We are in an era of radical change in areas that range from the social, the political and the area most relevant to this particular piece of writing, the musical. We are seeing well-established bands starting to make music that is well outside of their previous comfort zone as well as their fan’s comfort zones. However, there are those who, instead of throwing everything out of the window and starting from the bottom, are simply interested in adding new layers and expanding upon established ideas or improving in areas that were lacking in one way or another.
For these bands, it’s about adding new shades to accent the older colors. The change does not always have to be radical to be appreciated, but for some bands, it seems that even the smallest of alterations in sound is earth-shattering for listeners in both negative and positive ways. One such band is Veil of Maya, who decided that adding clean vocals to their notoriously heavy sound was something that had to happen for the band to move forward. In this moving forward, they have produced their fifth album, Matriarch. Did their decision help or hinder the progress they have attained four records into their career? The answer to this question lies beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”
As Veil have gone from record to record, their compositions have become much more coherent and cohesive as opposed to just having interesting riffs bridged by punishing breakdowns. Matriarch is the latest step in their constant evolution and is pushed further by new vocalist Lukas Magyar’s presence in the band. A prime example of this evolution is the first song released in video form from the album, entitled “Mikasa.” It brings the worlds of old and new together by having the first iteration of the repeating, squeaky clean chorus end with a signature spastic Veil breakdown. It’s an effective one-two punch, showing that the band can bring forth dynamic pieces that highlight their strengths while still allowing for the injection of new blood.
Another refreshing addition resides in the composition. The songs “Aeris,” which exudes a little bit of Periphery influence from its pores, and “Lisbeth” utilize excellent major-key riffing to accent choruses or in order to make everything in the song sound a bit more tonally consistent. It’s a good thing that they adjusted the compositions to fit the inclusion of clean vocals and didn’t simply try to lay them over their standard formula. That could have led to the new element seeming glaringly out of place; if some of these songs were not tailor-made for Lukas, this album might be a different story entirely.
Make no mistake, in many ways this is still the band that hordes of listeners fell in love with when they heard The Common Man’s Collapse for the first time. After making a record so highly regarded by those who remember when Sumerian Records was pushing out album after album that grabbed and held onto many a metalhead’s heart, it is inevitable that each album following it would receive the “Is this as good as The Common Man’s Collapse?” treatment. That record is a riff-salad (albeit an extremely satisfying riff-salad) that relies heavily on the wonky breakdowns and rhythms that guitarist Marc Okubo seems to be able to generate from thin air.
While there are a few tracks on Matriarch that replicate that same overall idea, they are filled out with the previously mentioned improved composition. “Leeloo” is one such heavy hitter, effortlessly utilizing the complex chugs the group is known for backed by scraping and jarring melodies. “Lucy” essentially does the same, but takes a short break for a wonderful clean bass part topped with soaring vocals, once again, demonstrating that the band know how to effectively mix the two within a track.
“Teleute,” which features a blazing solo from ex-Born of Osiris guitarist Jason Richardson, comes blasting through in the latter half of the album to remind listeners that the band can still get down and dirty with the best of them. This song contains a much more subdued use of clean vocals and benefits from it immensely, as it uses them to provide atmosphere rather than making them the focal point. Many bands uproot themselves in order to explore new areas of sound, but Veil instead choose to grow upward and use their already established roots as a springboard.
Now, there comes a bit of a bump in the road. As well as these songs work within themselves, as a whole they seem a bit jarring.. The flow of the album is almost non-existent; it just seems like a collection of songs that could be put into almost any order and be deemed a satisfying listen. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but with the bands improved composition skills and inclusion of a concept for the album, one would think that they would try to link these tracks together in a meaningful way. An attempt is made with the playful, short and instrumental title track “Matriarch,” but it doesn’t seem to lead into the next song so much as it just ends suddenly and the next track begins. The concept of the record (songs written and named after various female figures) is admittedly loose and might justify the lack of cohesion but at the end of the day there was potential to do something more here.
When looking at Matriarch, many will see an album that pushed a band further, kept them progressing instead of regressing, in an effort to avoid becoming predictable. On the other hand, just as many people will see an album that signaled the demise of one of their favorite heavy bands, a band that was reminiscent of a time when clean vocals were sparse and trends seemed less overpowering. It is within this paradox that this album lies. It allows for two ideas that seemingly conflict with each other to exist side by side. This positioning adds nuance and character to the music the band makes and in turn the band itself. There is no definitive answer here as to whether or not this album is definitively progression or regression. In an era of radical change and want for established absolutes, it is quite the feat to make us consider what such a small alteration can accomplish or unravel.
Veil of Maya’s Matriarch gets…