(Today we have a bonus edition of THE SYNN REPORT, with the usual month-ending one still ahead, and here Andy Synn pays homage to the extravagant discography of Florida’s Lascaille’s Shroud.)
Recommended for fans of: Edge of Sanity, Allegaeon, Scar Symmetry
Despite what it says above… this is NOT the November edition of The Synn Report. That’s still to come at the end of the month as normal.
What this is, however, is a bonus edition of everyone’s favourite discography deep-dive designed to correct a grave injustice perpetrated by this site, and by this writer in particular.
You see, several years back we began covering the work of Lascaille’s Shroud, the outlandish Sci-Fi-Prog-Death project of Florida’s Brett Windnagle, and wrote rather glowingly about their first three albums.
But then, somehow, we lost touch with the band, and it was only recently that I discovered that they’ve since produced an additional three albums, with the most recent two being released earlier this year.
As you might gather then, it’s high time for us to catch-up on what we’ve been missing, and while this may not be as comprehensive an article as some of them – Brett’s talent for extravagance means it’s not unusual to see songs shoot past the 15, 20, or 25 minute mark, and both their second and third albums are spread across two stacked discs clocking in at a total of over two hours of music – it should still give you a real feel and flavour for what Lascaille’s Shroud is all about.
INTERVAL 01: PARALLEL INFINITIES – THE INNER UNIVERSE – 2013
Undeniably, in hindsight at least, the most primitive Lascaille’s Shroud album (it is very early days in the project’s evolution, after all), nevertheless The Inner Universe already demonstrates much of the proggy ambition and precise execution which would go on to define their work.
Over the course of the record’s nearly sixty-three minutes you can hear traces and echoes of multiple bands from across the Death/Tech/Prog/Power Metal spectrum, ranging from Allegaeon to Ayreon, Death to Dream Theatre, Nevermore to Necrophagist, and beyond, all welded together in an ambitious (if still somewhat rough around the edges) musical mash-up that makes up for what it might lack in terms of mature, sophisticated songwriting with sheer exuberance and shameless extravagance.
Cinematic, synth-drenched opener “She Dreams of Earth”, for example, marries pulsing, programmed drum beats to a series of chunky, rhythmic riffs and glossy, gleaming lead guitar lines, all underpinned by epic embellishments of moody piano and shimmering electronic ambience, while “Transcendental Cyber-Eroticism” leans more heavily (and I do mean heavily) into the Death Metal side of things, with its pounding, piston-like riffs and cyberpunk synth parts – shades of Allegaeon manifesting in the former, hints of Vangelis in the latter – each acting as a clever counterpoint to the other.
“Fall Into the Arms of the Sun” introduces the listener to the piercing, upper register vocals of Patrick Hoyt Parris, one of Windnagle’s regular collaborators, whose melodic shriek proves a perfect foil to Brett’s more gravel-throated growls, with the music shifting into more of a Prog Death mode (think Into Eternity and/or Mercenary) in response, with the mid-to-late stages of the track delving even deeper into electro-clash and Power Metal territory.
It’s the album’s fifteen-minute, Mass Effect quoting centrepiece, “Swarming the Sun”, which really shows what Lascaille’s Shroud is capable of however, clothing the track’s dense, Death Metal skeleton in a layer of artificial synth-skin, laced with veins of addictive, alien melody, and filling its lungs with rage and raw emotion.
It’s an absolute powerhouse (and still one of the best in the band’s back-catalogue), whose dizzying interplay between scintillating electronics and wrenching metallics – not to mention killer riffs and seriously catchy chorus refrain – remains as intense and infectious now as it was back in 2013.
And although “Swarming…” is undeniably the record’s high-point, that doesn’t mean that things suddenly slack off in the back half, as “Romancing My Own Demise” goes even further down the Power-meets-Death-Metal wormhole via another outlandish duet between Windnagle and Hoyt Parris, after which the proggy, melodic interlude of “Love Lost and Worlds Destroyed” sets the stage for the album’s climactic, Prog/Tech finale, “The Acceptance of Death”.
INTERVAL 02: PARALLEL INFINITIES – THE ABSCINDED UNIVERSE – 2014
If you enjoyed Interval 01 then you’ll be pleased to hear that Interval 02 expands on certain elements of the band’s sound, refines others, and also introduces some new twists and tricks along the way.
