[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS
(44 min, 'AE Music')
TRACK LIST: 1. Misanthropic Myopic Man 5:34 2. Incomplete 5:10 3. Dark Matter 5:30 4. Charon 6:37 5. Living Monster 7:04 6. All the Time 6:27 7. On Your Knees 4:47 8. Two Threads 3:10 LINEUP: Alan Emslie - drums, percussion; keyboards, bass; vocals John Irvine - electric guitar
The object of this material is the third solo album by Scottish multi-instrumentalist and composer Alan EMSLIE, "Dark Matter". For Alan's entire discography, please check my review of his previous release "Driven Heavy" or visit his
Analysis. Unlike its predecessor, "Dark Matter" doesn't feature additional musicians, but this time out the guys have much more widely used overdubs and the possibilities of a modern studio in general (just to meet their new design), so the album has a lush, dynamic and saturated sound, as if it was performed by a quintet. Mr. Emslie is certainly not the one to cling to the skirts of his past achievements, still continuing to change his songwriting style and improve the project's sound. Perhaps just due to Alan's bravery in the search of new ways to develop his music, each of his new albums proves to be better than the preceding one. "Dark Matter" is heavier, darker, more symphonic, but what's central, more expressive and just progressive than probably anything he has made before. Space Rock is out, Art-Rock is in; Cathedral Metal remains, but is used much wider and in a much tastier and richer way. Psychedelic elements are present on each of the eight tracks. While appearing either in open or latent form, they always impart a strong hypnotic sense to the music. Keyboards play an important role nearly everywhere, even though they are more often in the background, rather than at the forefront. Alan himself appears not only as a versatile composer and a skilled multi-instrumentalist, but also as a really extraordinary vocalist with a highly flexible and dynamic voice. While listening to Misanthropic Myopic Man and Incomplete I thought he would be the best replacement for Ozzy of Black Sabbath and Collins of Genesis, respectively. On the other songs, the artist much more often shows his own vocal face than exchanges the masks (though still always appearing as a chameleon singer), just following the ambitions of a man who has his own special way both in vocals and music. Alan's permanent partner, John Irvine, also works wonders with his guitar, making the instrument growl, cry and produce plenty of different shades of emotion, though the primary moods on the album, as implied, are reflection, dark and anxiety. Drama is the word. The opener, Misanthropic Myopic Man, is the one that is filled with raw, explosive energy practically throughout, steering somewhere between "No Rest for the Wicked" by Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest's "Painkiller". Living Monster is similar, but has an atmospheric episode in the middle with only vocals, bass and guitar. The basically slow Charon, All the Time and On Your Knees, all being laden with keyboards, are closer to what I understand as a monumental symphonic Cathedral Metal. (Which was invented by Black Sabbath, the brightest example being You Won't Change Me from "Technical Ecstasy", and was later developed and brought to perfection by Abstract Algebra.) Pure magnetism. Incomplete features a few musically different sections with theatric vocals and distinct symphonic Art-Rock arrangements, alternating with those done in the primary style. The remaining two tracks are instrumental pieces. The title track combines symphonic, darkly psychedelic and some electronic tendencies, while Two Threads, the droning sounds of guitar and bass with echoes, is just something psychedelic. At least from a progressive standpoint, there was no necessity to place Two Threads in the CD, even in the last position, because it's simple and unpretentious, looking like a makeweight to, say, the basic material. The album would have lost nothing without it, deducting 3 minutes of its playing time (44:30). The lyrics aren't profound, but sensible, most being imbued with anxiety about the fragility of mankind's morals. Finally, an important note: All the comparisons ever used in the review are relative. The project derives nothing from anyone.
Conclusion. I believe Alan Emslie could easily get a contract with Sanctuary or Eagle Records with such a strong and compelling album as "Dark Matter" (and solidly enrich their assortment with it). While the music isn't Prog in a traditional sense, each of the first seven tracks has pronounced progressive tendencies and none is instantly accessible. In any event, the album is much better to me than anything from the Neo Prog-Metal category, at least. My personal recommendations regarding it come with all sincerity.
VM: December 15, 2005