- Finally getting to play one of my prog albums around my parents' house at Christmas.
Before you read any further, please take a moment to enjoy the above comic strip selection, courtesy of Solstice Coil and taken completely without permission. I don’t know much about these comics except that them seem to have only been made from 2007 to 2008 and are the product of band members Shir Deutch and Opher Vishnia, and also that I discovered them in the “Media” section of the official band website while trying to find some band photos. In fact, the only content in the “Media” section of the site are these ridiculous and awesome comics. As a result, I learned two things about Solstice Coil, the first being that the songwriting force behind their music is goofy and funny and creative and doesn’t take themselves too seriously, a great mindset to have in the world of progressive music. The second thing I learned? I wasn’t going to have to drag myself through another Dream Theater copycat album. Hallelujah!
Creativity is going to be a major topic of this review, so I hope you (the reader) can appreciate any potential tunes from a band that has the guts to associate humorous and poorly drawn comics with their artistic triumphs. Natural Causes is the second album from the Israeli prog rockers, released six years after their 2005 debut. The band consists of Deutch and Vishnia along with Shai Yallin on keyboards, and since the amateur artists seem to both play guitar, the album was recorded with the talents of a few session musicians on bass guitar and drums. The format is pretty standard for mainstream rock these days: 12 tracks, with an average of five minutes per song, which is usually a huge negative in my book because it typically means you’ve written a few good singles and hidden said singles in a giant steaming pile of crap. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to find out that Solstice Coil included no such filler tracks on this album.
Stylistically, the music is progressive rock along the lines of Shadow Gallery. There are definitely heavier, metal-type sections, but in general the music stays away from the double bass pedal and excessive distortion, instead favoring clean and acoustic guitars and less “synthetic” keyboard patches like the Fender Rhodes and organ. Honestly, the music has enough mainstream feel to it that it wouldn’t be out of place on American radio stations. In fact, while driving to a family event with my mother recently, I thought I’d try her patience and throw on some of my music (she detests practically everything I own and love). Natural Causes comes on, I wait for her disapproving scowl, and… it never came. She actually liked it. For like the second or third time ever, my mother and I were both able to enjoy the same music. Rejoicing ensued.
This effort is not without issues, though, and it’s far from perfect. I personally couldn’t get into a single guitar or keyboard solo on the entire album. The production is good but not great, and I found it interesting that the drums and bass were the best sounding instruments on the recording (and were consequently NOT played by regular band members). I also get the sinking suspicion that we could have a James LaBrie factor going on here: if you don’t like the vocalist, you’re probably not going to like the album. I personally enjoyed the vocals for the majority of the record, but be aware that it’s the type of voice that will lead to strong listener opinions; you’re either going to love it or hate it. The lyrics and music were solid, but there really wasn’t a “stand out” moment that I can recall from several listens.
The real triumph of Natural Causes, though, is the unique creativity that was infused with a tried and true formula. In my opinion, without their quirky nature and obvious creativity, this easily could have been a formulaic alternative rock album that would have little listening value to discerning music lovers. Luckily for the world of progressive music, though, the end result was a solid and enjoyable album, and I think most of the credit has to go to interesting songwriting nuances throughout. There are chord progressions throughout this album that are rare or seldom used, and they are put into just the right places. Just when I thought a track was getting stale, some guitar riff or ambient keyboard chord would pop up that would sound pleasantly unfamiliar. These moments were frequent enough that I can’t remember not liking even one of the twelve songs on the album, which is hard to accomplish when your albums have more than ten tracks.
It’s not perfect. It’s not mind-blowing with technical aptitude or instrumental tonality. And it may never see its way into prog music legend. Still, I’m confident that those who can appreciate the subtleties of a band that can infuse alternative rock with a little bit of artistic eccentricity will enjoy this sophomore effort from Solstice Coil.