People have argued about how the internet affects the music industry for well over a decade now, and although I'm sure these debates will persist for decades more, there is one clear way in which music benefits from the world wide web - distribution. Take Distorted Harmony, for example; a group of virtuous progressive metal musicians from Israel that has had the opportunity to share their art with the world through the means of online distribution. Released in May, 2012 for free on their SoundCloud page, Utopia is the sort of album that I'd expect from established progressive metal veterans - stunning compositions, incredibly high levels of musicianship, and flawless execution make this one of the best albums I've heard this year. Much like Haken did just a couple of years ago with the masterpiece that was Aquarius, Distorted Harmony have entered the scene with a stunning observation that deserves to be heard by every fan of the genre.
Though Utopia's finest asset is in its strikingly dynamic compositions, one of Distorted Harmony's greatest strengths is their ability to stay within the confines of 'traditional' progressive metal while still coming across as fresh and unique. The strong vocal melodies, frequent use of polyrhythmic syncopation, and symphonic tendencies bring Pain of Salvation to mind, and the technical acrobatics will probably remind most listeners of Dream Theater - while this may not sound like too unique of a formula, heavy and modern sounding riffs, frequent deviations into traditional symphonic prog, and alternative-sounding melodies add an additional layer of freshness to Distorted Harmony's core sound. Whilst one could potentially argue that Utopia does sound stylistically similar to many other observations in the genre, Distorted Harmony has put a stamp on the album that is distinctly theirs. And, at the end of the day, what really matters most is the music - and that is where Distorted Harmony makes one hell of an impression.
Utopia consists of six songs, clocking anywhere from seven to twelve-and-a-half minutes apiece, and although the tracks are certainly on the 'longer' side, Distorted Harmony does not indulge in any drawn-out shredfests or sprawling epics. The band focuses much more on powerful, compact compositions, which I think suits them very well. Utopia doesn't have a weak moment in sight; every section is captivating, every transition is smooth, and every song leaves an impression that will last for quite some time even after the listener has given the album a rest. Everything from the grandiose orchestrations in 'Kono Yume' to the climatic ending in 'Utopia' just reeks of sheer perfection, and even after enjoying the album for nearly half a year, I'm still nowhere near finished with this slice of heaven.
For better or worse, Utopia is the sort of release that only comes around once in a blue moon - albums this perfect just don't roll around frequently enough, especially for debut offerings. Utopia is just one of those releases that always manages to challenge my mind, pull my heartstrings, and lift my mood regardless of the circumstances - even after hearing this dozens of time, I'm still shocked by some of the intricacies used by Distorted Harmony. It will take a damn good album to dethrone this one from 'album of the year' for me, and even if that were to happen, Utopia will still stand as one of the best progressive metal albums I have ever heard. Well done, gentlemen!