(Andy Synn continues his unofficial UK Week of reviews here at NCS with a review of the new album by Enochian Theory.)
If you remember these guys from my previous review, then you’ll know that they are very much an Exception To The Rule here at NCS, but one that I think is worth making, such is the stellar quality of their material. It also helps that I know the audience here at NCS is largely made up of people who love MUSIC, with metal as their chosen speciality (occasionally to the exclusion of all else) and who often express an appreciation for other, tangential musical forms which share the best traits of metal – honesty, integrity, and complexity.
While this album is, on the whole, a prog-rock (rather than prog-metal) album, it shares a similar fearless spirit and an evolving creativity with many of the acts we all look up to today, a fearless ambition and a willingness to be open and vulnerable, perhaps even more impressive without the twin-shields of distortion and rage to hide behind.
The songs on this album are like some sort of rare and unique flower, hiding their complexities behind layers of overwhelming beauty and subtle notes of regret. Undeniably, even effortlessly, melodic and epic in feel, songs like opening duo “This Aching Isolation” and “Hz” take their time to fully unfold, and even longer to be appreciated for their sheer depth and clarity.
“This Aching Isolation” immediately makes a statement that the band have nailed their own musical identity to the mast, and are following its whims wherever it may take them. Where once it was convenient to draw comparisons with other vaunted progressive acts from whom ET drew their influences, now that’s a harder sell. The opening bars state unequivocally that THIS is their sound, fully realised and ready to be explored to its limits. Cinematic in scope, and far more than a mere sum of its influences, the uplifting vocal harmonies and spiralling winds of guitars begin to weave together a story whose rhythmic rise and fall continues throughout the whole album.
The time-lapsed growth of “Hz” captures eons of change in what seems like moments, winding through passages of calm and beauty with a sense of restrained and patient power. The song feels, if not longer, then certainly grander than it is, it’s 6 and a half minute length providing the space for a sweeping symphony of sound and vision. Dusky and dreamlike, the vocals drift ethereally along a soft breeze of soothing warmth as the song progresses languidly through movements of light and shade.
“Non Sum Qualis Eram” is a different beast altogether, a bleak and barren artificial soundscape of taut synth lines and strange, oddly placed piano, over which a strangely distorted voice recites a stuttering tale of fear and confusion. It’s a far darker piece, but with a darkness born of loss and confusion, rather than hatred and horror.
With “Distances” the band provide a more concrete construction of soaring melodic guitars and confident, show-stealing drums, which moves from its atmospheric beginnings to a glorious peak of sweeping string movements, shimmering guitar lines, and rolling kick drums. Descending from this high, the focus shifts from the more obvious pleasures of the band’s majestic vocals and shining guitar work to an intimate conclusion of ebbing bass lines and smooth, fluid piano.
I’ll say right now that Life… has, so far, been much less overtly metal than Enochian Theory’s previous album, preferring to build its songs in complex layers, woven together in frail, yet unbreakable strands. The complexity of structure, the subtle nuances of the drums, the multi-faceted guitar work, the free-flowing bass-lines… all these should still connect with the more open-minded metal listener, while the stupendous, emotive vocals and the cinematic scope of the arrangements should ensure that its interest is retained long after the record has wound to its conclusion.
“Inversions” has that same balance of strength and vulnerability which forms the core of recent Anathema. Yet this sensation slowly fades as the powerful post-rock guitars wash over the listener, piercing the sky with solar melodies and flooding the song with energy and light. With a heftier crunch to the guitar work and a booming drum sound, the track climaxes in a fashion both fierce and forceful.
“Creatio Ex Nihilo” is more… unsettling. Ambient, distorted noise and distant, murmuring voices provide the background to layers of “number station” (look it up) recitals, undercut with an ominous, throbbing, booming sound, which bridges the gap into “In Times Of Silence”.
Beginning with a sound of despairing vocals, prominent harmonic bass-lines, and minimalist, ringing guitar notes, the song is painted with a darker hue. It builds steadily into a powerful crescendo of stabbing strings and crunching guitars, its passionate cleans backed by harsh, growled backing vocals, finally concluding in a more artfully disturbed fashion, winding, agile bass-work and creeping guitar lines competing with one another, never quite dissonant, yet never quite in harmony.
One of the most striking things about this record is how unafraid it is to show vulnerability. Though no stranger to a bit of force (see the brooding power of “In Times of Silence” or the rippling muscular riffs during “For Your Glory, Great Deceiver”), these are the exception, rather than the rule. Often these moments of power serve to highlight the fragile nature of the track, as on “For Your Glory…” where the harsh and anguished vocals boom out over a landscape of haunting keys and throbbing bass-lines, accented by ringing, strident guitars, before the melancholic clean vocals return, a potent reminder of frailty in the midst of the storm.
“Nisi Credideritis, Non Intelligetis” rounds off the power-trio of songs, displaying a more vibrant and energetic side of the band, a palette of echoing tapped melodies and thrumming electric guitars (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit of Vai-esque guitar fireworks) providing the perfect medium for the epic orchestration and stratospheric vocals, closing with a sequence of ascending, evolving strings and harsh, barked vocals.
Often overlooked by many, lyrically and vocally this album shines, its progressive melodies always enticing, yet never descending into poppy predictability, or over-reaching themselves with their cleverness. Certain lines leap out at you, grabbing your attention, while others wash over you in soft waves, their depth and meaning only becoming apparent after time spent in quiet contemplation.
Delicate instrumental “The Motives Of The Machine” demonstrates the subtle compositional and instrumental skills of the trio, using but three instruments, guitar, bass, and drums, aided and abetted by the multivariate sounds of the titular Lost Orchestra, to create a vast soundscape that speaks loudly, yet does so with only solemnity and silence as its tools.
The unpredictable flow of “Singularities” has a power all its own, washing aside preconceptions and flooding the senses with calm acoustic guitars, crystal-clear vocal melodies, and rolling, clattering drum beats. Sizzling distorted guitars build a wall of majestic noise, and synthetic strings paint colour across the skyline, the track serving as an amalgamation and culmination of all the elements in Enochian Theory’s sound.
Bringing the album to a close, the sorrow and joy of “Loves” portrays the strengths and weaknesses of our frail human emotions, built around little more than a single, mournful piano line and a strong, passionate vocal performance, ending the album on a wistful, longing note.
Overall this album has a very different dynamic compared to the band’s last, almost a reversal of that album’s priorities. As a musical experience stemming from, but different than, its predecessor, its ultimate goals, and the ways it goes about achieving them, are very different.
Instead of pulling on the listeners’ heartstrings with every rising crescendo, it uses a deep and abiding calm to permeate them, to reach inside the listeners and guide their emotions, rather than lead them with the drag and pull of quiet/loud trickery.
While not musically heavy, it is instead heavy in experience and intricacy, with an overall weight that stays with you over time. Shards of melody and shreds of lyrics will come to you at odd times, leaving you intrigued but unable to place them. Unconsciously, you will have picked up on threads from this album that cry out to be resolved. Slowly, ever so slowly, you may realise this album did indeed affect you on a level you were not even aware of.
Like sensory deprivation, it draws the listener in, stripping away the distractions and immersing them in sound, to achieve a purity and clarity of experience, washing us clean in waves of emotion that conceal a quiet storm of subtle expressions and aching loss.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Life…And All It Entails is out now on Mascot Records. Here are links for the band’s web pages:
And here is a song from Life…:
“In Times of Silence”[audio:http://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07-In-Times-Of-Silence.mp3|titles=07 – In Times Of Silence]