We make much ado about cohesion over here at Heavy Blog; it’s a quality which often separates good albums from great ones, as well-made music transcends tracks and becomes an album. However, whether it wasn’t possible due to lack of ability or due to the circumstances surrounding an album’s release, it’s possible to have great albums without it. Take Painted in Exile‘s long awaited album, The Ordeal. It is a progressive metal-core release in a style that has fallen out of fashion in the years we have been waiting for it, calling back to the heyday of Between the Buried and Me‘s Colors and The Great Misdirect. Unlike those albums, however, The Ordeal is more far-ranging, almost scattered in its approach to variation and growth throughout the release. The result is a challenging and borderline confusing album which, somehow, still manages to be endearing and moving.
When we say that the album has been long expected, we mean it. While the crowdfunding campaign that spawned the actual release happened in 2015, the idea of a successor to the insanely promising Revitalized EP of 2009 has been in the works since, well, the Revitalized EP in 2009. Assuming that the band began work on The Ordeal back then, one can imagine the host of ideas, music and tracks that began to buildup and mutate as time went by. Unlike what many people imagine, an album is not born in a singular moment, a lightning strike on the forehead of the genius, secluded in the studio. Rather, it is an organic thing which grows, dies, gets edited, scrapped and re-made many, many times. In this case, that process took seven years and several line-up changes. The Ordeal bears the marks of its long birth cycle, containing ideas ranging from neo-classical progressive metal akin to Native Construct, hardcore infused prog that reminds us of Cyborg Octopus and, finally, the classic, “vanilla” progressive metal of Dream Theater and their heavier successors.
The first approach is mostly heard on the beginning of the album. “The Bazaar” for example, being the third track on the album, opens with an insanely heavy riff, but quickly resorts to synth-infused transitions and runs, complete with groovy, dominant bass. Coupled with the higher range vocals and the spaced out approach to bridges, the neo-classical influences are clearly heard. Likewise, the choruses utilize cleaner, emotive vocals, a staple of the contemporary sub-genre. Successor “Jupiter” builds on these elements to create a piano-heavy, ten minute track containing the jazz breaks which must follow such neo-classical devices. While well made, “Jupiter” also exemplifies the main flaw of the album. Following on the heels of the opening track, “House of Cards”, and the high octane rise and fall of “The Bazaar”, it leaves the listener slightly confused. This track should have been surrounded by equally massive tracks, with focus less on hectic aggression but rather on the epic qualities it itself contains. Here is where the structure of the album starts evoking questions about the nature of its conception.
The fact that “Jupiter” is followed by a twenty eight second track called “Transition Wow” doesn’t do much to alleviate this issue, especially when that transition is followed by “DM”. “DM” was originally released independently in 2014 and is such a blistering assault of progressive metal-core that it erases “Jupiter” almost completely. This is not to say that some ideas are not carried over but they are immediately marginalized by the much more abrasive vocals (consisting of high pitch screeches and brutal gutturals) and intricate instrumentation. The sensation one receives is of a band growing too quickly before one’s eyes; such growth should have taken place over two albums, one supposedly released sometime in 2013-2014 while the other, perhaps the heavier of the two, this year. Alas, the realities of publishing, funding and of recording have taken that steady progression from us and, instead, we are subjected to the fast paced mutations of The Ordeal. This doesn’t end with the songwriting either, as the production seems to vary from song to song too. Some tracks have noticeably worse guitar tones, and it’s pretty clearly not a stylistic choice. What’s more likely is that they were made when the band had an opportunity at some point in time, and they didn’t revisit the tracks later.
Which, again we must stress, is unable to rob the album of its strengths and quality of execution. “DM” itself is an immensely impressive progressive metal track, all jagged guitar swap, acoustic transitions, complex time signatures and effects which it contains. Even the oddball “Not For Nothin'”, the track which immediately follows it, is great, rap-metal included. The rap verse is well composed and executed, the growls create an interesting contrast and everything just works to make a fun, quick track. But, once again, it simply leaves the listener befuddled as what seemed like a fine romp dissolves into the once-more classical intonations of the instrumental track which follows, more a soundtrack to an establishing shot in an adventure movie than anything else. It’s because the album is so brilliant when it works, and it works so often, that makes all its flaws not only excusable but even acceptable. That it all comes together at all despite all the hurdles the album went through is almost a miracle in itself.
Thus, The Ordeal is composed of great music but music which suffers from being tied together into a loosely fitting whole. If you’re willing to forego cohesion, this album is fantastic; it is a worthy heir to the legacy of Between the Buried and Me and all that they have recently abandoned. However, if you require of your albums some measure of flow, a structure which enables you to orient yourself within their rises and falls, then The Ordeal can be a frustrating experience. Should you choose to drill past the airs of confusion however, you’ll quickly discover an unapologetic and unabashed, progressive metal album which at times beggars the more questionable recent outputs by some of the greats mentioned above. As before, Painted in Exile remain high in our list of young, fresh bands and we hope that the future brings them more stability, so that future albums might be more cohesive. We choose to have faith in them, because The Ordeal is full of brilliance that is surrounded by confusion but full of brilliance nonetheless.
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The Ordeal from Painted in Exile is available right now. You can get it right here.