Monday, June 17, 2013

Bruce Soord With Jonas Renkse - Wisdom Of Crowds (2013)

Collaborative albums aren't always a good idea. Supergroups come and go, usually with more fanfare at the start than at the end. It is so often the case that these efforts features artists who are just too similar, too like minded, to make something that reaches outside their collective box. If the project sounds like your main band, what is the purpose? But when Bruce Soord, instrumental powerhouse and mastermind of The Pineapple Thief, and Jonas Renkse, whose voice has captivated rabid Katatonia fans the world over, announced that they would be coming together on one effort, no one could have seen it coming. "Wisdom Of Crowds," as the album came to be known, is the result of an intense writing process by Soord, who saw the album through from beginning to end. But it was the voice that he coveted, the voice he had to have on the album, that Renkse could provide. And on this debut, the duo go outside their norms, away from the regular, manufactured supergroup mentality, and create something that is bizarrely entertaining and equally mind blowing.

It is Soord that provides the ambient energy of the album, starting immediately in the break beat laden "Pleasure." The use of backing electronics, both in beat and melody form, do wonders for momentum this early in an album. But it isn't all soothing breaks, with the crying and bass and guitars weaving in and out of the main structure. Renkse adds a layer of gloomy flow to the mix, his voice floating just above the rest, as he does in so many of the down tempo Katatonia offerings. That his voice locks up instantly with Soord's eclectic instrumentation is not necessarily surprising as much as it is a wonder of modern metal. But things take unexpected twists and turns throughout the disc, beginning with the avant flare of the title track, "Wisdom Of Crowds." They've stepped completely off the beaten path, gone away from what you expected all along. The beats are strong, and the background injections, sometimes sounding like flute and other times sounding like accordion, are strangely satisfying. Soord allows his every whim to cascade down on you, waves of guitars raining down in the bridge. All the while, Renkse delivers lyrics that are simplistic and thought provoking at the same time. It may be the verse sections of "Radio Star" that takes his vocal prowess furthest out of his comfort zone, with the track sounding like a more melodically charged and polished Nine Inch Nails industrial rock style. But he finds his groove again in the chorus, over a gentle sea of pianos, broken up by a tremendous thunder of a beat. Coat it all in a layer of blissful distortion and climbing synthesizers, and you have a track that stands out as a highlight of the year.

With another one hundred and eighty degree flip, Soord reverts to beautifully played acoustic guitars and sweeping orchestration on "Frozen North," the closest thing to a ballad that you will find here. Solemn and quiet, it has the ability to lull you into sleepy trance before a massive explosion sends you flying backwards from your speakers. It's a mystery how the two halves fit together, yet they would now seem less impactful if they were separated in any way. And yet when the third of the multiple personalities of the track emerges in the breakdown, it seems all too perfect. The outro alone boasts power of unmentionable proportions. What this duo lacks in conventional delivery, they more than make up for in far reaching appeal. The techno dance beat that opens "The Light" is as far from center as you could get, allowing Renkse's voice to send his own unique brand of chills through you. But as a massive bass drop comes in - and it does with ferocity - the entire mood of the track changes quickly. Soord interjects with a guitar solo that isn't quite blues, not quite jazz, but anything but predictable. The path the album takes is, perhaps it's most mind boggling accomplishment, as "Stacked Naked" mirrors the lyrics it dishes out. "I'm going, going astray," Renkse croons, matched first with a summer party beat, and followed by a raucous, bass heavy thunderclap. The tempo is fast and furious, with every wave of musical accompaniment rattling everything it touches, from speakers to your forehead.

Much like his career work, Renkse is a master of mood and emotion, something evident in the beautifully penned "Pretend," a track that Soord has outdone himself on. It stands as a monument to the versatility that Jonas brings to the table, though, as his voice stacks up beautifully when paired with light, acoustic guitars or broad sweeping chaos. There is something familiar on tap, woven into the fabric of the track itself. It brings to mind of Jeff Martin, and The Tea Party, in both sound and tone. And as Renkse delivers a blockbuster line - "If anyone should ask how the story goes, just pretend we're almost there. Just pretend." - it all seems right. If one songs stands out as the most matched track on the album, it must be "Centre Of Gravity," which does have the sound of one of the well constructed Katatonia remixes of the last few years. The soundscapes created in the latter half of the track are incredibly detailed and balanced, with layer of layer coming to rest on top of one another, without ever feeling muddled or forced. And despite the preconceived notions you may have, "Flows Through You" isn't the "gently into the night" outro. The script has been flipped again, with the entire track taking on an entirely different mood. There is a darkness there, one that turns borderline violent int he breakdown, blasting you with rapid fire beats and bass heavy thuds. But it all comes full circle, piano and vocals, at a soothing and wholly fitting conclusion.

How do you summarize something that is so far outside the realm of normal? This album, this collaboration between musicians who are stars in their own right, defies any expectations you may have had. It not only leaves you speechless, but it may also have you thinking it couldn't possibly be real. "Wisdom Of Crowds" pushes all of the boundaries of modern heavy metal, sometime beyond their own breaking points. Soord has crafted a masterpiece here, his command of instruments being the centerpiece of a whirlwind musical experience. But his vision, his desire to have Renkse's voice on the album may have been the decision that brought perfection into the mix. Their chemistry is undeniable, and the sonic waves that are formed are unbreakable. It's probably too early to see where this pairing will go from here, or if this is a one off collaboration. But should the opportunity arise for these two men to join forces again in the future, be it on stage or in a studio, the world of metal would be far better served if they accepted the challenge.


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