Thursday, July 25, 2013

Parallax - Sputnik (EP) (2013)

Learning to follow that age old phrase, my time with Sorrow Eternal has been rooted in listening to anything and everything, regardless of the cover on the book. We try to remain nonjudgmental; until we've heard the music, that is. Themes of space, Mars, and pieces of metal orbiting Earth might not be the storyboard of choice for many metal fans, but maintaining an open mind can surely change that. From Ukraine, Parallax might be the biggest beneficiary to space exploration that the underground metal scene has ever come across. Their debut EP, which tackles everything space related, from Mars to Sputnik, John Carter (yes, the movie) to the Pioneer One series, is proof that when you let your mind wander, great things can result. And once you move passed the possibility of a crash and burn sort of album, one that reaches too far, and ends up falling harder than a space craft on its return to Earth, you are treated to something you might not expect. The four tracks on "Sputnik" might have their collective head in the clouds, but their feet are firmly rooted in the ground.

There is a theatrical element to everything the band does, beginning very early in the title track, "Sputnik." The news report that opens the track is flanked by bending and winding keyboards, which slow to ignite the first massively heavy riffs. The attack is straightforward and deliberate, with pulsing drum beats providing the foundation for what becomes a crowded house. Frontwoman Helle Bogdanova hits all the right notes, allowing her range to shine through. On the other side of the coin, keyboardist Evgeny Zhytnyuk puts his signature all over the track, be it through his electronic melodies or his deep growls. It is his vision that makes tracks like "Firebird" as catchy as it is. Alternating between airy atmospherics and space age leads, he adds a distinct Dream Theater/Jordan Rudess vibe to the entire mix. His virtuosic performance allows the band to rally around him, each filling role, rather than scrambling to fill space. Guitarist Max Khmelevsky, who occupies the rhythm spot most of the way, steps forward with a great piece of solo work, putting the punctuation on the statement track.

Bogdanova stars on the track "Mind The Past," which sees her show off not only her range, but her ability to command an entire room. The energy has increased exponentially, bringing the tempo up to a fever pitch. Yet, somehow, the accuracy of everyone involved, from guitars, to bass, to drums, maintains a level of excellence that seems otherworldly. While Zhytnyuk continues to ignite fires with his touch on the keys, the production work deserves much of the credit. Finding that narrow line between crowded and broken, engineer and producer Max Morton has done an incredible job keeping all of the pieces in check. Perhaps the biggest strength of the album comes in the way it merges simplistic riffs and intricate keyboard and vocal lines into something that is both infectious and musically competent. The section that surrounds the four and a half minute mark, complete with harps and horns, stands as a testament to the incredible songwriting talent the band possesses. But the they erupt from that section - a blasting set of chugging riffs and thunderous drums - speaks just as loudly.

The subject matter of the album notwithstanding, Parallax have a style all their own. Somehow, so early in their career, they have found a space that allows them to be creative, without compromising their sound. Combine that with the fact that their space themed lyrics and storytelling add an additional dimension to the mix, and you have a recipe for what could be a major success story. Bogdanova and Zhytnyuk, as a dynamic duo, have everything going in their favor, her voice fits the arc of the music, and his music fits her voice perfectly. One without the other wouldn't sound nearly as glorious. But beyond the two spotlighted players, everyone deserves credit for the end result here. What makes this EP stand out from so many others this year is the structural integrity it seems to possess. Remove any one piece, any one member, and it might all come crashing down. So as long as this four piece plus can stay together, stay focused, and keep their heads wandering, they will be a force to be reckoned with. They might even be able to join "Sputnik" among the stars.


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