Leave it to Italy to bring us a band like Destrage. With their music striking an impossibly fine balance between relentless progressive metal and all sorts of silliness, the band blew us away with 2014’s Are You Kidding Me? No, somehow keeping up an almost playful sense through the album while simultaneously pummelling the listener with an avalanche of technicality — and making our top ten list of the year. Taking cues from bands such as SikTh, Every Time I Die, and The Dillinger Escape Plan, the five-piece thread memorable hooks and progressions through what is otherwise chaos, and with relative ease at that. Two years on, however, we’re presented with A Means to No End, which proves to be a bit of a departure from the constant havoc that characterized its predecessor.
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: A Means to No End is not at all a direct sequel to Are You Kidding Me? No — neither sonically, nor aesthetically. But at absolutely no point is it even trying to be. From the gentle, acoustic guitar-driven opening of the title track, it’s plainly obvious that Destrage are no longer in the mood for inhumanly fast guitar heroics and chaotic arrangements. Indeed, much of the characteristics of their unpredictable, lightning-speed sound are absent, leaving behind a slower-paced, evened-out record.
But let us consider that Destrage are in fact a band that have reinvented themselves in some shape or form with each album. Although both Are You Kidding Me? No and The King is Fat’n’Old could be lumped together based solely off of their over-the-top nature and oddball humour, the albums are substantially different from a musical perspective. Where King featured lots of low-end intensive riffs and breakdowns, Are You Kidding Me? No was very significantly more technical and meticulously crafted than its predecessors: eschewing the breakdown-heavy sound for a spastic, abrasive attack that had more in common with SikTh and Protest the Hero than, say, Lamb of God and their ilk.
Such is the case once again with A Means to No End, except this time the band have taken a step in the opposite direction from Are You Kidding Me? No as far as relentless technicality goes. Indeed, some moments on the album have more in common with groups such as Intronaut and even Opeth than any of the bands mentioned above, as Destrage opt for a more melodic, vocal-hook driven (“To Be Tolerated”, “Dreamers”) approach to their signature sound on their fourth outing. Of course, this may be cause for alarm for some. And considering the frequency of bands suddenly abandoning a tried-and-true sound for a radical reinvention that ultimately ends up having little going for it past the novelty of the change itself, that would be understandable.
Fear not: A Means to No End dodges that bullet. The five-piece have a truly incredible collective ear for catchy melodies and riffs, as demonstrated every now and then on Are You Kidding Me? No, and they exploit it to no end (heh) on the new record, all while keeping enough aspects of their established sound intact. The riffs doled out by guitarists Ralph Salati and Matteo Di Gioia are comparatively simpler and more chord-intensive as opposed to the million-notes-a-minute approach of Are You Kidding Me? No, but they still pack a definite punch, and are still highly catchy and memorable in their own right (even if there’s significantly less in the way of solos this time round). The production is absolutely stellar, coming across as much, much more dynamic and warm-sounding than was the case with preceding albums, and consistently emphasizing the colour and richness within the riffs. On top of all that, vocalist Paolo Colavolpe puts out some truly excellent vocal hooks (“The Flight” and “Peacefully Lost” being some of the best performances he’s put to tape), and for the most part comfortably proves himself to be the real star of the show, instead of competing with the guitars for the spotlight.
However, even if the songwriting is much more cohesive and holistic than on previous efforts, the dialing-back of Destrage’s oddball aesthetic is still strongly felt. Recall, for instance, the ridiculous blues breakdown on “Wayout” or the silly clean guitar-based main motif of AYKMN‘s title track — for better or for worse, almost none of that carries over here. It turns out that despite how well-written A Means to No End is overall, tracks like “Silent Consent” (easily an album highlight), “Symphony of the Ego”, and “Don’t Stare at the Edge”, which incorporate healthy doses of the breakdowns and signature Destrage hijinks, prove to be the best songs on the album for the most part. The remainder of the tracks, in turn, seem to approximate the overall feeling of AYKMN‘s “Where The Things Have No Colour” much more than they do the goofiness inherent in the vast majority of their sound. Although that track is a masterpiece in its own right, a definite part of its appeal was how it stood in stark contrast with the shenanigans on the rest of AYKMN; as such, seeing the opposite scenario unfold on A Means to No End could admittedly prove a bit of a shock on first listen to listeners expecting otherwise.
Even then, it remains that this is an important step for Destrage, and an admirable effort on their part to push their sound further without fully losing sight of what makes them stand out from the crowd. A Means to No End is a great and highly cohesive record on its own terms, lending a brand new accessibility to the band’s music, but not in a dishonest fashion; there’s still just enough of their unique personality here for this to be a Destrage album, even if a little more of that personality might have made the transition into the new sound feel slightly more natural. Of course, the risk they’ve taken might not prove palatable to everyone, and it’s still hard to classify it as a decisive step forward or backward. But Destrage deserve recognition for still seeking to reinvent themselves instead of comfortably pumping out a second iteration of a previous album, and consequently putting out an end product that is still fantastically well done and respectable in its own right.
Destrage’s A Means to No End was released on October 21st via Metal Blade records, and can be streamed/purchased right here.