Vorbid – A Swan by the Edge of Mandala (2022) – Review

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Who ever said there would not be enough prog in 2022? Ah, yes. RMR’s upper echelon made some ugly noises about that. But fear naught. The year already spawned pretty decent old prog fare, albeit a bit less than usual. And even Haken sent some signals that seem to point to new, exciting proggy objects heading our way. So, let’s not abandon hope, right?

In the meantime, though, we found some hybrids like Seyr. But also bands like Infanteria that may be closer to the mark for this here new record. The latter sport a thrash/prog tincture that we found alluring. A style direction that Vorbid here also claimed. But is this really so, or are we being led astray? Compasses out, it’s time to navigate metal’s extended genre swamps. And come armed, there might be dangerous creatures a-lurking.

Let me come straight to the point. A Swan by the Edge of Mandala is a noodly piece. One that gorges on an abundance of djentology, rapid changes in styles, and a grinding rasp that often sounds like the morning after 20 packs of cigarettes. So, contrary to their stated mission to get us the aforementioned thrash/prog hybrid, we get something that’s more akin to tech death at times without really going there. And then, you get all those interlopers that somehow stomp their mighty footprint into an already busy soundscape. Such as excursions into jazz and distant vibes of EDM on a thorny bed of spiky guitar riffs. All this suddenly cooks off into Lindberg-esque clear-voice prog ditties. And it’s actually so well executed, you don’t feel the crossover from harsh extremes into something Caligula’s Horse would attempt.

So, what does all that tell us? Well, first and foremost, Vorbid here didn’t take their fare to the next level with some daring assault. Instead, Swan treads safe grounds. Territories that other bands used before and that apparently warranted some further excursions. It’s also clear that their use of a good theme, a storyline, really saved the record’s bacon big time. It provides that fil-rouge so important for proper navigation. Lest all that jazz might get lost in a maelstrom of confusing style direction and worse ideas.

Now, that doesn’t mean that those Norwegians don’t know their trade. You’ll hear some of the most prolific riffs and licks of this year. Also, the solos are often otherworldly and made us go back to one track or the other a few times too many (Ex Ante, for instance). Different tones and ideas – harsh or soft – and wispy soundscapes are expertly carried by crisp drum work that’s always where it needs to be. All of that is seconded by vocals that always appear at the right time with the energy, force, and timbre required.

Yet again, I was missing the overall glue, such as a recurring theme. A short lick that would offer that welcome return point from whence things will develop further. This doesn’t turn Swan into an unhinged abject sound salad but it does somehow wreck coherence. In other words, the record often sounds like a circus in search of a tent. It feels okay, but it doesn’t sound all that great without a canopy for protection.

Ultimately though, as lush and proficient as A Swan by the Edge of Mandala might be, we remained strangely unmoved. A little bit like a spectator looking in from the outside through an opaque and slightly dirty window. And that’s sad. The RMR crew here much wanted to like this record more than we were finally able to. But, if you are an adept of highly technical prog with a serious Extreme Metal itch, you should definitely look into it. And make no mistake, Swan here is an established album, full of great hooks and technically savvy parts. All of that comes with some hauntingly beautiful passages that should delight your progressive hearts to no end.

I guess, however, it’s that emotional part that didn’t quite sync over here at the RMR office tower. A cold embrace of too much technical prowess and not enough passion in a way, that’s our take. And that’s what finally made us issue that right-down-the-middle rating you’re seeing below.

Record Rating: 5/10 | LabelIndie Recordings | Web: Official Band Site
Release Date: 14 October 2022

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