Band photo by Ofir Abe
It’s been almost a year since I’ve started writing for Heavy Blog and in that time, I’ve brought you a few tastes of my local scene here in Israel. It’s not the largest scene or one that’s enjoyed widespread recognition, but it has its strengths: sporting a host of young bands, there are many live shows and the word is starting to spread abroad as well. Riding on the success enjoyed by Orphaned Land, the most successful metal band to come out of Israel, many smaller groups have toured the Europe route.
One of the least well traveled bands however are also one of the best. They are Distorted Harmony and their brand of modern metal infused with progressive touches is addictive to say the least. We’ve covered their album but I felt like they could benefit from a closer resolution. And so, I present to you a joint feature: I got the chance to talk to Yoav Efron, the man behind the keys, and Guy Landau, the wizard at the guitar AND to see the band live. What follows is a review of that live show, where the band played both their albums back to back, interspersed with our interview. Head on over the jump!
It was a sunny day when we sat down to talk, almost six months ago. The guys had just played the Chain Reaction launch show and the first thing I wanted to ask about were the news about the drums and things just kind of flowed from there.
So, what’s happening with the drum position?
Guy: We’re bringing in Yiftach Levi from Prey For Nothing, he’s Yogev’s cousin. It’s a cool story, since I, in 2003, I used to hang around with the Ytse Jammers and me and Yiftach saw Dream Theater in London together. I saw him play with a few bands years ago, so it’s a very small world.
Is that your background then, progressive metal, or is that a stupid question and people come from all over the place?
Guy: it’s from all over the place, mostly rock and progressive, and then I really got into jazz. From jazz back to progressive and fusion and the rest is history. I always wanted to study music professionally and from there I opened up to jazz. I’ve always stayed with jazz though and am now more into folk and country, on my own.
Yoav: I started off with jazz and that’s all I had in my life in high school.
So, do you even define yourselves as progressive metal?
Yoav: only because we don’t really have a choice, because we can’t think of a better niche to fit into. So we added the “modern” laughs. We wanted to use post-rock but that’s already a thing, so we can’t use it. Wait, we should have use post-prog! Why didn’t we do that? So, we don’t really have a place to fit in, at the end of the day. If you really listened to Utopia and then the new album, they’re very different.
Six months later, I got to hear that difference from myself. Taking to a popular local club, the band were met with a small but passionate following. Planning on spanning their entire career, it was obvious that the band were prepared for a long and taxing night. However, from the first chord to the last it was also apparent that these guys knew their stuff. Tracks from both Utopia (their older and more “Dream Theater” album) and Chain Reaction (bearing the unmistakable edge of maturation) were extremely on point.
Especially illuminating this difference was the pairing of ‘Breathe’ from Utopia and ‘Hollow’ from Chain Reaction. The first sported the unmistakable brilliance of Yoav’s keys, who were surprisingly clear and true in the mix, coupled with that young and naive vibe I love from Utopia. ‘Hollow’ however, coming before that track, set the stage perfectly with its simpler riffs, more aggressive approach and outstanding work from vocalist Misha Soukhinin on the high notes at the middle of the track.
When I had set down with the band, that shift between the albums was an obvious question:
What happened there, between the two albums?
Yoav: Guy, shall I?
Guy: Go for it, let’s get it out in the open.
Yoav: I don’t like progressive metal. That’s it, I just don’t like it.
Guy: It’s actually the entire band, all of the ensemble.
So, what, are you over it?
Yoav: It’s just that everyone is evolving in different directions, Yogev for example started studying music and he’s getting into jazz. Just the opposite of what we did with Utopia.
But when you approach Chain Reaction, it’s more metal than Utopia. So are you saying you’re shifting weight towards the metal and less to the progressive?
Yoav: Yes. I mean, you need the time signature breaks to be even called progressive but…
Guy: Regardless, if there’s one band that the entire band listens to that’s even considered progressive, it’s djent and that’s Periphery. We all listen to a lot of different bands but if there’s something that we all listen to, it is Periphery and Meshuggah. That’s the only “progressive” place where we all meet.
Yoav: And even that’s not a resonance chamber, you get all sorts of different connections to these bands.
This made a lot of sense when I was at the show. Several more ambiance-oriented bridges were added to tracks like ‘As One’ that really rang with the Periphery influences. In general, the band kept things interesting by adding small touches to their setlist: from the ‘Californication‘ bass line during ‘Obsession‘ to their by now famous cover of Muse‘s ‘The Small Print’, the band made sure to keep fans engaged and listening to material they supposedly already knew well.
This connection was no more apparent than during ‘Every Time She Smiles’ and ‘As You Go‘, both from Chain Reaction. The first track, opener for the album, is a bundle of energy and it was performed with such verve that it electrified the crowd. It came in the middle of the set, which was perfect, as it gave us the energy needed to carry the show to the end. ‘As You Go’ on the other hand, turned the Yes influences to 11 and was so moving and evocative that I found myself leaving my journalist perch to the end of the room and gravitating towards front and center to sing along with everyone.
This of course leads me to the high point of the evening for me and that was the amazingly accurate and pristine performance of ‘Methelyn Blue’, one of the most unique tracks from Chain Reaction. It’s no surprise then that I also inquired about it when we sat down:
Let’s get back to Chain Reaction. Methelyn Blue, closing the album with a song like that is not something you often see. It’s more mellow and toned down. Was that by choice or did it just fit in the track list?
Yoav: It was actually a necessity, we knew where several tracks were going, that ‘Every Time She Smiles’ would be first, ‘Children of Red‘ second, after ‘Nothing‘ we’ll have ‘As One’, we knew that Guy’s track (‘As You Go’) should be towards the end. But towards the end, I was so tired, we just put it at the end.
Guy: For me, there’s something that’s always been apparent and that I liked in progressive, in bands like Dream Theater and other bands I’ve loved, that there’s a sort of theme throughout the album and I always liked it as a kid. And that’s why I saw ‘Methelyn Blue’ at the end. In Dream Theater albums for example, there’s always a twist at the end. Take Awake for example, it closes with ‘Scarred‘ and ‘Space Dye Vest’. The entire album hits hard and suddenly it ends completely differently. Personally, I could see this with this album as well, like I liked when I was a kid and a fan of this genre.
At the end of the day, this point hit home during the show. These people are simply in love with what they do. During the entire set, the energy was always present and the band weren’t afraid to experiment with it. Closing off with ‘Utopia‘ and then ‘Children of Red’ for an encore proved this completely. Both executions, of tracks who were fast and more pronounced than others on their respective albums, was unique and especially proficient. That’s where the true strength of Distorted Harmony really dawned on me: it lay in the bridges. The tracks were connected with such exquisite sinews that you hardly felt as if time had passed at all. Everything just flowed into this larger mix of music and before you knew it, it was over.
When I left the venue, I turned to my friend and told her how I had felt. That the Israeli scene was suffering but that it had much to give the global metal community still. It’s at the fringes that you find bands like Distorted Harmony. Suffering from the constraints of small crowds, they are forced to always push themselves harder to sound perfect, wherever they go. I’d advise you to keep a close eye on these guys, as big things are coming their way.