(Time for another SYNN REPORT. Today, Andy looks back at the discography of Norway’s Communic, and on Monday we’ll have his review of the band’s brand new album, “The Bottom Deep”.)
Hailing from Kristiansand, Norway, yet bucking the common trends one associates with Norwegian music – no rotten, corpse-painted fury or leather-clad, aggressive sleaze to be found here – prog-metal 3-piece Communic pursue a huge, multi-faceted sound that takes in recognisable elements from a multiplicity of metal sub-genres, swallowing up thrashy rhythms, soaring vocals, labyrinthine song structures, adaptable string-work and elaborate, eloquent drumming, melting them down to their constituents in order to re-forge them anew into a whole far greater than the mere sum of the parts.
Each of the three members is a vital component in crafting the complex and convoluted mini-epics which make up Communic’s various records; Tor Atle Andersen’s drums are a sheer delight to experience, over and over again playing subtle rhythmic shifts off against pounding artillery fire, Erik Mortensen’s flowing, liquid bass lines adding both depth and power in equal measure, while frontman Oddleif Stensland draws from a seemingly bottomless well of scything riffs and piercing, emotional solos. The way these three individuals play off one another is mesmerising, creating a vast soundscape of progressive instrumentalism one second, locking into a devastating metallic groove the next. The breadth of their sound and the sheer array of sonic textures they are able to conjure is a testament both to their striking individual personalities and to their collective focus and the musical identity they have built.
For all their soaring, epic compositions, the band are careful to maintain a strong foundation of armour-plated riffs which make their layered, expansive sound a legitimately heavy concern. At times soft and soothing, at others hard and pounding, these Norwegian progsters have perfected a precise balance between melancholy clarity and crushing power that serves as a perfect foil to their dark, often wilfully complex, subject matter. (more after the jump, including tracks to stream from each album . . .)
CONSPIRACY IN MIND – 2005
Tense and edgy, “Conspiracy In Mind” kicks off the record with a steamrollering display of grooving riffs and booming drums. Oddleif Stensland’s vocals were, at this point, still in the development stage, lacking the force and conviction they would acquire on later records, not unimpressive but still more strained and less individual than they would eventually become. It is Stensland’s soulful wailing that promotes the majority of the Nevermore comparisons, though some of the more explosive riffng recalls the best work of Messrs’ Loomis & co.
The undulating rhythms and propulsive momentum provide a more oblique and prog-flavoured take on this particular style of darkly powerful metal, however, keen to explore more varied and different sonic textures, of which primal metallic power is only one – for example, the song’s epicly doomy mid-section mixes eerie, semi-clean guitar melodies and winding bass with huge, ominous chord progressions and a breathtakingly memorable lead guitar part, before delving back into stomping metal belligerence.
“History Reversed” incorporates beautiful, evocative guitar leads into its more romantic, achingly melodramatic style, without neglecting some moments of hammering force where the three protagonists lock together in seamless unity to deliver a carefully controlled and precisely aimed shot of adrenaline. The track moves back and forth between calm, yet complex, moments of meditative calm and a more focussed attack, balancing the two extremely well. The track is a carefully arranged balancing act that is neither as forcefully heavy as its predecessor or as linear in progression as it’s follow-up ,“They Feed On Your Fear”. Moving from drawn out lamentations of tranquilizing sorrow and dramatic despair, the second half of “They Feed On Your Fear” shifts into higher gear with a more aggressive attack of whip-crack snare beats, thunderous kick rolls and chugging, rapid-fire guitar.
“Communication Sublime” is a moody piece of progressive structuring and skillful instrumentation welded onto a chassis of speedy, heads-down riffs and laser-focussed, precision drumming. A real head-banger of a track, it also shows Stensland stepping away from the Warrel Dane comparisons somewhat, not necessarily in his voice, but in his delivery and the construction of his vocal melodies.
