Ambition is a double edged sword; we have about 4000 years of literature and philosophy telling us so. On one hand, it’s absolutely crucial for its ability to drive us forward, to force us to reach beyond where our grasp easily wanders. On the other, it has the corrosive ability to blind us to the strains we put on ourselves and the times when exceeding the limit results in nothing but a degradation of quality. There are few places where this is more relevant than art. Entrapped in lofty goals of self expression, the mind of the artist often wanders far beyond its ability, landing in places of awkward staleness and unrealized dreams. This is, of course, also extremely relevant to music and progressive metal specifically. In a genre which predicates itself on the ambitious and the grandiose, how do you know where to draw the line?
Long Island based Iapetus provide us with a left of field lesson in what ambition bridled by talent can create. Their 2017 self-release (which is, and always will be, completely free) The Long Road Home is an ambitious album which spans progressive death metal, neo-folk and progressive metal. It insists, even unto the brink of failure, to go where the vision of the two artists takes it rather than where convention would dictate it should go. As mentioned, during this process it comes dangerously close to overreaching its boundaries and even faintly grazes the markings of overwrought artistry. But for those willing to brave those extremes of wild, self indulgent and un-tethered self expression lies an album full of great musical moments.
The basic formula that makes The Long Road Home works is great progressive death metal. After an instrumental opener in the form of “…Of Hangman & Vertebrae”, composed of pleasing progressive metal starters, “Lachrymae Rerum” explodes with death metal sensibilities that would be familiar to fans of the latter works by Fallujah or Job For a Cowboy‘s Sun Eater. Synths, atmospheric leads and an overall sense of grandeur circles around aggressive, harsh vocals and breakneck guitars, accompanied by rich drums that blastbeat in time. This ten minute track (the only short tracks on the album are interludes or, at best, instrumental “joining” tracks”) accurately portrays with its first part one whole piece of the entire album, furious, complicated and moving progressive death metal.
What it does only by hinting at it is portray the second piece that makes up the album. At its middle, a more “folk-y” and acoustic break can be found which, with its haunting guitar leads and prominent bass, will immediately make fans think of Opeth. Foolishly, the listener imagines that by that comparison he has compartmentalized and understood the place these more relaxed breaks will take in the album. However, we mentioned ambition in our intro and how ambitious would a band content to confine these influences into their assigned roles be? The next track, an interlude named “I Sing of Satellites”, hints at something else, a different place in the structure of the album these compositions might have.
By the track after that, “Savior Solitude”, something is clearly different and the listener begins to realize they might have a stranger bird on their hands. The folk elements, drawing comparison to Ulvesang of all bands, return again and again. They’re not just intros or outros or melodic breaks but baked right into the basis of the tracks. In other points on the album they even take the prominent role. On the epic “My Father, My God” for example, the longest track on the album, they play side by side with black metal influences but take up the whole segments of the track, several minute long passages of incredibly played and written parts of acoustic guitar.
This is where ambition starts to show its marks and the frayed edges of artistic potential start to show. To be sure, all these acoustic segments are incredible and especially well-written. But the constant back and forth between them as well as the often long sojourns within them can leave the listener disoriented at times. When listening to the album as a whole they tend to make one lose their place, suddenly looking up in askance and wondering how and when they had arrived where they are now. When the heavier parts return, the folks segments often get washed away in the force of their delivery and remain a distant marker on the horizon.
The second point to the detriment of the album, which was also probably influenced by skirting too close to too lofty a goal, is the production. To be sure, we wouldn’t expect a self-release offered for free to have professional levels of production (something which can cost hundreds of dollars if not more) but the tools available to the general public today can produce better results than this. One is left with the impression that the task of writing and recording such a monumental album left the band’s most important resource, time, lacking for the task of better production.
But now, as we near the closing of this review (at long last), we ask you to take these two points and completely ignore them, wipe them away with some digital hand. The Long Road Home, despite often being cumbersome, is an exceptional album and an ambitious work pulled off. Its ability to blend well written and performed acoustic parts, so often an after-thought in this genre of progressive metal, with evocative and grandiose death metal is to be lauded and enjoyed. What results is a terribly impressive album, especially when considering the source from which it came. Fans of complex music, concept albums and compositions which challenge the listener will all find something to hear here. We can’t wait to see what these guys do next. And we haven’t even addressed the expertly used Carl Sagan samples. Go listen to this.
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The Long Road Home is available now and can be purchased via the band’s Bandcamp above.