Monday, January 21, 2013

Entities - Aether (EP) (2013)

Much like the gun running days of the 1980's, even the most rebel professions need rules. There has to be a structure in place to keep people from going off the tracks and denigrating their entire brotherhood. Somewhere along the way, the founders and proprietors of the djent movement forgot that. With hundreds of bands coming out of the woodwork every minute, there has been a lack of oversight by the bands and fans to keep the style from going too fast, too soon. The result is an influx of copycats; djent bands adding their own "accent" to the pot and instead hurting the movement. And while Entities haven't done damage to the bands to come, they made a promise on "Aether" that they weren't prepared to keep; a new wrinkle in the formula that sees ambient electronics sharing space with the tenets. With flashes of brilliance scattered over seven bizarre tracks, it is hard to think this is the next logical step.

While the foreground sounds on "Primordium" may seem to scream basic djent style, it is those ambient electronic touches throughout that keep you holding on. Present are the chugging guitars and pulsing drum beats that you know. But the space age sound effects in the background provide a glue that holds it together in a surprisingly intriguing way. Some of that intrigue is lost immediately upon entering "Hadean," when recycled screaming vocals suddenly dominate the mix. In their absence, you find a band that isn't breaking the rules, but bending them in a controlled fashion. By adding in the synthesized foundation, it creates another layer of melody to keep the track grounded. The vocals, however, let down the mix on the whole, adding little depth of sound in their sporadic grunts and screeches. It isn't until the somewhat ambitious "Lines Of Descent" that we see the band in full form. Clocking in well over the five minute mark, it is a much more complete cross section of talent and vision. The instrumental grows, both in complexity and competence. A seemingly endless barrage of drums and percussion can be overbearing at times, but they find a home here. Even the much maligned vocals of the previous track are more at ease, trying less to "brutal" and more to just fitting into the overall arc of the track.

Perhaps the most complete melody can be found on "Revival," at least in the instrumental sense. There is a great deal of talent to be had here, with a three headed guitar attack making their presence known. The ambient backing returns as well, leaving you feeling as though you may be traveling through time and space, propelled by distorted riffs. They go so far as to take the starring role in the outro, leading a chorus of chugging chords. The two minute "Ontogenesis" removes the vocal element from  the equation and doles out 120 seconds of pure djent. from the ringing harmonics to the syncopated drum beats, this is the entire style, condensed into one blitz. Wearing one influence, in particular, on their sleeves, "Between Polarities," comes off as an homage of sorts to North Carolina's own Between The Buried And Me. With the vocals divided into short, yelling bursts of words and phrases, it overshadows much of the guitar work. When the vocals drop out, the mix returns to a balance of melody and distortion. And while "Streamlined" may be the wrong title for the closing track, it could serve as a piece of advice to many bands to come. Picking up where "Polarities" left off, and then going off on several tangents along the way, this five minute finale seems like six or seven separate tracks merged into one. The only constant here is the gallop of drums, padded out by intermittent periods of chugging and shredding. And despite being a non factor through most of the second half of the album, the ambient soundscapes are called upon to close things out.

There are bound to be bands who don't want to follow the beaten path and wait for the time to exit. And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with innovation, as long as it has as much to do with the music as the idea itself. Entities took the first exit off of the djent highway, choosing to infuse that bit of electronica. For that, they deserve credit. But to abandon it or bury it beneath three solid layers of guitar and distortion seems counterproductive. Perhaps it's more of a conflict between being a progressive instrumental band, rather than a vocal heavy one, a possibility that you can't rule out after this effort. When those grunting vocals are removed in the instrumental version of the album, also available on their Bandcamp page, you see a different band entirely. And therein lies the rub. Do you stay on the back roads and build a life for yourself, or get back on the highway and go where everyone else is going?

Whole album - 6.5/10
Instrumental version - 8.5/10

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