With “The Distance”, the band attempt to redefine the boundaries of “epic”, its teasing, clean intro exploding into incandescent life with a series of massive riffs and a deep, thrumming bass-tone, before descending back down into calmer realms of still, reflective waters. Flowing languidly from sparkling acoustic guitar melodies to mountainous waves of grand distorted riffage, it channels an oceanic power topped off with sparkling lead themes and an electric, whirling dynamism.
With “Ocean Bed” the band somehow take the themes of the previous song, wistful acoustic guitars meshing into muscular, electrified riffage, and utilise them in a totally different manner. More concise and direct than its predecessor, it captivates the listener with its dark, moody intensity, priming them for the extensive auditory work-out of the lengthy closing track “Silence Surrounds”. From an aggressive opening, the song twists and shifts in a sinuous, serpentine manner, riffs and tempos changing and mutating endlessly as Stensland moves from his usual smoothly melodic fare to aggressive shrieks of primal rage, throwing in some falsetto banshee wails to add further flavour to the roiling, bubbling cauldron of riffage stirred by Andersen and Mortensen’s rhythmic whirlpool.
The drumming on this album is the most consistently impressive aspect, effortlessly powerful yet mesmerizingly complex. Guitar-wise, there are many prime cuts of riffage and multiple searing leads on this record, the taut interplay and ambitious writing of Stensland and Mortensen laying down the blueprint for the impressive sound they would one day concoct. Though there remain several holes in the equation as of yet, the song-writing on occasion dipping from the otherwise stellar quality that pervades the songs for the majority of their length, this album still stands the test of time well; not only is it a keystone in the foundation of Communic’s future growth and development, it also remains an intriguing and emotive listen in its own right.
Sample Song: “Communication Sublime”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/04-Communication-sublime.mp3|titles=Communic – Communication sublime]
WAVES OF VISUAL DECAY – 2006
Opening with the aggressive attack of “Under A Luminous Sky”, the record immediately demonstrates the huge steps the band have taken, tightening up their compositions to produce a gleaming behemoth of polished metallic might and complex, progressive power. Harnessing their thunderous force with more vibrancy and immediacy than before, the 3-piece propel their listeners through a series of winding, tumultuous twists and turns, laser-guided riffs and explosive drums inter-locking to devastating effect. Brimming with newfound confidence and vigour, Stensland exploits his aggressive high range to great effect, without ever losing the distinctively dark, melodious quality that makes his voice stand out.
Rich with bleak, tenebrous undercurrents of dark promise, “Frozen Asleep In The Park” mixes unflinchingly gritty subject matter with winding, unpredictable riffage. Pulsing and prominent bass-lines weave their way through the song’s bedrock as the guitars expand into colossal chord progressions, before contracting into pummelling, chugging antagonism. The song’s central riff motif mutates with each cycle, shifting timing organically with every repetition, showcasing the cool-headed control which conducts and targets the group’s primal power.
By the time “Watching It All Disappear” rolls around, the band have settled into their sound with boundless confidence, the stunning success of the album’s first two tracks encouraging them to ease off on the accelerator a little, crafting a melancholic ballad filled with varying shades of misery and sorrow. The song’s slow and measured pace gives the enigmatic drumming of Tor Atle Andersen and the wayward bass digressions of Erik Mortensen room to breathe and expand, fulsome with character and passion, while Stensland doesn’t skimp on the clever and captivating riffage, regardless of how restrained and introspective the song may be.
“Fooled By The Serpent” is a riff-based concoction of belligerent brawn and antagonistic aggression set to a procession of driving melodies and a swirling vortex of anatomically impressive drumming. The song’s penetrating lead refrain shimmers with latent energy that ascends to heaven over the devastating groove conjured by the inter-locking metallic furore that fills the song to overflowing. Seamless time-changes and quantum tempo shifts wrap around the song’s transcendentally despondent chorus, as twinkling, mysterious keys flash in and out of existence, building towards a stunning mid-section of flowing, streamlined bass and galloping drums crowned by a striking, stratospheric solo.
The stunning piece-de-resistance of the record is the title track, “Waves Of Visual Decay”, which washes over the listener in tidal torrents of crashing guitars and grandiloquent keys. The mercurial structure of the song is a cosmic convergence of supernova energies and vast, infinite despair. The band’s restless energies force them to drive the music down ever more progressive avenues, silken melody growing from stormy winds of pensive, restrained power, potent with the promise of light and life. Having played together for so long, the band are as tight and precise as one could wish for, each playing their role to perfection, with Andersen’s drumming continuing to impress and captivate in equal measure, while Stensland proves himself both a superbly talented vocalist and guitarist.
The group dive into more thrashy, tempestuous realms with “My Bleeding Victim”, whose crunchy, powerhouse riffing is accented by some prominent keyboard lines and thunderous drumming. Relatively shorter and more vitally focussed than the rest of the album, the song jabs and weaves with a prize-fighter’s grace, landing devastating blow after devastating blow with its thick, crunchy guitar tone, effortlessly expressive and unpredictable vocal arrangements and surprising, nuanced keyboard augmentations.
The record climaxes with “At Dewy Prime”, a prog-tastic tour de force where ominous, apocalyptic portents rise on the backs of soaring lead guitars before sinking back into the abyss, dragged down by deep, thrumming vibrations from Mortensen’s full and intricate bass-lines. The vocal interplay between Mortensen and Stensland, hitherto underappreciated, really shines on this track, the two walking in unbroken step not only musically but vocally as well. Stuttering, enthralling keyboard lines add delightful and beguiling nuances to the lurching, maze-like structures of electrified riffs, dizzying leads and furious drumming, aiding them to grow and spread their wings.
For those mourning the (apparent) demise of Nevermore, I would recommend they pick up a copy of “Waves Of Visual Decay” to satiate their fix for thrashy, progressive power metal. Though the comparison is apt, they will soon find the two acts to be entirely different and distinctive in their approaches, taking the initial formula in totally different directions, at times connected only by the sheer power both acts bring to the table.
Sample Song: “Waves Of Visual Decay”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/05-Waves-Of-Visual-Decay.mp3|titles=Communic – Waves Of Visual Decay]
PAYMENT OF EXISTENCE – 2008
In some ways a marginally weaker album than its predecessor, the third Communic album still exploits the benefits of the band’s increased confidence and more powerful production values, each riff detonating with stunning force. Perhaps for the first time though, certain tracks suffer from progressive fatigue and would benefit from a judicious trimming. Regardless of this, the record continues the group’s attempt to expand the borders of their sound into ever more diverse and progressive realms.
“On Ancient Ground” drops an atom bomb of heaviness to set things going, pounding the listener with a bombardment of heaving drums and striking riffage. Characteristically, even some of the more simple and violent riffs are given a distinctive twist, the band erecting a stomping giant of off-kilter tempos, set atop the shifting sands of polyrhythmic drumming and subterranean bass. The track benefits from some particularly prominent and compelling backing vocals, hugely layered cries of “sacrifice” building the mood of the track and adding to the story in an impressive manner, as smooth choral chants weave in and out of the background.
“The Abandoned One” has an impressive opening riff, a Believer-esque convoluted thrash number that re-occurs throughout the song, providing an anchoring point for the track’s doomy transgressions. At times stomping and weighty, at others light and airy, the song glowers with a doomy melancholy that permeates both the music and the vocals equally. Yet this storm-cloud of misery is broken by moments of shining melody, not least from the subtle keyboard effects and the prestigious solo that marks the song’s mid-point.
