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4 reviews/ratings
KAYO DOT - Choirs Of The Eye Avant-garde Metal | review permalink
MAUDLIN OF THE WELL - Leaving Your Body Map Avant-garde Metal | review permalink
MAUDLIN OF THE WELL - Bath Avant-garde Metal | review permalink
ANIMALS AS LEADERS - Animals as Leaders Progressive Metal | review permalink

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Avant-garde Metal 3 5.00
2 Progressive Metal 1 5.00

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ANIMALS AS LEADERS Animals as Leaders

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Instrumental metal done right.

Animals as Leaders' debut self-titled album is a jaw-dropping piece of technicality and instrumental perfection that never once gets pretentious or loses sight of an ultimate musical goal. Basically a solo project by American 8-string guitarist Tosin Abasi, Animals as Leaders was formed out of the ashes of Abasi's short-lived progressive metalcore band Reflux. What we have on this album is far removed from just about any other kind of progressive metal ever seen before, though.

The centerpiece of the album is obviously Tosin's incredible guitar playing. With this album he really sets himself at the very forefront of technical guitar virtuosity, channeling the likes of a newer-age Satch or Vai with mind-blowing solos, yet still creating an incredibly distinctive sound for himself that mixes this soloing with fancy riffs and experimental playing styles (more on this later). His use of the 8-string guitar also maximizes his ability to create some incredibly unique sounds on this album.

Musically, the album could be described as technical progressive metal, though that doesn't really do justice to the wide range of guitar styles explored in the album. While it's incredibly technical, it doesn't really fit in the "extreme" category, as the lack of harsh vocals and the sparsity of very heavy material doesn't evoke the same level of extremity found in other technical metal artists. Much of the style is taken from the underground "djent" metal genre, a style known for it's signature detuned guitar tone, in addition to the heavy use of polyrhythms and time signature changes; "math metal", if you will. However, while the djenty tone may be used pretty frequently in the album for rhythm parts, it doesn't take the predominant style, moreso using it as a flavoring here and there. Another dominant element to the album is the heavy electronica influence, with strong synths, background ambience, glitch percussion, and even occasional 8-bit lines. Additonally a large number of different guitar styles are explored as well, ranging from classical, neoclassical and jazz-style to traditional heavy metal, djent, and even mute and slap-style sections. Yet the music has this ultimate ability to never lose sight of melody. The melody is by far the strongest part of the album over all parts of the songwriting, and it really provides for some fantastic and memorable moments throughout the album. This is what in my opinion elevates it above all other tech albums.

The album starts off incredibly strong with the piece "Tempting Time", which opens with a melodic electronic opening and leads into some excellent heavy djent lines. The first solo is absolutely jaw-dropping and does an incredible job leaving the listener wanting for more. What follows is a cool synth line followed along on guitar with some complex math metal rhythm. A brief section of sweeps leads into a melodic breakdown and a somewhat ambient passage that all culminates in another strong solo and some furious techno-metal riffage before closing in an incredible fashion with an absolutely sublime riff. This piece really does a tremendous job putting many of Animals as Leaders' best qualities into one song and really starts the ball rolling.

The next piece "Soraya" is driven by some interesting tapstyle guitar, a mode that will be used somewhat frequently over the span of the album, and is pretty interesting to hear. Lots of time signature changes and another impressive solo towards the end, along with some interesting clean/distorted guitar contrast, make for a very enjoyable, less heavy piece. This is followed in somewhat stark contrast by "Thoroughly at Home", which starts of pretty heavily and doesn't relent. Cool riffing passages are abundant and followed by some interesting breaks involving a very twangy sounding guitar. The piece eventually turns into somewhat of a mathcore song and closes as the twangy guitars fade away.

The next song "On Impulse" starts off with a rather beautiful clean guitar section that incorporates some classical and contemporary jazz styles, including some impressive hybrid picking, that really makes for a beautifully melodic solo part. The percussion and rhythm eventually join in as the intro is repeated with distortion, and adding some cool electronic percussion and another crazy solo makes for an instantly memorable piece and one of the album's strongest songs.

"Tessitura" is a solo piece that uses tapstyle heavily and makes for a short, pleasant interlude into the next piece. "Behaving Badly" starts out with a very cool, earthy ambient section that is gradually built upon by some rocking layered guitars before breaking into a very unique main riff that uses some very unusual-sounding fast picking technique, making for a very fun and memorable chorus line. This riff section is repeated twice more but is partitioned out between some cool, spacey sounding sections. The percussion and rhythm are particularly strong on this piece.

The next song "The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing" starts out incredibly space/trance-like before gradually building up to a cool melodic main riff that does a good job mixing a clean lead with a strong, heavy rhythm. The overall tone is, interestingly, very pleasant, even with fully distorted guitars blazing. Also here we are treated to another cool solo, though it's not one of the stronger ones on the album. This is in heavy contrast to the next song, "CAFO", which is arguably the most technical song on the album, if the mind- numbing sweeps that open the song aren't a good indication. And these sweeps are used as just the rhythm! This song works heavily with polymetered guitars and math metal- esque riffs. The sweeping section creates an awesome hectic backdrop as the song builds up momentum and eventually breaks into a very groovy tapping section. The percussion here again is very strong and some cool synth compliments a very epic composition. The solos that come later are very impressive: one before the main riff is repeated, and an incredible one that follows after a quiet stop, before the song closes in some excellent djenty headbanger riffs.

