Zierler‘s ESC builds back better. Right? Or worse, depending on how you look at it. Or more complex? Too complex? All of the above? Or nothing at all of value.
Well, this is the confusing message this record projects at the first listen until you wrap your mind around it. And it will improve with age. You just need to give it some time to mature – like old wine. And as you progress, you will discover new bits and pieces.
But will the red wine metaphor really warm my heart the way it should?
Well, first of all, ESC‘s song structures give me this weird, fuzzy feeling of déjà-vu! All of that jazz has been around for a while. Some of it for quite a long time ago. Yet again, it is not exactly like it but definitely linked to Progressive Metal.
And you know what?
This kind of sounds like an offshoot of Beyond Twilight in a sense. Which unsurprisingly was Finn Zierler‘s second outfit. He and his gang of musicians throw really tough cookies at us, out of this ESC cannon. Heavy dissonance, ever-changing tempi and styles, keyboards out of control. And I mean totally out of control.
You will find no solos to speak of, really. An odd shorty here and there, that’s about all. For example in Whispers towards the middle of the song. And then we have this odd song structure, sometimes going hypnotically repetitive on you. Just check out the first track A New Beginning. But mind you, suddenly changing stuff on ye, going somewhere else.
I also got a kick out of these pretty juicy spoken passages that jumped straight out of something we heard before. Nymphetamine anyone?
Not that Dani Filth’s outfit is Progressive Metal – far from it. But the short monologue on the aforementioned track is cheekily similar to the one in Nymphetamine Fix. Some Eminem-style rap presents itself as well a little later, by the way. Never a dull moment on ESC, I can assure you.
It is really delicious that they don’t follow the usual advice of the boring song structure academy. But instead, Zierler go all the way, all over the place. And such a feat you can only pull off with seasoned musicians.
The line-up for ESC speaks for itself. Kelly Sundown Carpenter (Beyond Twilight until 2005) pulls this ship forward with amazingly passionate vocals. Without him, I daresay the album would be a bland stew indeed. Guitars are covered by Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry) and backup vocals plus bass go to Truls Haugen (Insense, Circus Maximus). Northern influence aside, drums are covered by Bobby Jarzombek, hailing from Texas, same as Kelly.
It is a funky idea to mix the somewhat gloomy people of the North with a Lone Star State section. But it seems to float their boat, ESC is the pudding of proof. Luckily for us, you’ll find no trace of the synthesized pop metal disasters on ESC that some of his clients display. On the contrary, this sound brew comes across as a very eclectic mix of Progressive Rock and Metal instead.
Now, with all the good that comes out of Zierler unique brand of Progressive Metal, you always need to mind this fine line to disaster, and not cross it. And ESC is navigating close, very close. And it is not because the quality sucks, it is that there is too much … stuff. The record is at times too intense, with too many things going on at once.
As with other bands, people seem to forget that using all tracks on the mixing board does not necessarily improve the quality. Here we find a slightly overstuffed pie of goodies when a little slimming down would have done a world of good.
A lot of bitching and moaning has been heard about the lyrics being grossly cheesy. And so bad that all fans would mutually have to open their windows and jump.
But not so fast.
There is indeed a – how to call it – teenage factor in many of the lyrics, but nothing as bad as to fire anti-tank rockets at ESC. So, yeah, quality could be improved. But – hey – nothing so bad that would make my teeth grind – unless some records from other bands that I just came across.
It is difficult to decide, which track is the best. They are unique and none is bad. And for sure none of them terrible fillers that you find in some productions. Of course, in Progressive Metal everything qualifies, but you can usually discern trash from good.
A New Beginning will hook you straight – catchy and not too out of control yet. The second – Agrezzor – will grind you down some and then spit you out. Dark to the Bone really got on my good side, too, with its mysterious beat. Evil Spirit follows in the same vein with a short solo and a lot of general angriness.
Interestingly, Zierler will pump up the pressure and complexity to new heights as the record progresses. The second half almost overwhelms you at first. The most memorable is probably No Chorus with some pretty lengthy rap intrusion. Rainheart – well – you will either love or hate, no in-between.
ESC – clocking at some 71 minutes of Progressive madness – is really a piece to behold. Zierler take the thought of having some Progressive Metal up a few levels. The fact that this album needs a few (many) consecutive listens will cost them some fans. And – no doubt – continue to create some negative press for them.
However, ESC is really good quality. And if you have the stomach and stamina, give it a go. No good will come out of this, if you look for the nice and cozy, though. There is a lot of really tough grind on a bed of ever-changing tunes. You will have to earn every minute of this behemoth by paying attention, no dreaming allowed.
Having said all that, ESC is worth your time. Give it a go and get it. These guys are good. Real good.