You think you found your Progressive nirvana with Guilt Machine, Ayreon or Opeth? Well, nope. ESC delivers better – or worse depending how you look at it. Or more complex? Too complex? All of the above? Or none. Well, this is what 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.
Also, the record is giving me this weird feeling of déjà-vu! Really weird! Heard something like that some time ago – actually a long time ago. Not exactly like it – more on Progressive Rock, but getting close. Kansas this was called. During their early years, way back in time producing Progressive stuff slightly similar to what ESC, latest of Zierler, throws at us today in 2015. And you know what? This kind of sounds like an offshoot of the now defunct (?) Beyond Twilight in a sense, which unsurprisingly is or was the fearless leader’s second outfit.
And his royal leadership is Finn Zierler, lurking behind his keyboard and writing songs. He and his gang of musicians throw really tough cookies at us, out of this ESC cannon – and then some more straight after those. Heavy dissonance, ever changing tempi and styles, keyboards out of control – I mean totally out of control. No riffs to speak off really, but then – stop – there is the odd shorty here and there, for example in Whispers towards the middle of the song and at there is some at the very beginning of the track list. 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. They even inject some pretty rappy spoken passages having jumped straight out of something we heard before. Eminem anyone? Never a dull moment in ESC, I can assure you.
How come? You might think. What’s up with these guys and ESC?
Yep, they don’t follow the usual advice of the boring song structure academy, but go all the way, all over the place. But the real fact about such a production is that you can only pull this off with established musicians. And the line-up for ESC speaks by 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 back-up vocals, plus bass go to Truls Haugen (Insense, Circus Maximus).
Oh my – here we go again. Right? One of these Scandinavian doomsday outfits wanting to let us know that the whole work is dark, damp and cold. Well, Northern influence aside, drums are covered by Bobby Jarzombek, hailing from Texas, same as Kelly. 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, the pudding be the proof.
The mixing for Finn Zierler‘s début album ESC (debut as for this project, that is) has been taken on by Jacob Hansen, formerly having been part of Beyond Twilight. Get the drift? The Hansen Studio is known for having worked with outfits like Amaranthe, Destruction or Dizzy Mizz Lizzy. Luckily for us, there is no trace of the synthesized pop metal disasters on ESC some of his clients are displaying. On the other hand, 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 Progressive Rock and Metal of a rather unique brand Zierler practices it, there is always this fine line not to cross. And ESC is navigating close, very close to this line. No, it is not because the quality sucks, it is that there is too much … stuff. The record is at times too intense, 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. Also, some instruments – for example – the piano sound way too crisp in a way. In other words, oversynthesized and slightly overdone. Compression – hmm – there is some, but the mixing and mastering is by and large pretty well executed.
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 too bad that would make my teeth grind – unless some records from other bands that I just came across.
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 – at first. And suddenly change to continue light progressive on you. Jeez! But extremely complex and well executed. Fast forward to Dark to the Bone. Wow, love that one. Feels like blood seeping out of stones. Evil Spirit follows in the same vein, well almost, at least in the first half – nothing is really comparable – and there is a lot of angry in that song. This one sports a nice riff too.
Then Zierler will pump up the pressure and complexity to new heights. 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 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 nice and cozy. There is no cozy in this, but really tough, grinding and 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.
Actually so good that they made it onto the 2015 Top Ten Records. Great job!
Go and get it:
– Buy with Amazon!