The next song "Inamorata" has some very strong chugging rhythm in the opening minutes and is very catchy despite the difficult-to-follow breaks that occur every so often. Another killer solo leads way to an awesome techno metal passage with the very strong synth lines, furious distorted guitars, and machine-gun bass pedals. The song then after a grand section turns into a heavy session of riff experimentation with some cool sporadic solos and even an 8-bit breakdown. Dueling guitars fade the track out into another interlude piece, "Point to Point", which starts out almost like a ballad. This short song has some more pleasant guitar leads before the rhythm and percussion join at the very end to escort it out. Following this is the last solo piece "Modern Meat", which is done in a mute guitar style, incorporating some guitar percussion and creating a somewhat Spanish sounding piece that is highly entertaining.

The closing track "Song of Solomon", while overshadowed by so much incredible music preceding it, actually turns out to be my personal favorite song on the album. It starts with a fast, excellent riff that quickly builds distortion and turns into probably the coolest riff on the album. What follows is a really cool solo done in a classical style that breaks to another awesome start-and-stop riff before returning to the first amazing section. The song is complemented by another outstanding solo before the sections repeat and go out on one big note.

Ultimately an album of such technicality would come down to how well it was executed, and luckily Animals as Leaders' debut strikes an excellent balance between technicality and substance. It's never overly pretentious and there are so many unique and memorable sections that this is truly one of the most unique and engaging progressive metal albums to come out in recent times, and Tosin's incredible musical capabilities have me captivated for future releases.

I had originally given this album four and a half stars, but I honestly can feel comfortable giving this album a perfect 5/5, I honestly feel that people are going to look back on this album years from now and it will be considered one of the most important landmarks in progressive music and the history of guitar virtuosity. Seriously, buy this album. Even after 600+ listens for me it never ceases to astound me.

Standout tracks: "Tempting Time", "Soraya", "On Impulse", "Behaving Badly", "The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing", "CAFO", "Inamorata", "Song of Solomon"


Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
An unmatched piece of absolute musical brilliance. maudlin of the Well, a small and rather obscure band from the Boston area, have managed to compose what may be one of the most incredible, original pieces of music in the last decade. I'll attempt to encompass everything about what makes this album so incredible in a reasonable amount of time but I fear I cannot do it justice. Oh well, here goes.

Bath is the sophomore album by maudlin of the Well, released two years after their first album My Fruit Psychobells... A Seed Combustible, and is the first album of a double release, the other being Leaving Your Body Map. While Bath and Leaving Your Body Map aren't really a double album, they were released together because the albums are very much tied together thematically and stylistically, and while they are totally separate pieces of music, they complement each other in ways no other albums have been able to do. I'll explain this interdependence in more detail in the Leaving Your Body Map review.

maudlin of the Well's style can best be described as "avant-garde metal", but this doesn't totally describe the immense amount of diversity found within their music. A couple of different metal styles are prominent, most noticeably death metal, doom metal, and progressive metal, but interwoven between these metal sections can be found elements of everything from post rock, indie rock, psych/space, and ambient, to jazz, funk, fusion, classical, and chamber rock. Shifts in style are found between tracks and often inside songs themselves; tracks can go from blazing death metal to mellow funk, from trippy space sections to jazzy progressive rock, all within the context of a song. From a description standpoint the transitions sound very jarring and poorly constructed, but incredibly, they work. And they work outstandingly well. I'll explain more during the track-by-track breakdown.

Instrumentally the album is very sound, and all the pieces are performed admirably and complement each other excellently. In addition to the traditional guitar, bass, and drums of a metal band, other untraditional instruments, like the saxophone, flute, clarinet, horn, and church organ, make their way into the song lines. The instruments are played well and do an excellent job complementing the mood and composition of the song. Herein lies one of maudlin of the Well's strengths: while they have very strong experimental and avant-garde tendencies, they never lose sight of the fact that they are a metal band at heart. We still get enough strong riffing, excellent headbanging melodies, and impressive soloing to counteract the heavy experimentation, ultimately creating a fine line between the metal and avant-garde, one from which the band impressively never teeters off of.

Lyrically this album is ridiculously strong. The lyrics, in all sung or spoken forms, are actual poetry, and have a very mystical nature to them, inspiring impressive or wondrous images relating to the theme (more on this later). The poetry itself is very sharp and at times incredibly beautiful, complementing the beautiful nature of the music very well. Three singers are heard on the album: Jason Byron, the primary composer of the lyrics, provides the harsh death metal growls. Toby Driver, the primary musical composer and frontman of the band, sings a clean lead and occasionally provides screams to back up Byron. They are complemented by a female vocalist who sings on a few tracks. Byron's growls are very good, deep and throaty, and provide for some interesting balancing acts in the music. Toby Driver provides an incredible range of vocals, ranging from soft, indie-rock-esque clean vocals, high, angelic vocals, and bone-chilling screams, all of which are done incredibly well. The female vocals are almost operatic and are similarly effective.

