I already was a big fan of the complicated sound compilations of Progressive Rock and Metal way back in time. A time when music was only fun and games.
And I am not only thinking of the early records of the ’70s, but also of what happened later in the ’80s, when AC/DC and the NWoBHM ruled. Yet, the progressive folks kind of dwelled at the edge of this particular swamp of their own making.
Just transport yourself way back to bands like Styx, early Kansas, the corny old offerings of Yes, or the flute invested utterings of early Jethro Tull. That was amazing, yet also amazingly underrated stuff at the time.
And we still find this sound today with modern bands. The squeaky keyboard offerings, gallivanting melodies leading nowhere and anywhere. Plus the high-pitched vocals, shrouded in an almost otherworldly soundscape shaped by convoluted guitar riffs and almost no solos.
The latest album Abject Tomorrow of the Irish outfit The Vicious Head Society takes off with just such a whiff of past delights. Right from the start, its first track The Sycophants will serve as the proverbial pudding to prove this point.
And you guessed it, right?
Abject Tomorrow is yet another concept album. This time the story tells of an unpleasant and dystopian future of humanity without emotions. With one individual reconnecting to his emotional roots and – in the process – rediscovering his humanity. In truth – so I understand – the woes and tribulations of Graham Keane‘s personal life strongly influenced the overall story. So – in other words – we face a tale of personalized fiction if this is possible at all.
The journey to past prog heaven will however already end with the excellent track #2 Abject Tomorrow (the title song). And take a brutally different, darker turn.
In other words, all of the sudden Abject Tomorrow will switch towards a decidedly metal landscape, complete with ominous Technical Death Metal growls and clear voice singing. And it thus commences the slide down towards the dark side of the metal multiverse. The latter track even contains a couple of solos. A combined one too by the way. With guitars and gushing keyboards taking turns, pretty cool.
Now, when we thought we got them covered, they descend further into some sort of an abject djent-ism worthy of bands like Haken or Leprous. A change to hyper-active progressive mayhem, whilst moving towards more metal at the same time.
This happens in the epically supercharged, but still dreamy Agenda. But you only get there after a full 47 seconds of nondescript noise at the beginning, which almost cost me my already scarce patience. Want to test your djent nerve some more? Go ahead and take on Psychedelic Torture Trip. You’re gonna like that one.
There’s also a subtle, but clearly discernible progression towards harder, sterner stuff as the tracklist progresses. Sometimes the metal underside of the album becomes so sturdy that you think Metalcore screams would erupt all of a sudden. Only to find yourself suddenly in a retrospective turn towards the past all over again.
Now, whilst lamenting the awful loudness of the album, the mixing, and mastering jobs are decent. And this saves Abject Tomorrow‘s bacon, and just about avoids total disintegration into dismal confusion.
Yet, a distinct lack of flow haunts this vision of a dire future. The tracks are often a confused mess of different elements kind of helter-skelter thrown into the fray. And seemingly without rhyme or reason.
Then again you will encounter pockets of excellence that take a shine to the album. But if you look for a well-structured story for you to sit back and enjoy, look again. Instead, every track pretty much takes on a life on its own.
To get some contrast, you may want to compare this record to prog masterpieces like The Diary of The Gentle Storm or the lone album of Guilt Machine. These two chunks of prog convey a strict sense of flow, and a tight storyline. And this whilst keeping the listener on edge, wanting ever more of the same, until the very last note is played.
That said and whilst some stretches of the album leave me cold like Downfall, you’ll find some others that knock some sense back into the tune. For that let me point out the very last and lengthiest track Analogue Spectre. Whilst this one also gripes with some sort of intro of no end as well, you’ll get a pretty good dose of the progressive essence of this album. This one again comes complete with a number of solos and some pretty sturdy riffing.
So, in the end, Abject Tomorrow is full of somewhat disconnected shiny pockets of prog delights. Complete with echoes from the past and the more modern undercurrents we continue to see today.
The locomotive, though, is clearly Graham Keane‘s pretty superb guitar prowess that does not cease to impress. I much enjoyed the gushing riffs and high-quality solos scattered throughout the album.
Let me also point out the soaring vocals of Wilmer Waarbroek (Ayreon, Elixxir), without which the record would not be at the level that it is. And this for sure earned them a brownie point or two on the scale of the all-important rating.
If only they could have injected some more coherence and flow, and less mayhem just because they can.
This would have been so much better.
Ed’s note: New album’s out. And this time it talks about extinction, no less. Check it out!
Record Rating: 6/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Facebook
Release date: 24 March 2017