While the first track on the first disc (yes, it’s a double-album, so strap in) serves as more of a lengthy introduction – immediately showcasing both the improved production, thicker, smoother guitar tone, and generally tighter sound – it’s “The Lamentations of a Dying Universe”, which really kicks things off with a bang, marrying some catchy, Melodeath-esque riffing to an array of gnarly, snarly, growly vocals, some of which are courtesy of yours truly (and which, in hindsight, I think I could have done better!).
“Not Even Remembered By the Dust of Stars”, however, is an even better track, practically bursting with soaring lead lines, punchy, technical riffs and snappy, snarling vocals – think Scar Symmetry but proggier and more expansive – while “The Great Aphotic Barriers” is both heavier (both the vocals and riffs are lower, chunkier, and that little bit more bombastic) and more shamelessly symphonic, featuring some of the most prominent (not to mention best) synthetic orchestral embellishments on the entire record.
It’s “The Sad and Beautiful Face of Death”, however, which is the keystone of disc one. Clocking in at a ludicrous twenty-five minutes and thirty-nine seconds, it’s a veritable odyssey of synthetic soundscapes and raging riffs, running the gamut from some of the heaviest, most intense moments the band have ever produced to some of the most poignantly progressive passages they’ve ever recorded, while also finding time to add a splash of scorching vocal venom (as well as some surprisingly solemn clean singing) along the way!
Disc two follows this up with the almost equally ostentatious “A Congregation of Non-Existence” – twenty minutes (and change) of propulsive Prog Death that errs a little more towards the aggressive than the progressive, but still finds time for the occasional Power Metal chorus, trance-like electro-break, or soaring solo section, amidst all the titanic riffs, tactical tremolo runs, and gargantuan gutturals.
Slower, moodier, and more cinematic, “The Conversation I Had With Death” coats itself in lavish layers of symphonic synths and artificial orchestration, along with a host of other unorthodox Prog, Power, and electronic embellishments, while “Into the Bulk” focuses more on rapid-fire riffs and high-energy rhythms, topped off with yet more evocative interplay between Windnagle’s imperious growl and the clean-sung power of Judicator’s John Yelland (who also appears on the previous track).
Sadly the record stumbles right at the end, as “A Moment for our Eternity” fails to come together properly – the Prog parts and the Death parts and the electronic parts never quite achieving cohesion – and “The Guilt Reprisal” serves only as a rather forgettable outro which seems to exist solely to introduce the protagonist of the band’s next record, but all in all The Abscinded Universe is still one hell of an epic undertaking, whichever way you look at it.
THE ROADS LEADING NORTH – 2016
Lascaille’s Shroud’s third album is not only their second double-album in a row, but also the first to feature that full on “concept album” feel, complete with several instrumental/interlude/voiceover tracks designed primarily to further the story.
It’s also, fittingly, a fair bit more Power/Prog Metal influenced, especially when it comes to the increased use of the soaring (occasionally screeching) clean vocals of John Yelland and Patrick Hoyt Harris, and benefits from a much cleaner, crisper, and beefier production, most noticeably in the guitars and harsh vocals (both still handled, with aplomb, by Windnagle himself) and the synths, which have a real Dark Tranquillity flavour to them this time around.
And while, if I’m going to be brutally honest, The Roads Leading North doesn’t quite manage to justify its extended length (the voiceover interludes and occasionally convoluted songwriting – it’s not until the third track that the album really gets going, for example, and oh god does “Sketches of Madness” seem to go on about ten times longer than it needs to – definitely make it feel longer than it needs to be), that doesn’t mean it’s not full of impressive highlights worth mentioning here.
“Restrain the Child”, for example, is a shamelessly ostentatious, utterly outrageous, piece of Prog-powered, synth-infused, metallic madness, which will probably irritate some listeners just as much as it delights others, while both “The Neon City, Part 1” and “Unspeakably Defiled” err more towards the Death Metal side of things, the former a domineering display of crunchy, Scar Symmetry-esque riffage and subtly restrained technicality, the latter a bombastic barrage of epic riffs, shimmering sci-fi synths, and fire-breathing vocals which feels almost like a throwback to all the best bits of the previous album.