While not a concept album, both Bath and Leaving Your Body Map thematically deal with the concept of astral projection and lucid dreaming. Indeed, at the time of the album's release, Toby Driver advocated astral projection as the main mode of composition for the album. Allow me to briefly explain: astral projection is a practice held in certain esoteric beliefs that (in concept) allows the practitioner to separate their physical body from their ethereal spirit (this ties into Leaving Your Body Map's name), which then has free realm amongst the heavens. They believe that there exists a sort of cosmic "library" in the astral plane (the spirit's theoretical plane of existence), where all forms of art are already in existence, catalogued, if you will, in this massive archive. This makes the composer of the music more of a vessel between the astral plane's music and our realm. Driver has explained that their goal as a band wasn't to "compose" music per se, rather, to interpret this preexisting music into a worldly form through astral projection by means of lucid dreaming. Whether you buy this concept or not is up to you, but there is something to be said about the subject of dream compositions. There is something incredibly awe-inspiring about the music on Bath, however. Everything has a sort of spacey undertone to it; maybe it's the spacey keys, but something about this album definitely seems otherworldly. It's rather tough to describe, but something about the album just feels as though it's... inspired. Like it took a form of its own. It's not a pleasant or trippy kind of spacey either as is seen in your typical psych/space rock, but rather, it has a very eerie, spooky, almost malevolent feel to it, like it was composed by some great evil entity in the astral planes. These horrifically mystifying undertones are absolutely titillating and give the album its incredible otherworldly feel. Nothing I have ever heard before is comparable, it's really necessary to discover this through listening to the album by one's self.

There are a few other themes explored in the album's lyrics, all similar in topic, dealing with things such as the mysteries of death, salvation, eternality, and mysticism, though all through a non-religious lens. Also present are themes of relationships and love, though what it is symbolic of I can never know. The band has never explicitly stated what many of the lyrics mean. I will attempt to interpret the meanings of this album in a track-by-track analysis.

The album opens with "The Blue Ghost / Shedding Qliphoth", an instrumental piece. This very spacey piece opens with some soft false guitar harmonics, followed by some soft, echoic, and very spacey guitar chords. There's some phenomenal spacey ambience in the first part of the track, and eventually some light percussion kicks in, accompanied by some floaty backing acoustic guitar. A very jazzy, smooth saxophone plays a soothing lead. The piece gradually builds up, adding some background keys and ambience before the percussion becomes heavy and the guitar distortion kicks in, creating a sort of heavy metal version of the original melody. The transition is loud and initially jarring, but it does an excellent job setting up for what will inevitably be a shock on the next track. A spacey keyboard closes the final note.

What comes next is totally unexpected. "They Aren't All Beautiful" begins with some background guitar distortion before kicking into a whirlwind of furious death metal. Blast beats, machine-gun bass pedal, heavy guitar riffs and Byron's relentless growling provide a stark contrast to the otherwise peaceful intro to the album. What follows is some otherwise excellent death metal; awesome chugging riffs and evil vocals make for a riotous headbanging fest for a minute or so. Eventually the rhythm seriously slows down with some heavy grinding riffs, that has a lot of start-and-stop heaviness. Driver's screams are incredibly effective here, with some very awesome lyrics related to what appears to be the imitation and interpretation of art. Eventually this stops, however, and the song turns sort of mellow. A groovy bassline and less chugging guitars make for a cool funky section before a super-jazzy baritone saxophone joins the fray and creates a very cool funky metal section that goes quiet before one last evil death metal section at the end of the song. This is probably the heaviest piece the band has composed.

"Heaven and Weak" is one of the strongest tracks on the album and opens with a very soft, jazzy rock piece that has some interesting folksy acoustic guitar lines and an unidentifiable plucky string instrument, possibly a violin, but it's not easily discernible because the instrument is plucked. Some soft synth and strong echoic vocals from Driver make a very soothing piece for the first few minutes. Eventually the percussion and guitar distortion kick in in a way similar to on the first track. This continues with soothing vocals and a wailing guitar before the whole deal quickly turns sinister. A fast and wailing guitar solo and a drum roll leads into a very hectic heavy metal section. The metal here is seriously awesome: fast, heavy, and with some excellent riffage. Eventually the metal turns into a synth-fueled proggy section with some very crazed-sounding vocals on Driver's part. Before the song ends we get a cool breakdown, although that isn't the right word for it, but an amazing breakdown nonetheless that only involves a clean guitar and strong percussion.

"Interlude 1" is a short piece (~1:30) with some light acoustic guitar, guitar percussion, and upright bass. It's very pleasant and an effective interlude that is actually very well catchy.

The soft interlude is contrasted by the loud intro to the next song, "The Ferryman", which opens with a grand church organ. Some eerie organ music gives way to an absolute break in music that starts with some soft drumming. A very soft guitar line joins some soft jazzy drumming for a brief spell before the song suddenly and abruptly erupts into a twisted heavy metal section, with some doomy riffs and evil-sounding growls, backed by shrill screams. This is a short section that eventually turns into a percussion driven rock section with operatic female vocals and the church organ backing the melody. Eventually the rest of the music fades away, leaving a lone organ note that fades to the sound of water sifting around (not in a river or anything, it could actually be in a bathtub given the timbre of the water sloshing) inside a container as creepy chanting begins to build. This chanting turns into an incredibly creepy cacophony of incomprehensible suffocating voices that all die at the same moment, leaving just the eerie sound of water being circled around and the sound of it inside an echoing chamber. Given the title and the post-music section, I'm inclined to believe that this album is about the death cycle, the bath water and the chilling voices being the damned souls drowning in the River Styx, reaching out for aid as the Ferryman (the one whose boat guides a soul's passage into the netherworld) passes over silently. How this relates to the idea of astral projection I'm not totally sure but it does relate to the themes of birth and rebirth found later in the album.

The echoing water noises segue into the next track, "Marid's Gift of Art", that is a soft piece with some excellent folksy guitars and some rather beautiful lyrics provided by a soft-voiced Driver. Eventually a horn lead takes over vocals and a bowed bass create a somewhat neoclassical feel to the song. It's over rather quickly, and while the song isn't weak at all, it may be comparatively the weakest track on the album.

