The Envisage Conundrum
I'm perfectly aware that such
"tags" as "Melodic Metal" and "Metallic Melodies" cannot
really adequately describe a thing, but I have to admit that those were precisely
the labels that came to my mind while listening to the first minutes of The
Envisage Conundrum, with the album's brief, sinister keyboard introduction
called Convergence - something sounding halfway between the writing for strings
by Ennio Morricone and by Howard Shore - followed by the wall of guitars,
distorted and angular, of Caught In A Bind, with a crowd of voices with echo
coming out of my speakers, drum rolls going full blast right to left, and
blinding lights showing me the smoke now filling a room - mine! - that in
the blink of an eye had turned into an enormodome.
so I have to immediately clarify that this is not a "Metal" album,
subtract or add the "Melody" part, though it's true that other
portions of The Envisage Conundrum - starting with the almost twenty minutes
long "Borderstomp trilogy", which acts as the album's
"almost-but-not-quite" close - share many of the timbral and stylistic
traits of those apocalyptic opening moments.
I hear you say, "What kind of album is this?" "And who are
those Godsticks?" These are interesting questions that I spent a good
portion of the last two weeks investigating.
trio from Wales, Godsticks will be "special guests" of the March/April
European Tour by the Mike Keneally Band. I have to admit I had never heard
of them before seeing the group's name on a poster advertising the aforementioned
tour. Their discography features an EP of same name, released in 2009,
and a full-length CD - Spiral Vendetta, featuring Bryan Beller on bass
- which was released in July 2010.
current line-up comprises Darran Charles on vocals, guitars, and keyboards
(Charles being the group's main composer); Steve Roberts on drums and keyboards;
and new member Dan Nelson on bass. (Judging from those pictures I've seen,
Nelson looks in his mid-twenties, while the others look like your typical
"thirty-somethings".) Let's not forget Joe Gibb: acting as the
album's producer, and also as its recording, mixing, and mastering engineer,
Gibb is the proverbial "fourth member" of the trio. Gibb's work
is of great importance for the sound of the album, which is very "modern"
(sounds having a fast attack) but also dynamic - a feature that was made
apparent to me as soon as I turned the volume pot of my amplifier a bit more
to the right than per my usual (I live in an apartment).
about the group's various influences? Funny to say, the music of the group
sounds distinctive and personal, though it's quite easy to perceive lotsa
influences in the background - which ones, I suspect, depending on the
listener's own background. I hope Charles will forgive me when I say that
once in a while - especially in its most "stadium" moments -
his voice reminded me a little bit of Aaron Lewis of Staind. But the vocal
polyphony that appears on the album reminded me of Gentle Giant, though
the melodies are quite different. A few songs - for instance, Benchmark,
with its acoustic guitar intro - reminded me of Mike Keneally. I definitely
hear traces of (what I call)
"English melodies" (The Beatles), "Folk Music for guitars"
(John Martyn), King Crimson in their "nuevo metal" incarnation
(The ConstruKtion Of Light), also in their "American" phase, starring
Adrian Belew (though there's only one moment that's undeniably Fripp-like,
as we'll see later, when discussing the album tracks in detail). I thought
I heard faint traces of Neil Pert and Narada Michael Walden on the drums.
forced to choose one definition, I'd call The Envisage Conundrum a modern
specimen of the Prog/Neo-Prog type, meaning an album that shows more links
to modern metal (listen to those fast "double pedal" figures)
and fusion (also in its more technical, performance-related techniques)
than to jazz or classical.
have a quick look at the tracks, see if things become clearer.
already stated above, Convergence (Intro) is a brief, sinister-sounding
keyboard introduction, halfway between Ennio Morricone and Howard Shore.
In A Bind opens with a wall of guitars, odd-time riffs, everything sounding
angular and distorted. Drums à la Crimson. Melodic vocals, massed voices,
a fine tom passage, going right-left (Narada Michael Walden?), solo voice
"uneasily" on the tempo of the track. Fine episode for solo guitar,
vocals coming out of the speakers, and hitting the roof. Funerary-sounding
keyboards appear on the finale.
