(Andy Synn reviews the debut album by the London-based duo known as Chapters.)
Phew… we’ve been waiting a while for this one haven’t we? But honestly… it’s worth the wait.
Now I have a confession to make. When it comes to the UK/British metal scene I simply tend not to like most of what’s presented in the metal press as being the paradigm of what this fair isle has to offer. That’s not to say I don’t love a lot of British bands (even a cursory search of the site will show up a plethora of UK acts who I’ve praised to high heaven over the years), it’s just that the ones who seem to get all the acclaim and accolades are only the ones who fit certain trends… trends which I simply don’t have any interest in.
And then there’s Chapters, and their phenomenal debut album The Imperial Skies.
If I were forced to apply one single word to this album in order to define my thoughts about it, that word would be “classic”. Of course your personal opinion will weight heaviest of all as to whether or not you consider this a truly “classic” album, but the ambition and integrity are all there.
Varied and versatile yet focussed and refined, it’s an album designed to last and to grow, instantly captivating, yet more and more rewarding with each and every listen.
It’s not a dark album – despite the very real, very palpable rage projected by Joe Nally’s passionate bellow – that’s simply not the point. It’s an uplifting, empowering collection of brazen, metallic muscularity and abstract melodic motifs, simultaneously aggressive, artistic, and anthemic in equal measure.
“I Will Reign Forever” is about as perfect an opener as you could ask for, encapsulating the ethos and spirit of the album in microcosm with its deft and impressive mix of styles and influences. Proggy and imaginitive in its structure, yet effortlessly precise in its execution, it soars majestically with dizzying displays of technical skill while simultaneously stomping and grinding with a heavy, metallic tread, every element in perfect balance and perfect harmony. The complex, knowingly convoluted structure of the song challenges the listener even as it unleashes a plethora of brilliant, gleaming hooks and furiously infectious riffs – switching smoothly into a fantastic piece of flamenco-influenced guitar work before building to a fantastic, pounding metallic climax.
By way of contrast “The Siren” is a short, sharp shot of energy and emotion, moving from glorious melody to calamitous dissonance – a journey which takes in scintillating solo work, lithe, fluid bass-lines, and the sort of stomping, Hetfield-ian riffage which would make Matt Pike strip off his shirt in admiration.
“March of the Puritan” is, by my estimation, one of the best prog-metal songs of the year. Sure it may start out as a raging thrashterpice – Testament by way of Tech-Death – but over the next 6 minutes it twists and turns and transforms itself, before finally blossoming in an epically melodic, yet enigmatically understated, conclusion which draws as much from King Crimson as it does from Killswitch Engage.
The way it transitions smoothly into the beautiful instrumental strains of “Arising” is absolutely sublime, too.
The calming, meditative strains of “The Ecliptic Circle” – blessed by the miraculous vocals of Sian Sanderson – serves as a perfect primer for the album’s title track, 4 minutes of thunderous bass drums, raging vocals, and effortlessly expressive, magnificently technical guitar work. It’s one of those songs which seems to pack in more ideas than should ever be contained in such a concise and carefully constructed package – injecting interludes of subtle piano work and artful touches of Ms Sanderson’s beautiful singing voice – all tied together by a forceful and dramatic vocal refrain.
It concludes, ambitiously, with the eponymously titled “Chapters”, a near 8-minute behemoth of ferocious tech-thrash, scathing melodic death metal, and unpredictable progressive flourishes. At times it recalls a more intuitive, more instinctive version of The Faceless with its ability to weave together multiple competing strands of chaotic, complex melody and dense, iron-clad heaviness into a clever composition of electric energy and seamless clarity.
Though I’ve made several comparisons here to other bands, there’s nothing derivative about this album. The band draw liberally and without limitation from a vast range of influences and styles, yet somehow make each and every one their own.
The closest real comparison I could make would be with the proggy post-thrash of Revocation – both bands simultaneously rejecting and embracing convention, mixing and matching styles with impunity, somehow producing order from the chaos. And yet, controversially, I’d say that The Imperial Skies is a far better album than Revocation’s recent self-titled effort.
It’s more ambitious, more grandiose, and simply that much greater than the mere sum of its parts. It’s more than just another debut album – it aims high, truly reaching for the sky, and has the potential to be considered a true classic.