What follows next is an absolute behemoth of an emotional piece, "Girl with a Watering Can". It starts off with a soothing clarinet solo piece that eventually leads into a light, post- rock-ish section with light percussion and some interesting guitar layering. Some spacey synth adds a light bit of unease or tension to this pleasant piece before some pretty female vocals kick in. The drumming is good on this track so far, and eventually this section ends as a softer metal section kicks in, with some heavier drumming. The vocals here suddenly become rather echoic, Toby Driver chiming in on the high points, and the continued guitar layering and strong harmonies make for some very beautiful, albeit still unsettling music. Toby eventually takes lead with some soft vocals over a similar melody, that slowly fades off while a light guitar persists. Then, after a brief moment of silence, the melody is repeated with huge distortion, and a strong, high guitar lead and eerie keys create an amazing spacey metal section. Eventually this piece deconstructs into something softer with some soft, almost whispered vocals by Driver. This track is incredibly good; if ever there was such thing as "beautiful metal", then "Girl with a Watering Can" would be it, mixing beautiful melodies with crushing doses of heaviness and creating a really emotional piece of music.

Up next is the 11 minute epic "Birth Pains of Astral Projection." The piece starts out with a soft, pleasant melody that continues for a few minutes. The tone is generally pretty happy, but after a few minutes the tone of the piece turns somewhat sinister. It gets a bit heavier and some layered vocals by Driver turn into a creepy chanting section. A wailing guitar and some spacey keys give this section a very ethereal feel before Jason Byron enters the scene again. His growls here are a bit more bellowy than usual, but he makes them sound incredibly sinister and vicious, even over a comparatively light section. It makes for an interesting balance, and Toby's backing screams are absolutely furious. This continues for a bit until it enters a softer section. Toby does his indie rocker voice over a soft melody with an excellent bassline. By the end of the song this melody amplifies into something much stronger with an impressive guitar solo. The soft section resumes for a brief spell with some interesting lyrics before fading out on a soft key note. The song's title here is a clear reference to the astral projection theme, and the "birth pains" may be some sort of reference to whatever unknown process may be required for astral projection to occur; it could be a reference to the fifth and six tracks' themes, with the ultimate process be dying in some literal or metaphysical way required for the separation of body from spirit into the astral planes.

"Interlude 2" is an absolutely wonderful little song. It opens up with, interestingly enough, the sound of someone slapping their hands on the surface of some water container, and this actually becomes the percussion section of the song. A punchy upright bass, a cheery acoustic guitar, and some playful piano lines make this almost a happy little bathtime ditty. As the music fades out, a very beautiful synth note lingers for a brief moment, retaining the happy feel that the interlude generates.

"Geography" is the epic conclusion to an epic album, and it's an incredibly beautiful piece of music, with some sorrowful acoustic guitar and some rather sad vocals from Driver. The lyrics here are also particularly beautiful. The song is relatively simple, but by the time it reaches a finale, all the instruments and vocals and come together for one last grand rush, all swirling together into a wondrously beautiful conclusion to a stunning album.

I'm going to be a bit biased here. I know this review is incredibly long, and I'd be surprised if anyone actually made it this far, but this is truly one of the most incredible pieces of music ever written. The album is phenomenally well done and incredibly consistent, and with so much material covered as well. It's a truly beautiful and moving masterpiece and such a shame that an unbelievably talented band will remain so obscure in the annals of musical history.

Unfortunately maudlin of the Well will be doomed to obscurity. The music on this album is far too inaccessible and varied for most audiences to enjoy, but if you fancy yourself a hardened music listener, or are looking for something truly original, look no further. It's very hard to find a hard copy of this album but if you do manage to find one, you'd be remiss not to take the opportunity.

Absolute highest five-star rating easily deserved, and it has my utmost recommendations for any fan of experimental music or anyone willing to challenge themselves with a difficult but thoroughly rewarding listen.

Standout tracks: Every single one.

MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Leaving Your Body Map

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
With higher highs and lower lows than Bath, Leaving Your Body Map is another absolutely stunning and totally unmatched piece of music.

Leaving Your Body Map is the second half of a two-disc release by maudlin of the Well, preceded by Bath. While these two albums are not a double album (they're completely separate and different pieces of music), they are similarly structured, carry the same thematic material, and are stylistically similar, although a number of stylistic elements are different between the two (you can read my review of Bath if you'd like a more complete summary of their style).

Leaving Your Body Map is generally held to be the heavier of the two albums. There is a lot more metal to be found here throughout: whereas the metal parts on Bath came in heavy, concentrated doses in regular intervals throughout the album, Leaving Your Body Map has heaviness to be found in most nearly every part of the album (although it should be noted that the heaviest pieces were found in Bath). Another noticeable difference is the type of non-traditional instruments used between the two albums: where Bath heavily used instruments like the clarinet, saxophone, and the organ, here Leaving Your Body Map replaces that focus with instruments like the violin, horns, and bells. All of the instruments are still performed incredibly well, from Greg Massi's impressive guitar soloing to the avant- garde horn sections. Vocally the album is also very sound. Jason Byron is given much more singing time, and his rather evil-sounding growls do a wonderful job complementing the heavier focus on the album. Toby Driver gets a more equal share of vocal duties but does less of the extreme screams found in Bath, and his singing is excellent on many of the softer sections.