Hell, even the songs which don’t nail the execution 100% of the time still have a lot to offer, whether it’s the sublime build-up during the second half of the title track, or the way which “Vehemence Drone” (which comes worryingly close to sounding like a Djent/Prog-Death cover of “Wrathchild” at the start) eventually transforms into a biomechanical monster of massive riffs and equally massive growls.
It’s the final third of the album where the magic really happens, however, as although “What Dwells Beneath Her Flesh” doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the record (and is probably its one major misstep), the flow of tracks here – from the titanic, twenty-five minute “When Sleep Takes Us”, through the surprisingly effective and emotional pseudo-ballad “No Destiny” and the impact-heavy strains of “The Neon City, part 2”, all the way to the phenomenal finale of “The Disappearance of Elizabeth North”, which might just be the tightest, most seamlessly written track on the entire record – is basically one non-stop rollercoaster ride of thrilling, three-dimensional Prog-Death spectacle.
THE TIGER’S DAUGHTER – 2018
An interesting diversion from what might be considered the “norm” for Lascaille’s Shroud, The Tiger’s Daughter (based on the book of the same name by K. Arsenault Rivera) consists of a single, forty-eight minute track which features more of a “Fantasy” theme, as well as several instances of a more proggy, Melodeath-inspired sound reminiscent of bands such as Insomnium (whose Winter’s Gate album is a clear, and willingly acknowledged influence), Chthonic, and Persefone.
It’s not a total departure by any means – Brett’s voice is still instantly recognisable (and still pairs nicely with the soulful clean singing of Mercedes Victoria, whose presence instantly lends the record a bit of extra class) and the guitars still have that same blend of brains and brawn that they’ve always had – but it’s definitely a conscious and calculated development… in fact I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a record which has learned a lot from its slightly over-ambitious predecessor, as its more concise run-time and willingness to let the vocals and melodies (both synth and guitar) tell the story help it feel like a more complete and coherent album overall.
Of course, as a forty-eight minute, single-track album, The Tiger’s Daughter is clearly meant to be listened to and enjoyed as one holistic experience, meaning it feels almost counterproductive (or, at least, counter-intuitive) to try and highlight specific moments or sections, but I still want to pick out a few parts for special praise.
Pay close attention, for example, to the opening couple of minutes, which establish some key melodic and rhythmic themes which, cleverly, Brett keeps returning to, in ever-so-slightly different forms, over the course of the record as a way of tying the whole story together.
The willingness to slow things down, or strip them back entirely (such as the striking piano section around seven minutes in) also helps keep the story moving and the music engaging – the middle fifteen minutes or so, in fact, are some of the most dynamic the band have ever recorded, equal parts moody and meditative, epic and uplifting, immersive and intense – while the blend of crystalline clean vocals (courtesy of Ms Victoria) and punchy, powerful riffing at key points makes a major impact every time.
Oh, and the rippling piano into soaring solo into incorrigible, but irresistibly infectious, Insomnium worship that happens from around the 32:30-ish mark? Ridiculously awesome.
That’s all I’m going to say about The Tiger’s Daughter for now though, as you owe it to yourself to give this one a thorough and focussed listen because, despite it being a slight outlier in the band’s discography, it’s undeniably one of their best works.
OTHERCOSMIC DIVINATIONS I – 2020
Remember how I said that Lascaille’s Shroud had released TWO albums already this year? Well this is the first of them and… it might just be the best thing they’ve ever done.
The fact that I missed out on this when it was first released might actually have worked in my favour as, due to the impact of the current pandemic, Brett wasn’t able to get the entire album finished in one go, and so originally only released the first three tracks, with the last two following later once things opened up/eased off a little… and since these two are probably the record’s best cuts the experience as a whole – all fifty-two minutes and fifty seconds of it – is simply so much better for their inclusion.
That’s not to say that the other tracks don’t kick considerable amounts of ass though.
“A Deep Breath”, for example, starts things off with a moody, extended intro that showcases both a newfound patience and a new level of darkness, setting the scene for a track that hits like a technical, technicolour blend of all the best bits of Dark Tranquillity, Scar Symmetry, and Edge of Sanity.
Speaking of darkness… this album may well be the darkest and heaviest record LS have ever done, and a lot of this is due to the ever-present, overarching sense of atmosphere and ambience added to every track by the increasingly seamless and subtle incorporation of pulsing synthwave soundscapes.
