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(56 min, Sensory)
TRACK LIST: 1. Exist 7:40 2. Laughing Alone 5:59 3. Questions 4:02 4. Confession 6:20 5. Distance 4:10 6. Half-Man-Half-Biscuit 3:14 7. Pi 3:09 8. Ask Nothing of Me 5:00 9. Ergo Sum 11:10 10. Unnamed 6:32 LINEUP: Aaron Bell - guitars; vocals; synthesizers Dave Linderman - bass Doug Beary - drums
Prolusion. DEGREE ABSOLUTE present their eponymous debut album, although the outfit has existed since the fall of 1999 and has a couple of demos in addition. The band's founder and primary songwriter multi-instrumentalist Aaron Bell has been involved with several other American bands and projects over the years as a guitarist, bassist and singer.
Analysis. Unlike most heavy progressive bands who are often too keen on the melodic aspect of the style, Degree Absolute perform a quite uncompromising Techno/Prog-Metal, finely fitting the general stylistic orientation of Sensory Records (a division of The Laser's Edge label). Their recording debut is in all senses an excellent album. Nonetheless it narrowly doesn't reach masterwork status, and I wouldn't assert it's a landmark release of the genre, either. The material is abundant in innovative ideas, but it is also not devoid of those invented previously. Technical progressive Metal was pioneered by Voivod, Fates Warning and Mekong Delta in the mid-'80s and was later developed by Watchtower, Sieges Even, Psychotic Waltz, Cynic, Garden Wall and Zero Hour, to name a few acts. In this particular case, the closest reference points might be (in descending order) Fates Warning, Sieges Even (first two albums) and Zero Hour (second), though much of the work of the rhythm section, which often keeps me guessing with off-beat tempos and time shifts, resembles that of Watchtower, and the infrequent semi-improvisational constructions are somewhat akin to those in Allan Holdsworth's least jazzy creations, such as "IOU". The aforementioned definition in conjunction with just-cited examples is fully applicable to the instrumental piece Pi and the songs Exist, Questions and Ask Nothing of Me, each representing a highly mobile dredge of Prog-Metal and Techno Thrash with scattered elements of atmospheric Fusion, though the opening song features also a dark episode referring directly to Doom Metal. The music is edgy and is normally amazingly involved, full of subtle nuances and undercurrents, very frequently changing in different directions, especially when the band is in its free instrumental flight. Bell's vocal lines are mainly laid back from events evolving on the instrumental plane (typically Ray Alder's approach), the overall picture of the vocal-based arrangements most often resembling that of the "No Exit" album by Fates Warning. Laughing Alone finds Aaron from time to time switching over to acoustic guitar. There are less intricate, Techno Metal-related maneuvers here, Bell's vocals figuring prominently, which is also typical of Confession, both the songs somewhat associating with the mid-period Fates Warning (think "Inside Out" and "A Pleasant Shade of Grey", respectively). The longest track, Ergo Sum, is largely instrumental and is the most varied and original, at least. In the course of the first four minutes it's just spacey music, which yet is always in a state of development. Mysteriously pulsating synthesizers give place to fluid guitar solos, which are followed by a thematic improvisation on bass. The composition reaches its culmination in the finale when the band goes fast and intense (in the primary style), but the music in the preceding sections is hardly less eventful or compelling, moving back and forth between a dark electronic Space Rock and Doom Metal, which in turn is what the instrumentals, Half-Man-Half-Biscuit and Unnamed, are about in their entirety. The remaining track, Distance, is a bass- and percussion-laden atmospheric piece free of any heaviness and, well, vocals.
Conclusion. Degree Absolute is definitely a band on the rise, and the quality of their debut CD corresponds to the highest standards of the genre. The only flaw here is the obvious stylistic likeness of some of the song-based arrangements to those in Fates Warning. Anyway, the album comes highly recommended to anyone into Techno Metal and beyond.
VM: May 18, 2006
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