The overall feel of the music is heavy, yet at the same time incredibly spacey, "astral metal", if you will. There were certain sections in Bath that hinted at this but this is where the feel comes around full-force. It's an interesting vibe the album gives off: the listener is simultaneously exposed to both awesome and magnificent feelings, the feelings of one who is traveling the vast expanses of space, but there's also a certain tension to everything. A very subtle sense of dread or horror, and on certain occasions during the album, this becomes more apparent. The music portrays a certain awe and wonder for the vast chasms of space and the untold wonders of what lie in the astral plane, but this is a very fearful kind of awe, as if some incomprehensible horror exists out in the astral fields, lurking but benevolent and omnithreatening. It could be some sort of warning from the band, but the music itself takes this form, like the band supposedly takes its elements from the vast cosmic archives of art (see my review of Bath for a summary on this). It's an incredibly engrossing element to the music and really transports the listener outside of this world and into this dark, mysterious plane.

Conceptually, this album continues the themes of astral projection and lucid dreaming. The lyrics here are again ridiculously strong; they read as actual poetry, and in many cases they're stronger than the ones found on Bath. Hearing Byron growling these otherwise beautiful poetic lyrics adds a "beauty found in heaviness" aspect to a lot of the album, in what is already what I would consider some very beautiful metal. An interesting thing to note is that (to me; I should let it be known that all of this is personal interpretation) this album seems to follow a processual arc within this theme of astral projection: if Bath was about the process of separating one's physical body from the esoteric spirit through lucid dreaming, e.g., the process of astral projection, then Leaving Your Body Map is about the now-separate spiritual body exploring the vast, mysterious, and frightening astral planes. This may be where the titles of the albums come into play: Bath is a reference to the sort of cleansing of the spirit from the physical body (also seen in the numerous references to water and actual use of water in Bath), and Leaving Your Body Map is then referencing the astral "map" that one's spirit follows in the journey through the astral plane, possibly to this vast cosmic archive the band has cited as the source of all their inspiration.

Another interesting thing to point out is the structure of the album. While I've said that Bath and Leaving Your Body Map are two very different pieces of music, the two albums are structured to mirror each other. All of the interludes are in the same place on both albums, the epics are in the same place, and even the strongest and weakest moments of each album are in nearly the same place. More parallels can be seen in the lengths and sections of certain songs, though this is only really apparent after multiple listens. I'll go over it in some detail during the track-by-track breakdown. Another puzzler is the album artwork. The artwork for Leaving Your Body Map shows a bathtub and a window, whereas the artwork for Bath depicts what appears to be a representation of an astral map, or a long and winding path marked with signs representing planets. At the end of this path the very small object at the end is the bathtub and window seen in close detail on the cover of Leaving Your Body Map, providing a seemingly opposite process to what I had analyzed before. The band stated in an interview that the covers are switched simply to represent the dual nature of each; that one can't exist without the other. What it represents beyond that, however, I cannot tell.

The album opens with "Stones of October's Sobbing" in a soft, similar fashion to the way Bath does. It opens with an eerie guitar chord backing a soft flute melody. Some more delicate guitar chords continue guided along the flute melody, which goes from shrill to pleasant on occasion before a loud drum beat takes it into the main section of the song. An oddly soft and very spacey section sets the backdrop to uncharacteristically loud and thundering drumming and some harsh growls. This semblance continues, creating an odd structure and some creepy undertones into the second verse where some random horn noodling in the background creates a chaotic tension amidst a peaceful backdrop. Eventually this section morphs into the original spacey melody being played with lightning fast death metal distortion while a shrill flute plays a disturbingly peaceful melody over the top. This continues for a while before the flutes start to go slightly off tune and it turns into a scary metal section with some backdrop screaming provided by Toby, eerie electronic screeches, and the piece ends in some odd start-and-stop heaviness. Overall this is a very avant-garde piece that effectively portrays the unsettling mood of the album, and, on an off note, this piece is a good representation of the musical direction that future Toby Driver project Kayo Dot would pursue.

The next piece "Gleam in Ranks" is an absolutely amazing piece of prog metal and possibly my favorite motW song. It starts out with some soft, almost whispered vocals and an upbeat palm-muted guitar riff that is accented by some awesome keys and a very good bass line. This continues until Toby's voice elevates to hit a high note before turning into a very upbeat progressive metal song with some cool guitar interplay and spacey backing keys. Eventually Toby's voice kicks in with an incredibly catchy vocal melody. It's very dynamic, probably his best vocal showing yet. The original riff changes to something a little more sinister and the piece builds up to a frenzy of crazed vocals and fast chugging riffs before ending very suddenly.

The next piece "Bizarre Flowers/A Violent Mist" starts off with some soft feedback noises before opening into a very epic metal riff, guided by Driver's voice and given a strong backing melody by what sound like church bells. Eventually a solemn guitar solo joins the melody before the bells escalate in a large unison. This section ends and another section of distorted percussion, guitar feedback, and a number of very creepy, agonizing growls occur in the background. The growls eventually escalate into a chaotic mess of noises before a grand metal riff starts again. Byron's growls lead this into a very slow-churning metal section that eventually goes momentarily silent, and leads into a... funk fusion section? All of a sudden this spacey metal stops and it turns into a fast, fun, upbeat section with strong bass rhythm and an absolutely brilliant guitar solo. This section continues but eventually adds the same melody in heavy metal guitar tones. When this ends we get into another spacey section with some odd electronic noises and some echoic vocals.

"Interlude 3" follows, and it's noticeably longer than the first interlude on Bath. It's also an incredibly beautiful piece of music. Some delicate acoustic guitars play a very peaceful melody before some soft bongos add a light percussion. Eventually a very pretty violin adds on, and a soft clarinet, and some grandiose horns create a stunningly beautiful and magnificent piece devoid of all the scary undertones present in the songs before it, leaving only pleasant bliss in songwriting.

