(Andy Synn reviews the spectacular new come-back album by Norway’s Extol.)
So, all my cards on the table… I approached this album with an equal mix of awe and trepidation. This band mean a huge amount to me, and as much as I had been hoping for a reunion there’s always the fear that things simply might not be the same after so long.
Let me just say then that this album fulfils, and exceeds, all of my hopes and expectations. It is a truly phenomenal record which both reinstates the band’s legendary reputation and also primes them for a new era, and a new audience, recapturing the irrepressible spirit and raw passion of their earlier efforts, alongside an even greater sense of maturity and refined intelligence.
Now, to my fellow Extol acolytes, that should be all they need to hear. But what can I say that will entice the unfamiliar listener? How can I best describe the album’s (and the band’s) sound to a new potential audience?
Though the band’s distinctive sound is difficult to classify (if you read the SYNN REPORT I did about the band, you’ll see I chose to recommend each album separately, such was the variety on offer), the group could most closely be associated with progressive death metal – with the death metal elements drawing more from the post-Schuldiner school of thought rather than the Floridian corpse-yards. For a band that I feel often don’t get their due, their influence is surprisingly pervasive and far-reaching. In fact, if you want to know where The Faceless learned their Autotheistic chops, then Extol is a good place to start!
What’s most surprising (and rewarding) about this album is how organically it melds together elements of all the band’s previous releases, from the scintillating fury of Burial, to the progressive power of Undeceived, the unpredictable twists and turns of Synergy, and the glorious melody of The Blueprint Dives. Somehow the group (now consisting of vocalist Peter Espevoll, guitarist Ole Borud, and drummer David Husvik) have achieved a near-perfect balance of seemingly disparate elements, creating something far greater than the simple sum of its parts.
Take opening track “Betrayal”, which mixes thickly corded death riffage with a predatory black metal undercurrent and a series of lushly progressive melodic interludes, powered by David Husvik’s pinpoint drumming prowess. It’s a seamless evolution and combination of the band’s previous forms, simultaneously new and yet familiar.
“Open The Gates” is a master class in Extol’s singular form of progressive metal, showcasing the subtle complexity of David Husvik’s flowing drum patterns and the multi-faceted expressiveness of Ole Borud’s unmistakable guitar style. Yet the clever and unconventional arrangement of the tune never comes at the detriment of its almost hypnotic catchiness, not even during the yin/yang trade-off between soaring prog vocal melodies (recalling John Anderson of Yes in both tone and timbre) and passionate death metal savagery.
If it’s not already clear by now, I love this album.
I love how “Wastelands” offers a perfect example of the band’s ability to balance heaviness and harmony like no other, twining together chugging, wrenching rhythms, strafing blast-runs, and enigmatic harmony in a manner wholly unconventional yet undeniably effective.
I love that “A Gift Beyond Human Reach” is built around David Husvik’s clever, intricate drumming and Ole Borud’s signature reflexive riff style, uncoiling slowly into an angular, jerking stomp-along, topped off with Peter Espevoll’s ravaged, passionate vocals and laced with gleaming harmonies.
I love the dense, brooding heaviness and subtle melodic undertow of “Faltering Moves” in all its glory, and how even the massive, swelling guitar lines and oceanic drum rolls here can’t prepare you for the assault of tumbling riffs and clanking bass lines that leap to the fore during “Behold The Sun”, which twists and turns through dizzying contortions of scrambling, electrified riffage and scatter-gun, staccato drum work, without ever losing the a sense of flow.
I love how the stripped down instrumental strains of “Dawn Of Redemption” offer up a soothing balm for the tortured soul, and how the visceral puissance of “Ministers” manages to make a synergy of crunchy tech-thrash rhythms and unconventional prog-metal melodies seem like the most natural thing in the world.
I love the eponymously titled “Extol” for the fact that despite being one of the most overtly melodic tracks on the album, from its soaring clean vocals to its gleaming tremolo guitars to its captivating string-led interlude, its guitars lose none of their bite or power, and the drums step-up their game with nimble dexterity and precision-targeted force.
And finally I love the grandiose summing up and drawing together of “Unveiling The Obscure”, which encapsulates the boundless creativity and unbroken spirit of the band in five and a half minutes of gleaming, crystal-clear prog melodies, angular, impregnable death metal riffs, and scorched, blackened vocals – all empowered by the tectonic rumble of David Husvik’s impressive footwork and scintillating sticksmanship, which bring the album to a suitably monumental conclusion.
This is a rare, near-flawless gem of an album. It’s inventive, it’s creative, it’s both keenly unfashionable and cleverly unpredictable. It builds out of the past so naturally that it makes the intimidating task of tying together the many threads of the group’s musical identity seem absolutely effortless.
At no point do the band force the progressive or technical nature of their music down your throat – they’re not interested in throwing in random jazz parts or brash displays of gaudy showmanship just for effect or shock value. Instead they write albums like other people write novels, with plot and direction and character, equally accessible to the dedicated and the dilettante, yet more and more rewarding with each and every listen.
Extol’s fifth album is, in every way, a validation of faith, and a fitting testament to their profound importance and influence within the metal scene.
Extol was released in North America yesterday, and you can find out how to acquire it here. Now, listen, and watch: