Side projects are a funny thing: mostly, we go into them with a curiosity as to how exactly the result will be different than the artist’s “main” band or musical output. That’s not to say people don’t get excited about the music, just that typically the main draw for new projects from artists we’re already familiar with is to see how they take what we know to be their strengths and shape them into some sort of new sound.
Enter Zhea Erose the electronic project and alternate name to the drummer of progressive metal/djent band Sirens: mostly mellow and ambient, the third full length from Erose consists of several electro-odysseys propelled forward by ethereal synths, broken up with shorter interludes and a few mid-length cuts. Although those who come in expecting the same sort of hard-hitting, off-time abrasion of Sirens won’t find what they expect, throughout Icosahedron, Erose paints the album’s canvas with a string of beautiful pictures that are occasionally somewhat light on content.
From the very beginning until the end, the foundation of Icosahedron will be instantly recognizable to anybody already familiar with Surge, the release we saw last year from Sirens. Replete with light, airy melodies built from washed-out, ethereal synths, the songs build and drift in a similar fashion, at times mixing in wobbly, bassy dubstep, spacey vocals, or sharp guitar passages for variety; most of the time, however, it’s just layers of keyboards building atop each other to form a pleasing, calming ambient vibe that sways back and forth. In fact, the biggest change from the formula Erose has previously dabbled in with their djent band lies with the drums, which here are sparse, and instead of being in a metal vein, mostly rely on toms and less on cymbals, snares, and kick drums.
It’s easy for solo composers to get lost in their own heads, given that there’s nobody else to pull them back from going overboard and headlong into the abyss, and that is certainly a pitfall Erose experiences here. The longer tracks, like opener “Njo” and closer “Eburneus,” both spend too much time building towards a payoff that never seems to really come, and with both falling around the 12-minute mark, they could have definitely benefited from a little bit of trimming around the edges. The best tracks are the ones that clock in at six or seven minutes: those are the ones where Erose has enough time to fully explore the ideas presented, but doesn’t meander for too long and lose the listener’s attention.
Being so heavy on keys makes for a release that does spend a lot of time building up and not much time actually going anywhere, however, whether or not this is a real problem depends more on the listener’s outlook than any actual flaws with the music: Erose is nothing if not methodical, and the subtle nuances to the repetitions show someone who clearly has a mastery of the music they’re crafting. An audience wanting something more dynamic is sure to walk away disappointed from Icosahedron, but, again, those who come in looking for a release that is mostly ambiance and the occasional supplementary drums are going to find something well worth their time. Sporadically bursting with energy, but mostly content to meander through pleasant, airy soundscapes, Icosahedron is a subtle, nuanced, and diverse trip through the mind of Zhea Erose that is sure to please and impress any fan of ambient music.