The wonderfully pleasant note that "Interlude 3" ends on is a nice segue into a folksy section that begins "The Curve That to an Angle Curve'd". This pleasant little intro doesn't last long, however, as the song suddenly turns into a very slow and heavy doom metal piece, with some slow chugging riffs and Byron's menacing growls. Eventually the heaviness stops and we get a soft rock piece with some sorrowful vocal exchange between Toby and the female vocalist. The lyrics are somewhat of a love exchange. Some more sad guitar chords start another building process, where some background whispering and an eventual increase in tempo lead to another upbeat metal section with some very evil sounding layered screams, and while it appears as though the piece is going to elevate higher, it slowly deconstructs and dies out. While not a weak piece in any way, this song is comparatively the weakest on the album.

"Sleep is a Curse" is a pretty different song to show up halfway through the album. It's a somewhat sad indie folk song with some powerful vocals performed by Driver. He also wrote the lyrics to this song (Byron normally writes all the poetry for the lyrics), and they're a lot more down-to-earth than most of the other lyrics, and quite touching. The first half of the song is guided by some folksy acoustic guitars and Toby's vocals, but halfway through the song some percussion and violin are added, making for a very pretty folk rock piece.

Up next is the epic "Riseth He, the Numberless" suite, which, ironically, is split up into two parts. It opens with a solo horn in a similar fashion that "Girl with a Watering Can" does on Bath with the clarinet. Eventually a very loud note leads into an unsettling spacey section that is joined by some very menacing metal riffage. Byron's growling is top-notch here as it leads into an absolutely fantastic and utterly horrifying spacey metal riff. It follows with some rather menacing death metal and a cool guitar solo as the lyrics foretell what sounds like some sort of end times event. The guitar solo ascends into a frenzy as all the metal very quickly slows down into a non-music section that bridges into the second section of the song. In between we have what sounds like the distorted sound of wind blowing into a microphone, and eventually we start to hear stifled screams in the background. These eerie voices continue to cry out in agony as a soft ticking escalates, and I get this picture in my mind of some unspeakably horrible, timeless evil awakening and bringing about the end times. The second section begins after about a minute with some cool drumming and soft guitars, and eventually even a harp. Eventually some echoing keyboards start a very spacey metal section. Once the vocals kick in it becomes a rather evil sounding piece that's complimented by a wicked guitar solo and the menacing church organ. It ends on a long creepy organ note and some accompanying guitar distortion.

"Interlude 4" is supposedly the band's crowning achievement. In the liner notes for the re- issue, Toby states that this song was completely imagined through dream composition and translated just through lucid dream remembrance. It opens with sleigh bells ringing and a soft guitar melody with a fingered upright bass in the background. What sounds like a fretless guitar later adds a lead line. When the drumming kicks in it's accompanied by some very soft and soothing viola. The piece continues like this on some minor variation before the music fades away, leaving only the sleigh bells left, which had been ringing throughout the concourse of the whole song. This whole piece is rather beautiful in a mystifying way and indeed sounds like it was inspired from some astral body; it's a truly otherworldly piece.

"Monstrously Low Tide" is the closing song and it opens with immensely heavy guitars and thudding bass before slowing down into a very spacey metal section with some trippy piano melodies in the background. This section ends very quickly and then a passage with some dark acoustic guitar starts. This soft section continues with some echoing background vocals provided by Driver and some very soothing female lead. Eventually the tempo picks up slightly and Toby provides some very beautiful lead vocals while some soft chanting vocals in the background end this section. The last half of the song is some free-form spacey guitar, all clean, but with some heavy loop and reverberation effects going on. The album ends pleasantly as the guitar fades to a stop.

And thus ends the second part of possibly the most incredible 2-part suite of music I have ever heard and possibly will ever hear. I think when all is said and done Bath is the better of the two albums; it's a lot more consistent and overall a better package, but Leaving Your Body Map is otherwise just as good in every respect and is worthy of nothing less than a perfect score as well. People, if you ever get a chance to listen to either of these albums in their entirety, do so. Any fan of challenging, mature metal needs to listen to this album.

Five stars.

Standout tracks: All of them.

KAYO DOT Choirs Of The Eye

Album · 2003 · Avant-garde Metal
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Decidedly un-motW.

Choirs of the Eye is the first album from Toby Driver's new band Kayo Dot, formed out of the ashes of Boston avant-garde metal band maudlin of the Well. Several lineup changes have been made and a total shift in attitude towards songwriting, and the result is something that is totally incomparable to any other musical experience you've ever experienced.

One thing that is on everyone's minds (well, everyone who's ever listened to a Toby Driver project before) is how this band compares to aforementioned maudlin of the Well, so I'll make sure to point out the most important similarities and differences during this review.

Choirs of the Eye is the closest Kayo Dot release stylistically to maudlin of the Well, but there is a serious shift in focus in terms of the songwriting. Whereas motW was ultimately a metal band with avant-garde tendencies, Kayo Dot (at least for this album) are much more of an avant-garde band with metal tendencies. Here, the album is much more composition- oriented than its predecessors; of the 5 songs, only one is below ten minutes in length, and even then there are two songs just short of 15 minutes. Choirs is definitely a test of endurance as it pulls you through its dark passages.

