30 September 2010

CD REVIEW: Effloresce - Shades of Fate (2010, private release)

By this point, it should be no surprise that I enjoy the heavier end of the progressive music spectrum.  My extreme/prog metal day should have been proof positive of that for you, Constant Reader.  So it surprises me when I get messages from bands or labels telling me about their newest effort, but then saying things like ‘I don’t know if this fits for you’ or ‘this might be outside your field of interest.’  We’ve already gone over several times, I think, my premise that progressive music is “interesting music that does something different,” and I continue to stick to that.

Effloresce fits into this category.  They’re a fairly new progressive metal band out of Germany taking their musical cues, for my ears, as much from classic 80’s thrash (Metallica) as they do the Gothenburg school of melodic death metal (Opeth).  In other words, expect lots of changing riffs and tempo changes, sections slamming into each other with raw abandon, and healthy doses of keyboard over the jackhammer riffs.

Oh, and a female vocalist.

Who does death/black metal vocals.

But more about that soon.

Effloresce is a 5 piece founded less than a year ago.  Amazingly, they’ve already put out one self-released EP, the 30-minute long Shades of Fate, with a full-length in the works.  I think for most people, the vocals will be the first thing noticed.  Nicki (no last names listed in the liner notes, the band website, Facebook or Myspace) has a gorgeous high alto/low soprano voice, and when her voice is layered for harmonies, it’s even more impressive.  However, as mentioned above, Nicki tosses off a few deathy growls and screams as well throughout 2 of the album’s three tracks.  I will admit that, while I know there are some female vocalists in the extreme metal genre, it still comes as a bit of a surprise when I hear her unleash a demonic growled vocal.  Obviously because she’s female the vocals tend to run closer to a throaty black metal rasp than a deep guttural growl, but there’s a bit of force behind them.  Some people may be turned off; I find it very enjoyable.  Nicki also contributes some nice flute bits throughout, adding a bit of pastoral fantasy to the mix.

Nicki’s joined by a powerful rhythm section; Tobi (drums) and Rene (bass) really keep things pounding forward; Tobi’s got some great double kick chops, and his fills are interesting and never over-busy, while Renee really locks in tight with the drums.  I wish he was mixed higher, to be honest…I can feel him, but I wish I could hear him more.  Filling out things is Tim (guitar) and Dave (guitar, mellotron).  Both of them are enjoyable guitarists…I’m not sure how solos and rhythm sections are split up, but the heavier rhythm work is always crunchy, the acoustic bits bright and jangling, and solos tasteful and spot on.  Additionally, the mellotron (and organ) contributions help to push this material to slightly more symphonic, classic prog territory.

Things kick off on a heavy, and almost bluesy note, with ‘Birds of Prey.’  Oddly, the opening riff starts out with a slide motif that almost drags things kicking and screaming to the delta before a more pounding, traditional metal riff with tron backing that really sets things in gear.  The heavy kick drum driving the third separate riff in about 1 minute is impressive, and the rapidly shifting riffs seem so Metallica influenced that it’s hard to think otherwise.  Lest you think this is a criticism…I’m probably one of the few people out there for whom Metallica isn’t a bad word these days.  Always loved them, still do.  Throughout this release I get the impression that the guys in the band decided that …And Justice for All wasn’t just a cool album, but a great idea for how to structure songs (and I bloody love that album, so I am all for that).  Great heavy playing, wonderful vocals, some awesome shifts in tone (there’s a fantastic lighter section in here that I love, with shades of Camel really making it shine)…this is a more than impressive opening track, and one that grabbed me by the (redacted so as to not offend) and refused to let go.  My only criticism is the use of pinch harmonics at the end of some of the lead lines…it’s become such a cliché, and it’s one I really wish would go away.

‘Sear’ follows next on this EP, and at 10 minutes isn’t even the longest track there (that honour is reserved for the preceding track, clocking in at 11:17).  I adore the growling, almost demonic organ note that leads this track off, with sustained and distorted to the brink of breaking up guitar notes that finally resolve into one amazingly tight riff.  There’s some fantasticly tight rhythm playing here, bonecrushing riffs and rhythms that alternate with quieter vocal sections, each seeming so much more so as a result of the ir close proximity to each other.  This track offers us our first taste of Nicki’s death/black metal vocals, and her quick switches between the rasped, screamed vocals and her clean voice is pretty awe inspiring.  I’m used to hearing Mikael Akerfeldt do it, and Nicki’s got impressive enough vocal chops to pull it off with some authority as well.  Frankly, I think I’d like to hear more of her extreme vocals…here’s hoping for the next release!

Our final track is the 8-minute long ‘Sunset in the Snowdome.’  I’ll admit that I did something I try never to do…I was so anxious waiting for this CD to arrive that I hit the band’s Facebook and played the streaming version of this track before the EP arrived.  So I was familiar with it before getting the final release.  The gorgeous flute and acoustic guitar opening, loads of stately organ, some fleetly played rhythm guitar (not ponderous and crushing…but still heavy!)…a lot of this track reminds of Damnation era Opeth, but with a much heavier touch throughout.  There’s more growled vocals here, and they add such a great touch to things. 

I should point out my aesthetic enjoyment of the package, too.  The front cover art is excellent, and in fact the entire package pulls together very nicely, with a unified design, limited use of colour and font, and an eye toward evoking a darker mood without going for cliché graphic elements.  The package looks brilliant, and the band should really be congratulated for putting effort in assembling a really professional looking, finished product that I’d put up against any major label album…and pick it over the major release.

Effloresce’s debut EP really shows a band that has a lot of promise.  There’s great playing, very good song writing, and a hell of a vocalist with some impressive chops.  I look forward to their full length album to come (even though I hear rumours the flute is going away!) and cant wait to see how additional time together has gelled this young band.

Track Listing:
Birds of Prey 11:17
Sear 9:57
Sunset in the Snowdome 8:26

Nicki: vocals, flute
Rene: bass
Tobi: drums
Tim: guitar
Dave: guitar, mellotron

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Anonymous said...

I´m gonna have this EP very soon, it is already ordered. This long and very interesting review makes my lust increase majorly, thanks for it! MAX(:

Almagest said...

Outstanding review, very detailed and really useful, thanks. As a friend of the band, I have the EP already, but you remind and inspire me to give this little gem a few more spins, and perhaps discover even more details.

Michael said...

Very cool review of a very cool EP! :)