Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Sense Of Gravity (review by Matt Spall)

Matt Spall is a rock and metal music reviewer. Check out more of his work below.
Artist: A Sense Of Gravity
Album Title: Atrament
Label: Independent Release
Date Of Release: 18 November 2016
An album like ‘Atrament’ from Seattle metallers A Sense Of Gravity is almost certain to raise a few eyebrows and catch significant attention. Prior to this review, I’d never heard of A Sense of Gravity but on the strength of ‘Atrament’, they are well and truly on my radar. More than that, they have given me cause to reassess my opinion of the whole tech/djent genre.
Going back a step, A Sense Of Gravity are, as they state on their social media pages, ‘six polite, well-educated gentlemen that make metal’. They formed in 2011 and have since been dedicated to playing ear-catching extreme metal. Their ranks are made up of vocalist C.J. Jenkins, guitarist/programmer Brendon Williams, guitarist Morgan Wick, keyboardist/guitarist Brandon Morris, drummer Pete Breene and bassist Chance Unterseher.
And, whilst I can’t attest to their politeness yet, I can certainly believe that they are well educated if their music is anything to go by. This isn’t simple paint-by-numbers stuff, I can tell you.
And on that note, with the background information dealt with, I can now get back to what I’m chomping on the bit to write about: the music on ‘Atrament’, the sextet’s sophomore independent release.
I’ve been growing a little tired and jaded of late with the whole tech metal, djent genre. There are plenty of good exponents of this kind of music and plenty of good albums have been released during 2016 by some of the biggest hitters, from Meshuggah, to Textures. However, it is a type of music that has to be done very well in order for me to take it to my heart.
With A Sense Of Gravity, they have used the tech/djent style of music as their core framework sound and then built upon it expertly, adding plenty of other styles, sounds and textures to it to create something very exciting indeed. Not just exciting – thoroughly enjoyable and immersive too.
There is an overt cinematic influence at work on these ambitious Americans, as demonstrated most eloquently on the opening track, ‘Drowning In The Ink’ for example. It is a piece of music that could easily be part of a film score, such is the tangible drama within it. The tension is increased as the composition builds, accented by C J Jenkins’ more-than-solid clean vocals.
But it’s not just symphonic, cinematic content that’s added. Also included is a very sophisticated progressive element, post rock, a touch of ambient and lots of subtle little inflections that become more evident the more I listen, be they nods towards the realm of death metal, jazz or metalcore. Polyrhythms feature, as do impressive sections of melody and plenty of mind-bending solo instrumental flamboyance.
‘Reclusive Peace’ takes over and, from the off, it is a roiling, tumultuous composition that is bold, expertly technical and grandly melodic and epic in scope. I hear faint echoes of Haken in the surprisingly deep and emotive repeated chorus whilst the instrumentation, not to mention the tightness of the band is impressive to say the least.
‘Echo Chasers’ is more down the line tech/djent meets death route which demonstrates tremendous instrumental abilities, from the bursts of warp speed drumming from Pete Breene, to the blistering riffs of Williams, Wick and Morris, not to mention bold synth work and a plethora of vocal styles, from a caustic rasp, to a more guttural death growl via more clean, melodious singing. In fact, it is the vocal delivery which is one of the strengths of the A Sense Of Gravity. C J Jenkins is hugely adept behind the microphone, acting like a vocal chameleon, effortlessly moving from one delivery to another as the compositions demand.
‘The Divide’ features some of the best death vocals this side of Omnium Gatherum, but begins in a very different manner. The quieter intro is more classic prog metal in sound and approach but it remains dense, atmospheric and almost claustrophobic in tone. In fact, the entire track is one of the most diverse cuts on the album, flowing organically from one idea to another with aplomb. Slow, monolithic riffs give way to bursts of faster paced material, shifting between heavy and softer passages seemingly at will.
Mind you, this modus operandi could be thrown at many of the songs on this album. No single song is easy to define as the whole thing is a multi-layered, multi-faceted beast. ‘Artificially Ever After’ is a cracking song that’s all-out aggression one minute and then soothing , atmospheric and highly melodic the next. The keys of Brandon Morris are all over ‘Revenant’ as it juxtaposes a bludgeoning riffs and complex beats with moments of soothing clarity.
‘Guise Of Complacency’ briefly features some classic NWOBMH wails but they fit perfectly into the much more modern and dystopian-sounding soundscape that surrounds them. In fact, this is one of the most challenging and daunting tracks on the album, liberally channelling their inner Meshuggah one minute and then trading supersonic guitar and keyboard solos the next in some hedonistic display of dexterity and prowess. And yet it comes together and works.
By contrast, ‘Shadow Lines’ is one of the most immediate tracks on ‘Atrament’. It begins quietly where the guitars and piano shine, alongside a very self-assured and subtle vocal performance from Jenkins. It builds in intensity as it develops and, in the process, offers some of the strongest melodic refrains anywhere on the album.
I really enjoy the nonchalant swagger within ‘The Projectionist’ which also features some of my favourite bass playing on the album courtesy of Chance Unterseher. And the classical guitar intro to ‘I, Recreant’ is a thing of beauty, particularly when coupled with such a cool beat and given the way the song builds from such modest foundations to explode with barely contained bursts of epic and highly memorable melody. This has to be my current favourite track on the entire record.
Oh and the near nine-minute closer ‘Manic Void’ is too huge and epic for words. It is a grandiose conclusion to the album and offers A Sense Of Gravity one final opportunity to batter the listener with an intense composition that features just about every positive aspect of the band’s sound in one hell of a rousing finale.
I feel churlish mentioning anything negative at this point. However, to maintain a level of honesty, I must. Therefore, if I have any gripes with A Sense Of Gravity’s latest release, it is that the album feels just a little too long, particularly given the intensity and complexity on offer. At around the 70 minute mark, I get the feeling that the record might have been better served being a little more succinct. It’s a sad indictment on the human race but at a time when attention spans are decreasing at an alarming rate, I fear that ‘Atrament’ might be too much for some, thereby putting them off.
Everything else about A Sense Of Gravity and ‘Atrament’ however, is very positive and as such, it has genuinely grabbed my attention. I’m really surprised that a band as good as A Sense of Gravity isn’t signed to a decent metal label. However, if this level of quality is maintained and their creativity is not stifled, it surely cannot be too long before the situation changes. If you’re a fan of ambitious and challenging modern extreme heavy metal, the progressive sounds of A Sense Of Gravity come with the highest of recommendations from me, the latest convert to the cause.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
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