Again, the band's style on this album is wholly unique and unlike anything I'd heard of at the time. Whereas maudlin of the Well's principle claim in their songwriting was astral projection (for those unfamiliar with motW's claims, astral projection is the supposed separation of one's spirit from the physical plane of existence through a process called lucid dreaming. The band claimed that they were merely vessels for the music, which already existed in a vast cosmic library in the astral plane, and that this music was merely interpreted.), in Kayo Dot, Toby completely denounces such methods and prefers to work on normal compositional terms, yet stating that Kayo Dot are an evolution or natural progression of maudlin of the Well. Atmospherically, Choirs of the Eye doesn't have the same sort of spacey undertones that past motW albums have had, but at times it does have both a pleasant, earthly atmosphere to it, and at other times it takes on a scary and dark, but worldly semblance.

Avant-metal is a rather limiting way to describe the music found on this album. While the album is more avant-garde than it is metal, certain sections reach such a crushing heaviness that it cannot be classified otherwise. Much of it relies on new-age abstract and it has a lot of minimalist elements, yet it also has equal doses of avant-metal, 20th century classical, avant-jazz, chamber rock, goth rock, and the like. At times it can be pleasantly bright, then go to oddly discordant, to frighteningly dark, atmospherically heavy, all without warning, given the incredible avant-garde nature of the album. An amazing amount of work is done with layering all the parts of the music, vocally and instrumentally, and at parts when all of the instruments are playing, each seemingly trying to one-up the other's part, it turns into a wildly insane yet surprisingly calculated chaos in sound architecture. These massive spots of sonic density are incredibly remarkable to behold, and are excellently contrasted by the equally well-done abstract minimalism that permeates the structure of this album. When Kayo Dot wants to hit hard, they hit you like an expressionist baseball bat to the face.

A greater range of instruments are used here than in maudlin of the Well's compositions. In addition to the traditional guitars, bass, keys, and drums, instruments like the violin and clarinet get especially big parts. Also to be found on the album are flute, saxophone, cello, horn, trumpet, trombone, and bell parts. They're all balanced excellently and rarely are pretentious or overincumbent in the composition. Toby Driver returns doing guitars and vocals and is given the predominant vocal role this time around. His vocals are also much more varied on this album than with maudlin of the Well; here, he does all forms of soft vocals, harsh growls, high-pitched screams, and at times even flat speaking or whispering, and all parts are performed marvelously. Former maudlin of the Well instrumentalists Greg Massi (guitars), Sam Gutterman (drums), Nicholas Kyte (bass), and Terran Olson (woodwinds) make an appearance on this album and are complimented by 8 other contributing artists. In particular, violinist Mia Matsumiya leaves the greatest impression with some excellent violin parts. All the other instruments are used in moderation and are excellently structured into the framework of the music, though the clarinet suffers from a mild case of being overused, it's not terribly distracting, and works well more often than not.

Jason Byron, formerly responsible for the lyrics and growled vocals in maudlin of the Well, returns to compose the poetry for this album. I say poetry as compared to lyrics because unlike motW, where the lyrics were merely poetic, as often as not in Choirs of the Eye, the lyrics are actual poetry, occasionally even spoken instead of sung. They're rather beautiful sounding and at times even better than the lyrics found in motW's music. While they don't follow an overarching theme or story, they're all very surrealist and suited to fit the mood of the song.

The album opens with "Marathon" in a clashing of percussion and arrhythmic guitars. Some jazzy trumpet adds to the ambiance of minimalist guitars and a sorrowful flute while a distorted voice reads poetry over what sounds like an intercom. It eventually breaks into a dark section with crushing guitars, free-jazz drumming, Toby alternating his high falsetto scream and gut-wrenching vocals, while a whimsical flute and ghostly piano adds to the dark whirlwind of sonic density. Some slow, heavy, chugging riffs give way to a delicate guitar section with some strange, oscillating guitar soundscapes and eerie sounding keys. This confusingly dark passage twists and turns, guided by occasional electronic noise and a soft jazzy drumming. Towards the end a distant voice starts reciting cheerful poetry in a soft, raspy, speaking tone. Eventually the music fades out to nothing as the voice continues reading, conjuring up some strong images. This track is an interestingly inaccessible way of starting off the album and is definitely a piece that needs to be listened to multiple times to really be appreciated.

The dark menace of "Marathon" is surprisingly followed by the cheery bliss of "A Pitcher of Summer". Clocking in at just under six minutes, this is the shortest and most accessible piece on the album. It opens with some soft, bright guitar work and some very light percussion. Toby's voice kicks in shortly and his high pitch gives it a very happy tone. Indeed, the lyrics conjure up warm, fuzzy images of a bright, pleasant summer day at a cottage deep in the woods, nature at harmony with the peaceful structure. Even when the distortion and heavy drumming kicks in, the piece keeps its bright and happy tone while Toby wistfully sings along. Once this section ends the piece slows down considerably and adds more distortion and some horns, though Toby's voice takes on much more of a wailing tone as the piece picks up in density. An intense buildup culminates in two loud, screaming notes. Even when compared to the complexity of the other pieces on this album, this song remains one of my favorite pieces.

