- Freshening a Musty Genre
This year has already been a great year for prog-metal. I’ve heard 3 really good and decently fresh albums that don’t follow all the prog metal norms. It seems like the default template that prog-metal bands utilize is to sound like Dream Theater or Symphony X. I could also throw Pain of Salvation in there, but they’re more like a prog-rock band with a metal problem than a true prog-metal band. Honestly sometimes I feel like Dream Theater and Symphony X are ripping themselves off, failing to create something truly awesome and original, even though DT’s last album was a great step in the right direction for me. If I sound a little jaded, it’s because I am, and that’s why all of these fresh sounding prog-metal albums get me a little bit giddy.
So, enter Distorted Harmony, and their debut album Utopia. They are definitely disciples of the Dream Theater path, and even though the influence is clear throughout the music, upon closer listening, it sounds quite different than DT. The musicianship is there, they just happen to give the style their own glorious and much needed twist. First off, there are no “LOOK AT US WE ARE METAL NOW BANG YOUR HEAD” sections that John Petrucci seems to have grown more and more fond of lately. There is no James Labrie (this is a good thing). There is no terrible rapping (thankfully DT finally divested itself of this as well). In fact, there’s just a lot less…I don’t know…metal…in this album. I really don’t know how else to put it. Distorted Harmony has crafted quite the introspective and symphonic sounding album sprinkled throughout with bits of face melting awesome. There’s a little post-rock influence (or post-metal maybe?) found mainly in the choruses that is quite nice to zone out to, but then they come back with some really interesting instrumental sections, which combine to make some really impressive composition that builds nicely and creates moving songs. In addition to this, it feels extremely accessible. I could throw this on in the presence of just about anyone I know, and their first thought wouldn’t be, “what the hell is this?” I get that with DT and Symphony X all the time. A prog-metal band that can capture fans of less technical music but still manages to satisfy more hardcore listeners is impressive, to say the least.
What really caught my attention was the how they take you away with their well-crafted melodies, sweeping you up with beautiful symphonic sounds, then bring the entire thing crashing back down to earth with very technical instrumental sections. It meshes very well for a kind of focus roller coaster that just got me going. The production isn’t the best; there are times when I wish they could just turn up the “massive sound” knob and really bury you in sonic glory, but it is something that is missing from this album. Misha Soukhinin’s singing has a few moments that rub me the wrong way, and his vocal style is a little out of place in the overall sound of the band, but he really grows on you. Some of the drumming is really gratifying and complex, while at other times kept very simple. The same can be said of the other instruments, except perhaps the keys. The synth arrangements are thoughtful and really add to the sound of the band.
For a debut prog-metal album, all of that is quite impressive. What for me was a once fertile pond of technically challenging metal has slowly stagnated, and Utopia really freshens up the scene. But, the best part of all? You can have it for $.99. Seriously. Even better, you can just listen or download for free here. Go forth and listen! You won’t regret it.