Sunday, December 17, 2017

Matt Spall reviews Communic

[The U.K.-based music writer Matt Spall wrote a review of Communic, a band he considers unjustly ignored by the audiences of metal music. Check it out. --MMB]
Artist: Communic
Album Title: Where Echoes Gather
Label: AFM Records
Date Of Release: 27 October 2017
If ever there was a band that deserved more success than they have achieved, it is Communic. I mean, how can a band with this amount of talent not break into the heavy metal mainstream? Four records have been released to date, all of which have been of a consistently high standard, all impeccably delivered and with utter focus and conviction. The latter is underlined by the fact that the trio that formed Communic some 14 years ago remain together and are about to release their fifth album as a threesome.
That fifth album is entitled ‘Where Echoes Gather’ and is the first release since the Norwegians joined the AFM Records family. It has been a long time coming too, having kept us waiting for six years for a follow-up to 2011’s ‘The Bottom Deep’. But the wait has been well worth it, based on the content of ‘Where Echoes Gather’.
I remember my personal moment of epiphany with Communic: I was standing in a field at Bloodstock in 2008 when the trio blew my mind with an electric performance. I had been a fan before that, since the beginning in fact, but it was here that I went from a casual liker of Communic, to a full-on fan.
Described, and often casually dismissed by many, as a progressive metal band, I feel this does the band a certain disservice. For sure there are elements of prog in the overall sound, including multi-layered ideas, changes in dynamics and complex, often lengthy compositions. But I also hear a healthy dose of thrash in the mix, along with a certain amount of power metal. Indeed, the comparisons with the sadly-missed Nevermore are not wide of the mark, a band who also sought to blend various influences into an appetising final product. Plus the vocals of Oddleif Stensland do call to mind those of Nevermore’s Warrel Dane. He’s not a clone, but there are similarities to be heard.
The first comment to make is that ‘Where Echoes Gather’ does not usher in a new era for Communic, musically-speaking. If you were a fan before, the chances are you will love this new record. It also means that the Norwegians are unlikely to expand their fanbase significantly with this album. I hope to be proved wrong of course and time will tell on this point.
What you get with ‘Where Echoes Gather’ is an album that delivers over 50 minutes of high quality music, split into nine tracks. Or, more accurately, six tracks of which three are themselves split into two parts. But, however you chose to look at it, ‘Where Echoes Gather’ is chock full of high class material that always makes me marvel at how just three guys can create such a big sound. If you didn’t know, you’d never believe that this music was the work of so few musicians.
What I like about this record, much like those before, is the way in which no single musician seeks to steal the limelight. The mix is crystal clear, thus allowing the guitars of Stensland, the drums of Tor Atle Andersen and the bass of Erik Mortensen to all be heard. But more than that, there are no unnecessary histrionics from any of them. At the heart of the songwriting is an understanding that the composition comes first. And so, whilst there are lead solos, intricate and flamboyant bass work and complex drum beats, none of it gets in the way of the music; it all sounds perfectly balanced and well-constructed.
But best of all, at its core ‘Where Echoes Gather’ is simply a collection of very good songs, arguably some of the best of their career to date. Giving specific examples isn’t easy because there’s something positive to say about each one. However, I’m willing to give it a try.
‘The Pulse of the Earth’ is one of the three two-parters and opens the record in no-nonsense fashion. No intros, no setting the scene, ‘Part 1: The Magnetic Center’ just launches straight into a chunky riff which before long morphs several times, changing tempo and direction so smoothly it is almost imperceptible. ‘Part 2: Impact of the Wave’ introduces more in the way of melody whilst also toying with vaguely black metal staccato riffing.
The groove with which ‘Where Echoes Gather, Part 1: Beneath The Giant’ kicks off is infectious, as is the pronounced bass playing at the outset. The beats created by Tor Atle Andersen, including a few forays into steady double pedal territory are expertly crafted and rather sophisticated. ‘Part 2: ‘The Underground Swine’ retains the central chorus melody but adds more groove and a little more exuberant swagger, particularly in the guitar leads.
‘Moondance’ is the ubiquitous slower, more melodic and ballad-like track. Well-placed after the relentless heaviness of its predecessors, I adore the bass guitar that really comes to the fore during the quiet, brooding verses. And I also really enjoy the way in which it flits between quiet introspection and momentary blasts of heavier material. The melodies are very striking throughout, meaning that it is one of the most memorable tracks on the record.
By contrast, ‘Where History Lives’ dials up the intensity once again but the chorus is very power metal-like; rousing, memorable and with a cheeky yet epic edge to it, it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. The bass intro to ‘Black Flag of Hate’ is brilliant and then, from there, the track descends into a massive groove-laden thrash-infused workout. The stop-start rhythms are beguiling as are some of the guitar leads, whilst the melodies and Stensland’s varied vocals elevate the song into my overall personal favourite.
The album then ends with the two-parter ‘The Claws of the Sea’. At a combined 12 minutes in length, it is the longest piece on ‘Where Echoes Gather’. As you might expect, it is therefore also the most epic and expansive composition, full of light and shade and lashings of dramatic intent. I particularly like it when the heaviness drops away to be replaced by clean guitars, vibrant bass and the rich vocals of Stensland. That said, the moment when the guitars open up and allow those big notes to resonate melodically is spine tingling and is the lasting memory as the final notes fade away.
You see, it was impossible to pick out a few examples – instead, I just mentioned them all. But such is their equal strength, it felt only right and proper to do so. When I say that this record is consistently excellent, I really mean it. Whatever genre label you choose to place on Communic, the bottom line is that this is simply high quality heavy metal music. Whether or not ‘Where Echoes Gather’ propels Communic into the heavy metal mainstream, it really should in all fairness. But then, when was life and the music industry ever fair? Nevertheless it has staked a late claim for a place in my end of year ‘best of’ list and will please their existing and loyal fanbase immensely.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
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