I know it’s an odd thing to say on a Metal-oriented blog , but the album’s synthy embellishments really do add so much to the music that it would be downright churlish not to give them their due.
Take “Towering Shadows Chew on the Dead”, for example. Sure, its humongous, low-tuned riff work gives off some impressively Allegaeon-esque vibes, and the song in general just possesses a level of energy and catchiness reminiscent of the best of Interval 01/02, but it’s the bleak, cyberpunk synths and epic sci-fi soundscapes that transform it from a collection of riffs and growls and solos into a fully realised song.
And while I don’t want to skip over “The Killing of Candlelight” – which is a heavy, down-tuned stomper absolutely packed with hooks (Brett has a real gift for writing catchy riffs, solos, and choruses) as well as some striking technical playing – I’m running out of space/time, and would like to lavish some praise on “What You Destroy Will Destroy You” and “Etching Futures Into Flesh” before I move on.
The former (based on Ann Leckie’s fantastic debut novel, Ancillary Justice) is thirteen minutes of gargantuan, growling guitars and cinematic synthetic soundwaves that’s as rich and heavy with ominous atmosphere as it is mesmerising melody and moody metallic power, while also possessing some of the most gratuitously epic solo and synth leads and dynamically cohesive songwriting Brett has ever produced, while the latter is, simply put, an absolute Prog-Death riff-monster from start to finish, equal parts Gojira and Hypocrisy, Pink Floyd and Perturbator.
WOUNDS – 2020
“The Oldest House”, the opening track to Lascaille’s Shroud’s sixth(!) album, picks up pretty much where its predecessor left off, kicking in with some powerful-yet-proggy rhythmic riffage and artificially intelligent, ambitiously infectious, synth patterns, that get the record off to a stomping, sci-fi start.
Even though it’s ten minutes long, it certainly doesn’t feel like it (after all, Brett has pretty much specialised in long songs his entire career), largely because of the way his writing emphasises both slow but steady evolution – building to an intricate, progressively-tinged mid-section – as well as, ultimately, resolution, as the song smartly returns to its opening themes once again during its closing stages.
At a mere six minutes fifty, “Winds From Another Planet” is both the shortest and best track on the album, hitting hard with an immediacy and instant intensity that you often don’t get from Lascaille’s Shroud (though that’s not meant as a criticism), all big, booming riffs, chunky, chugging rhythms, and savage, snarling vocals.
It’s not bereft of melody by any means – there are, after all, some key lead and/or synth themes that help catch the ear and tie the song together – but its primary focus really is all about delivering maximum power in the shortest, most effective, way possible, and it’s all the better for that.
It’s also a smart move to have the album’s most concise and focussed track right in the middle, as the third and final song is a(nother) twenty-five-and-a-half-minute epic whose sheer length acts as a serious challenge to the listener’s attention and stamina, but which remains incredibly compelling throughout.
Marrying the cruel, aggressive approach of Hypocrisy to the proggy creativity and melodic eccentricity of bands like Edge of Sanity and Cynic, while also adding an extra dash of Insomnium’s melancholy, melodic vibe, “Wounds” is Melodic Death Metal (not Melodeath) that doesn’t skimp on either the “Melodic” or “Death Metal” parts of the equation, but holds them both in equal regard.
It’s also a song which continues to emphasise the increasingly dark mood of the band’s music, albeit with perhaps a shade more sombre atmosphere this time around, in addition to showcasing Brett’s ability to craft the sort of catchy-yet-crushing riffs that many of today’s Death Metal crop (Allegaeon, Rivers of Nihil, Abysmal Dawn) would be more than happy to have in their repertoire.
What really makes it stand out amongst the band’s various twenty-plus minute tracks, however, is that “Wounds” is actually made up of fewer, but far more fully realised, ideas than many of its more frantically arranged predecessors, each of which are allowed more time and space to breathe (especially the brooding, atmospheric parts), making the whole track feel like a much more natural progression of elements and ideas from start to finish.
So let’s hope that Lascaille’s Shroud aren’t done making music just yet, because on the evidence of this album (and its predecessor) they’re just starting to hit a whole new level of songwriting skill!