Envisage Conundrum has an odd time signature, the melody sounding like
a metal variation on a samba. Strong groove from bass-drums, staccato rhythms,
metric superimpositions. Funny thing, the chorus sports a melody very much
in the 10cc/Beatles vein, a strange contrast to the tense mood of the guitars'
tapestry. Lotsa guitars, the chorus again, and a strong ending.
A Way It Ended Me, with added background vocals by Bruce Soord, opens with
piano/hi-hat, a mix of vocals and acoustic guitars, à la Gentle Giant,
"eastern"-sounding vocal melody (echoes of John Martyn?). A melody
on guitars, and a coda, that I'll call "Old English Rock", not
too far from Phil Manzanera in his 801 period. Vocal coda not too far from
Todd Rundgren, circa Todd.
with a fine opening for acoustic guitar, is a ballad à la Keneally, with
acoustic guitars, keyboards, a fine bass acting as counterpoint, and something
"Latin". There's a fine solo on electric, over acoustic backing.
reminded me a bit of "American"-period King Crimson of such albums
as Discipline/Beat/Three Of A Perfect Pair. Light chorus, fine guitars,
fine melody from the vocals. There's a "fusion"-sounding guitar
solo, fine hi-hat. Strange - but appropriately so, given the track's "Crimson" air
- the instrumental section of Submerged from 3' 15" to 4' 04" sounds
to me like a "variation on a theme" on the "B" section
(from 2' 05" to 3' 29") of the Robert Fripp composition titled
Breathless (featured on his solo album Exposure, released in 1979).
Brief Foray is a ¾ with background vocals by Kaysha Wilson. This
is by far the simplest, more user-friendly track on the album, giving listeners
a bit of breathing time after the complex tracks that came before, and
those that'll come later. Piano. Fine solo moment on guitar, with fine
backing by bass guitar, acting contrapuntal. Here the guitar melody sounds
is an instrumental for solo piano, composed and performed by Steve Roberts.
The piece appears to mix Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Jack Bruce.
Tense, jazzy, to me it sounds like it quotes something which I could not
recall. A very appropriate change of pace for the album.
- Part 1 (Death To Tuesday) is violent but precise, martial, with snare
drum and cymbals to the fore, drum rolls, heavy bass, guitar arpeggios,
multiple vocals, "enormodome".
- Part 2 (Blind) is fractured, with background keyboards gradually coming
to the fore. Solo vocals/doubled. "Square-wave" guitar solo,
with - too brief, guys! - a cello part performed by Hannah Miller. The
closing part of this piece reminded me for a moment of (60s/70s UK quartet)
- Part 3 (Cielo Azul) has "dry"-sounding drums to the fore. Strong
attack from guitar and drums, almost in a "post-rock" style.
Excellent cymbals, guitars with echo, "apocalyptic" vocals, odd
time signatures, and a very fine performance on the bass drum's double
pedal. Again, a "square wave" guitar solo à la Phil Manzanera,
keyboards coming up. Synths.
Concerns acts as a coda, or maybe like a "summa" (unfortunately,
due to an error at the printing stage, the lyrics to this song are not
featured in the CD booklet - next time, maybe). Acoustic guitar, melody
sung in a higher register, then the piece repeats, adding bass and drums,
electric guitars, more voices. Enters the piano, the piece travels towards
the end. "Celestial"-sounding chorus (reverb), cello again, electric
guitar played arpeggio, voice.
closing? A very fine album, very well recorded, though it's a self-released
work (i.e., lotsa time and care). Not for everybody? Sure, but worth a
listen anyway. Paradoxical? A "varied and complex" album that
"difficult". Personal curiosity? I wonder how they'll manage to
perform live all those layered vocals, the trio having just one singer. Stay
© Beppe Colli 2013
| Feb. 1, 2013