“Can This Even Be Called Music?” is our new series of music recommendation articles, brought to you by Dave Tremblay of the titular site, Can This Even Be Called Music! Dave covers a variety of unique, progressive and experimental music on his site, and we wanted to feature his writing on Heavy Blog to bring you some of the weirder, more curious music that we often tend to miss. This will be Dave’s column where he spreads the love for all the creative bands that he built his site on, so if you enjoy this, be sure to check his site as well!
Progressive is probably the most misused and hypocritical term in music nowadays. Aping the tremendous progresses made in the 70’s and the late 60’s by prog rock’s legends Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and King Crimson – among others -, and later the foundations laid down by prog metal artists like Dream Theater, Queensÿche, and Fates Warning, most so-called “progressive” metal bands today have seemingly forgotten the meaning of the word – probably mistaking it with “regressive”. I often call these bands “retro prog”, either referring to the first era of prog or the later ones, but, if anything, this only creates an oxymoron and emphasizes the contradiction. Oh well… music categorization is already a mess, with some labelling “true” progressive music artist progressist rock or metal, to highlight their action towards progress rather than their passive behaviour on it, while more rigorous outlets might label the same artists as experimental, or avant-garde.
Fortunately, for every hundred bands that mimic the idols of the past, there is one who truly stands out, and dares to make progress on its own. And we’re talking about such a one-man project here: The Gabriel Construct is the compositions of Gabriel Lucas Riccio, joined by a full line-up who all brought their own arrangements to what was already written. Once you get past the opening track of this gigantic conceptual album – beginning by a beautiful piano advanced technique, which consists of plucking the strings inside the piano case -, you’ll be thrown in a lush and intimidating world filled to the brim with layers of different instruments. Violins, saxophones, distorted pianos, and a ridiculous amount of vocal tracks are stacked onto each other, on top of the regular metal trio (guitar, bass, drums)… and I didn’t mention everything that can be found on the album. But I’ll let you explore it yourself, and keep some secrets to their bandcamp album description and credits section.
To help you understand the scope of the insanity going on there, let me just quote Gabriel himself, on “Curing Somatization”, the last song on the album:
I was probably a bit manic while writing this – there are 7 pages of lyrics, and there are almost always multiple texts being sung/spoken at once, often with their own 2-4 part harmonies. I’d write a complete vocal arrangement for a section and decide it wasn’t good enough – but instead of deleting it, I’d turn it down until it was a background detail and write new parts on top of it. I then re-recorded ALL of it in the studio, usually with doublings, resulting in around 60 vocal tracks (including some screams by Travis) and a total of 200+ tracks in the session.
If we stick to ridiculous categorization, I’d call The Gabriel Construct an experimentalist progressist avant-ish metal band. The songs vary in length – with some clocking in at around 11 minutes -, and in style. For example, “Ranting Prophet” and My Alien Father are much more approachable than other, more experimental songs, and the latter even sounds like an avant-pop song at times. The whole album puts a heavy focus on pianos and keyboards, being the primal instrument of Gabriel, and, it seems, around which all other instruments revolve. This adds to the oddity factor of this band, since prog bands are much more likely to be based on guitar, given the sheer popularity and accessibility of the instrument. Not that piano-based prog is an oddity in itself, in fact it’s somewhat common, but it just adds a little something to this band. And to what does it add? Well, the numerous odd time signatures and polymetrics used throughout the album, the virtuosic playing by Travis Orbin, Gabriel Riccio, and the other musicians, the intricate song structures and layout that keep a sense of long, multi-parted suites that transcends single songs and keep track of the overarching theme or concept – a gift that seems to be increasingly uncommon.
Speaking of which, let’s divulge a bit of info about the concept underneath Interior City. First of all, as with every great story, it is one that can be interpreted in many ways depending on who read it, and the circumstances in their life at the moment of getting into it, but also has its own intent. For example, I took the story pretty much on the first degree when I listened to it: it was about a protagonist being thrown in some distant land, where there’s a prophet ranting about how everybody fakes their own life. In fact, everyone is like our protagonist: thrown into a foreign city, but everyone acts like nothing happened because they cannot escape this scenario, and the only reason not to go insane is to forget. Then comes a series of events leading to a retreat inside himself, and then a sudden realization. And I’ll let you experience it on your own, too. O, the fantastic moments when you take a break from everything and just listen carefully to an album while reading the lyrics, and trying to figure out what’s happening in there…
In conclusion, there are still bands who truly seek to make music progress. The Gabriel Construct is one of them, and such a deep and thorough composition doesn’t come every year or every two year. It’s a life’s work, and we’ll be incredibly lucky if we ever see another release of the same quality from the same people. Let’s just wish for that, and shift our attention from regressive to progressive music.