The human voice is a powerful musical instrument. In fact, as an instrument for conveying emotion, it’s unmatched by any human-made device, because it’s the sound of . . . us. By definition, if you take it away from an ensemble of instruments, the music loses something irreplaceable.
This is true even in the case of extreme metal. In extreme music with harsh vocals, the capacity of a voice to express human emotion is constricted by comparison to music with clean vocals. Nuance and range are greatly reduced, and in most instances the emotion-triggering effect of the lyrics themselves is lost because the words are unintelligible. On the other hand, harsh vocals are very effective (more so than clean vocals) as instruments for expressing certain emotions — such as rage, frustration, and anguish — and for producing in the listener a sense of danger and dread. Take them away, and once again you lose something irreplaceable.
Orchestral music compensates for the lack of voices with an extensive array of human-made instruments, affording a lush palette of tones that can be combined in a multitude of ways. That may be one reason why many instrumental metal bands use synthesizers to reproduce the sonic variety and power of a symphony orchestra. But you take away the synths as well as the voices, and strip the instrumentation down to guitars, drums, and a bass, and you’re then placing considerable demands on the songwriting skill and performance chops of a band.
I suppose, for these reasons, I rarely find instrumental metal that jumps up and grabs my interest. But An Abstract Existence, the new album from a three-piece, no-vocals, no-synth band called Odyssey, has done that. I haven’t been this captivated by an instrumental album since 2009, when Animals As Leaders debuted and Scale the Summit released Carving Desert Canyons. Continue reading »