With “Becoming Of Man”, the band set out to explore the outer limits of their dynamic sound, trading in oppressive heaviness and ethereal lightness in equal measure. The metamorphic nature of the track sees them shift from blistering speed to a pounding, ground-shaking tread, conducted in their task by Tor Atle Andersen’s multi-faceted and unrelentingly powerful drumming performance. At times, the melody of the track is subsumed by a chaotic maelstrom of demonic aggression that is a real shift in tone for the band, yet it ably re-asserts itself with a shining display of minimalist, clean-picked beauty. Stensland really stretches himself on this song, capturing a variety of moods, his smooth and dulcet tones expressing rage-storms of sorrow and confusion along with coolly fatalistic melancholy.
The album’s title track is half spiky riff-fest, half distinguished ballad, transmuting the winding, electric riffs of its beginning into a haunting ambience of warm bass-lines, classical keys and muted, acoustic misery. Huge, iconic leads pierce the gloom like shafts of pure light, forcing the shadows to part and exposing the vital, emotive core of the track, as lightning bolts of sharpened melody flash through the steady downpour of heavy, chugging guitars. It leads without delay into the tightly structured expression of existential angst that is “Unpredictables Of Life”, which bristles with live-wire energy, hungry for life and filled with turbulent rhythms. The steady, stomping gait of the track dominates with repressed strength, bright keyboards climbing high as deep and robust bass-melodies round out the sound, providing it with deep, reverberant roots.
The moody and expansive “Raven’s Cry” begins with a soaring lead refrain, ethereal keyboards, intricate drums and serpentine, melodic bass-lines. Searching for solace and salation, the song builds slowly and organically, each of the three members making full use of the space offered him to explore subtle nuances of instrumental skill. Part way through, the mournful guitar strains give way to ever more majestic slabs of metallic might, building up momentum and steadily introducing crunchy riff after crunchy riff, while Andersen’s sharp and esoteric drumming crackles with dominating power. The track reaches its zenith with a magnetic solo and a stalwart, densely compacted arrangement of powerful riffs galvanising a shrieking, passionate response from Stensland’s tormented vocal chords.
Speedy and blisteringly intense, “Unpredictables Of Life” again plays up the technically gifted thrash angle without sacrificing its progressive inclinations. The gorgeous acoustic opening gives way to combustive full-force riffs and a searing solo before Stensland puts his stamp on the track’s angular and distorted construct of unpredictable musical complexity. The song has a particularly striking chorus, memorable and expressive, that alters the tone of the track without disturbing its character. The sudden break into marching, martial power and mass-screamed vocals tears the music asunder, splitting it down the middle with explosive paroxysms of shocking fury.
The beginning of the end, “Stone Carved Eyes”, hits with a nigh death-metal level of violent aggression, crushingly brutal guitar riffing opening the song in a wholly unexpected, yet welcome, manner. Stensland’s vocals retain a seductive, velvet quality which balances and offsets this extra level of heaviness and, as the song wanders with ease through grand pastures of laid-back melody and deep into the rocky caves of primal, fiery passion, provides a consistent thread to guide listeners along the journey. Stately and almost arrogantly assured of its power, the track takes its time to develop different moods and aural textures to swaddle its dense core of musical magma in layers of progressive instrumentation and enchanting atmospherics.
“Payment Of Existence” is undoubtedly an impressive record and one which sees the band experimenting with new elements, yet incorporating them so deeply into their core sound that it takes a few listens to tease out the most progressive of their ambitions from the overwhelming display of musical talent and compositional nous on display. Perhaps lacking the sheer excitement of “Waves Of Visual Decay”, itself a superfluously excellent record, this album still doesn’t disappoint with its majestic array of bombastic riffs, fascinating vocals and stunning drums.
Sample Song: “Unpredictables Of Life”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/07-Unpredictables-Of-Life.mp3|titles=Communic – Unpredictables Of Life]
Recommended For Fans Of: Nevermore, Believer, Mercenary
EDITOR’S NOTE: Remember to check back with us on Monday for Andy’s review of Communic’s new album to complete the assessment of the band’s discography.