Let’s talk influences for a second: how they impact music, how artists – successfully or otherwise – manage to pay homage to their inspirations, and when they can make or break the feeling of an album. Now, with every genre, it’s different, of course; in the world of old-school death metal, bands like Gruesome proudly flaunt the limited pool of material from which they find their musical direction, and in some circles of hardcore, it’s a similar story as bands claim the “Entombedcore” tag to describe their fusion of breakdowns, grooves, and Left-Hand-Path-era Entombed riffs. In areas like progressive or avant-garde metal, however, it’s a little tougher to pull off being so obviously influenced in such a large part by a single band or niche subgenre without looking kitschy, irrelevant, or, worse, unnecessary.
Grecian progressive sludge metal veterans Tardive Dyskenisia tends to walk a fine line on Harmonic Confusion between two extremes: being great fun because of how much they tend to pull from a very limited group of bands, and being entirely irrelevant for the same reason. The most obvious of their influences is the almighty Intronaut, whose jazzy chord structures and freeform-sounding clean sections show up all over the place here, followed closely by fellow progressive sludge gods The Ocean, and rounding out their tripartite pantheon of inspirations is – who else, really? – Meshuggah. It’s a potent mix of artists, full of potential for mind-bending tracks and bizarre rhythmic choices, both of which the band are sure to capitalize on often.
Where bands on the progressive end of things tend to fail in their pursuit of such a singular sound is how their tracks are structured: far too often, parts smacking of one group from which they pull are crudely stapled to the next, creating an effect whereby the listener is disoriented, snatched away from the music just as they figure out with what lens they should be properly appreciating it. On Harmonic Confusion, the parts directly inspired by a singular artist often segue and flow with ease into one another, forming an evolving tapestry instead of a slipshod group of musical pictures haphazardly shoved together. Better yet, oftentimes they overlap into what sounds like any progressive sludge nerd’s wet dream. Case in point: “Savior Complex” begins quietly as chords float into the listener’s ears and bass plays below them for an added sense of texture, and the drums slip in to build into a picture of one of Intronaut’s more relaxed moments before the track rockets forwards into something torn from what sounds like an early demo from The Ocean or Mastodon. The off-time guitar syncopation of Intronaut comes back in under the melody of The Ocean, throwing the two styles together in a way that absolutely would not work outside the context of this album. It’s powerful stuff, and although it can be clear at times that Tardive Dyskenisia doesn’t have the same attention to detail or “spark” as either of the previous bands, by pulling them together in such a way, the group creates a sound that really couldn’t be heard anywhere else.
Occasionally, though, they decide to pull some other tricks out of their sleeve, usually for the better. “Thread of Life” brings a well-executed tapped melody torn straight from the glory days of Gojira into the mix and “Triangulation Through Impasse” sees the vocalist doing his best Jens Kidman impression to bring the haggard energy of Meshuggah to the front of the listener’s attention. These experiments (and others) in their sound are great for pulling the band out of the creative hole they seem to disappear into on the less focused tracks, keeping them on the straight and narrow through the album, but it’s certainly nowhere near enough to diversify their sound for those who don’t initially see the appeal of “Intronaut Meets The Ocean, But Also With Some Djent”.
Ironically enough, Harmonic Confusion may not be, well, confused enough in its sound or intent to hold the attention of anything beyond a niche audience, but for those who enjoy this sort of music, there’s a treat or two to be found here. Tardive Dyskenisia’s sound reads like a who’s who of progressive sludge metal, invoking the genre’s greats from across the past decade at various times throughout the album. But, although it’s a good imitator, as an imitator nonetheless, Harmonic Confusion doesn’t really beg for too many listens beyond the first or second: at the end of the day, it can’t replace the reasons anyone fell in love with the genre in the first place, or fully capture the magic of the bands. . Like watching a movie filled with celebrity cameos, it’s great fun to sit back and try to point out the appearances of various progressive sludge classics, but can also leave you completely unsatisfied and hungry for the selfsame classics it willfully conjures up memories thereof.