"The Manifold Curiosity" is a piece of truly epic proportions at the midway point of this album. It starts out with some soft guitar and some interesting layering while a clarinet plays a sorrowful lead. This section swirls with a sort of swaying sadness before stopping suddenly and going to a simple acoustic guitar strumming for a good period of time. The sound of a person appears as he takes a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, unfolds it, and timidly reads the track title. The soft acoustic continues with some guitar effects layering and two vocal tracks sing: one in Toby's crisp mid-level voice, one unintelligible under some odd static effects. This section comes to a close for a few seconds before a short fingerpicking bridge that slowly escalates in sound before the entire band erupts into a thundering chorus of heavy guitars and drumming, and a clarinet solo that I'm sure is supposed to be absolutely gut-wrenching but unfortunately almost doesn't work. It does improve shortly after the initial shock, when the guitar chimes in on the melody, and then the piece slowly goes into a post- mid album climax. Some floaty guitars emerge from the remains of the previous section, and very slowly start to build up, both in number and slight increase in noise. After a short while, voices start to chant more poetry, and even these become layered as up to three or four voices speak in an intentionally slight-off manner. Some excellent violins also add to the increasingly unsettling nature of the piece before some odd guitar whines lead into the melody being repeated in heavy distortion. Whiny guitars wail left and right, starting off slowly, guided by an interestingly strong bass. They slowly increase in intensity as the tempo starts to increase, going from a slow trot to a sturdy gallop over the course of nearly a minute. One guitar keeps adding to another, and yet another, and violins join the fray before Toby's wailing voice takes center stage for a brief spell, and all the flailing and moaning pauses with a short, slow three notes, only to be picked up in intensity again, with an increase in tempo. Every chaotic part builds up into a tremendous whirlwind of dense musical aggressiveness, and it peaks in one ridiculously fast torrential downpour of incomprehensible chaos with Toby screaming his lungs out in a way that almost reminds me of Jacob Bannon's voice (of Converge), and then it all comes crashing down with one quick drum roll and a super sludgy bass melody that starts an awesome, upbeat, motW-esque metal section, all ending in seven staccato notes. It's incredible how many twists and turns this titanic piece takes before its startling conclusion.

"Wayfarer" begins with some soft acoustic guitar chords and some awkward keys and then shortly adds a weeping violin. Much of the song up to the first moment when vocals come in has some odd chordwork where the chords are played unevenly or in an odd progression. Toby's vocals come in as soft and high-pitched with some of the prettier lyrics on the album. Some unsettling acoustic guitars pick up pace with the violin before some rolling drums bring the song to a big vocal section at a mid-song climax, some sad clarinets tagging along as Toby sing-speaks some interesting poetical verses before the piece starts over with some soft minimalist material, starting a new buildup, this one taking on a much more peaceful vibe than the one before it. It picks up slack very quickly as some beautiful violins add to the vocal harmonies. Then, all of a sudden, a switch is thrown and the metal turns on, though it's admittedly very bright and happy sounding, with an excellent short solo that dies on a screeching note. The last section ends with harp-like guitars and excellent violin work as Toby wishes a sad but hopeful goodbye to the starry wayfarer.

"The Antique" is another epic and probably the most abstract piece on the album. The first three minutes consist of some empty-sounding, rather chilling abstract minimalist guitar. Eventually some ghostly guitar effects and chilling keys give the already dark piece some added unease. Distortion slowly builds until it becomes a very slow-moving metal piece. Once the song hits the six minute mark the atmosphere becomes very dense and some alternating growling death metal and high pitched screams bring the song to a maddeningly dark level, the screams escalating in intensity every stanza before some haunting keys and whiny guitars escalate this section to a faster tempo. The change of pace brings some unsteady, back and forth chuggy riffing with some deliciously dark and malicious harsh vocals. A brief clean guitar spell gives way to a stanza of roaring metal with blast beats and ferocious screaming that then turns into an absolutely amazing, head-bangable chugging riff section at a huge climax. It returns to the clean guitar spell heard before as the drums begin to increase in speed as though leading up to something, and after a few quick heavy notes it drowns out to nothing but an echoic organ note. The last four minutes of the song consist of some beautiful, foreboding piano melodies, a stern horn solo, and some heavily distorted vocals. This creepy ambiance continues at a steady pace for some time before escalating into one grand note quickly at the end, leaving just the solitary organ note to linger quickly before cutting out to the end of the album.

Thus it ends. Choirs of the Eye is definitely a grower, especially for fans of maudlin of the Well previously unaccustomed to Kayo Dot. I was repulsed by the album after the first listen and it took me a good few months and seven more listens before the album really hit me as the incredible and unmatched musical composition that it really is. My suggestion: go in with as open of a mind as possible and try not to compare it to anything else. Let this dark, twisted piece of avant-garde brilliance drag you through its deep chasms and enjoy the tumultuous and schizophrenic soundscape at every turn.

5 stars, highly recommended for anyone looking for challenging and unique music.

Standout tracks: "A Pitcher of Summer", "The Manifold Curiosity", "The Antique".

Latest Forum Topic Posts

  • Posted more than 2 years ago in Top Five Albums
    1. Bath - maudlin of the Well2. Leaving Your Body Map - maudlin of the Well3. Animals as Leaders - Animals as Leaders4. Somewhere Along the Highway - Cult of Luna5. Ziltoid the Omniscient - Devin TownsendThis list is subject to change.
  • Posted more than 2 years ago in Djent
    [QUOTE=topofsm]It may be onomatopoeia, but it's term as a genre is growing. It's certainly a lot easier to refer to all the "djent" bands rather than the "polymetric post-thrashy groove/metalcore" bands. It's a way to get all of them under one umbrella. [/QUOTE] This is true, but I still think I prefer the term as the onomatopoeia.  Kinda bugs me that this style has become big enough to warrant its own genre.  I like it much more as a flavoring or a niche thing in music than as an entire underground genre.
  • Posted more than 2 years ago in Djent
    [QUOTE=A Person]Apparently, Fredrik Thordendal coined the term, but it was later made popular by Bulb, at least according to got-djent's about section. [/QUOTE] /thread


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