me of soon. aaaaarghh. i will. the most instantly and obviously accessible of the three, it's one that you could envision be played on the radio until there's a high guitar break / riff and then the heavy mid section hits in. when that happens though, you can picture the radio producers suddenly look worried at each other. they shouldn't. it's not scary. ahhhh i know what i think the intro sounds like, but i ain't saying. see what other people come out with. then there's a little guitar break, which could almost be stoner like in origin, before the heavy section that i had my doubts about kicks in. but now you can hear the riff, you can hear that it's just a progression of what's been playing throughout the song taken up to a new level, with some added wahwah going on in there, and it actually leads smoothly into the final chorus.
next is house of leaves - 5'26". where dave and his bass truly shines. and we all know that bass is the way to go. forget these upstart guitarist, bass is where it's at. starting off with an echoy jangly spacey guitar riff which seems to phase shift, the bass soons kicks in giving a slightly ominous spooky sound, before running into all sorts of little tricks, that for me, brings to mind the likes of steve harris. not in that dave's playing like him because he's not, just that harris is my favourite bassist and i always thought he did interesting little bass runs, rather than just straight 4/4 rhyhthms. and so when i hear others doing interesting things, i kind of relate them back to harris. and that's what's going on here. it's like dave is taking the lead instrument, while the guitars peel of a zeppelinesque riff behind it for the verse, supporting rather than leading. role reversal is good. as they reach the chorus, things become more melodic again, and then the vocals reach a new height. literally as anyone who's heard karl sing his "evolutiooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnn" falsetto will know. offsetting the cool laid back melancholy of what's gone before. it's a more moody et9, heaven only knows what kind of rock god shapes he'll pull if they do it live. the link between yellow fever and binary 101 is the closest i can think of to what they've done in the past. it's kind of epic in nature, a tinge of the eastern style that they seem to like, switching time signatures and just never settling into one monotonous groove. then all of a sudden the rock hits in once more. with a riff that i can sing another song over, but will spare people the torture of doing so. and then it switches tact once more for the 50 second outro, a bass heavy monster, heavy but controlled guitars that is perhaps the closest the band come to the balls out heaviness of the early days. it's a little more adventurous, but it's still not out there to the extent of being difficult to grasp.
revelation is the final track - 5'54". this is one that's really worth hearing on headphones to get the full effect of what's going on. there's lots of little guitar riffs and fills bubbling away beneath the surface. it starts out reminiscent of say a more dischordant p.r.d and then a majestic classic rock riff hits you. it truly is deserving of devils horns being produced. the bass in the verse sounds like it's sustained and the in conjunction with the drums feels like it's hanging back from the pace of the guitars keeping a differet time and beat. i'm sure some technical person would be able to say with authority what that technique is. but i'm not technical, so i won't. the bridge to the chorus has lots of the deft guitar picking and textures going on and a silky smooth vocal. the chorus of "clarity", sang in two different styles is simple but effective with joe and karls vocals sounding doubled as they sing "clarity show me, humility give me". the guitars almost drop out for the middle section, leaving the rhythm section and vocals to carry things, before things build back up. and then the end, you're there going down the straight rock road, and all of a sudden there's a subtle time change and wallop, this massive guitar break jumps out and just mugs you. starting out almost kyuss like, it then nods at messrs murray and smith as it trundles on by. it's not just the way it ambushes you, even when after a couple of plays you know it's coming but still, wallop, the sucker punch catches you each time. but it's also because it's another riff with a whiff of familiar about it. but sometimes that can be because something just sounds so right, that you figure you must know it, it's so obvious. and the background vocals as the track fades out are the closest karl comes to the old days.
i first heard these on a much better stereo than mine, one where things really kind of leapt out at you. one hearing and it was like, "yeah sounds ok, parts that stick or make a point". but i still thought it was going to take a while for things to settle in with me. so i drove home and put this on, and was acutely surprised at how much seemed familiar after just that one listen. and how quickly the songs, or at least large elements of them seeped into the brain. vocal melodies, guitar riffs, bass runs. it's immediate, yet i still think there's probably plenty there that will reveal itself further down the line. overall. it's difficult to know if the progression since off kilter is the result of new found confidence in karl's vocal ability, or whether the sound has driven the man on to new heights. whichever way it is, his vocals now lend them a sufficiently distinctive tone, that the band stand out on their own right. though to be fair, it's difficult on these recordings to tell a difference between karl and joe on the vocals, they way the blend and merge is testimont to the progress both have made. maybe it's this that has helped to forge the new sounds.
in addition, comparisons with others become ever more redundant. to me, the will haven and neurosis comparisons of yore have fallen by the wayside, and in many ways these recordings see the tool ones fall away somewhat as well. the link between them and tool is that they're both actually using classic techniques, but with their own little twists, be it melody, be it time changes etc, to forge their own future which is sufficiently different to the generic forumlae of today as to make them standout and refreshing.
it's definitely showing a sense of maturity in their songwriting and performance. it's smoother, more relaxed - relaxed is probably the wrong word, melancholic may be better. on the basis of these three songs, they're heading in a more obviously rock direction. but the question fans of the more extreme sounds have to answer for themselves is this. is it heaviness that matters, or the song? if it's the former, you need to dust off those albums. if it's the latter. well, drool. really, it's just a matter of keeping the faith. it's difficult to pick an early favourite out of these, they each have something going for them, and are each sufficiently different to stand on their own. as a taster, it certainly does whet the appetite. but that bass in house of leaves is a bit tasty.
lateralus has finally been displaced from the cd player and the car.