The passion that drives progressive metal, especially extreme progressive metal, has to be a multicolored and multilayered thing. Otherwise, progressive metal just falls into the trap of “more variation = more good” and that’s easily disprovable; just because you’ve approach a single theme from several different directions that doesn’t necessarily mean that your album will be interesting. Instead, great progressive metal bands focus on getting across several different atmospheres and vibes on one album, changing both the destination and delivery point to create interest. Consider Opeth‘s blend of anger and sadness on My Arms, Your Hearse or Howling Sycamore‘s excellent and recent foray into both hallucination and internal power. These kind of varied intonations is what Dead Empires went for with Designed to Disappear and they mostly pull it off.
At the basis of this album, their fifth one, is the addition of one Jason ‘PRKR’ Sherman (Torrential Downpour) on vocals, a quite powerful roster change to say the least. Ever since 2014’s Truth Knowledge Vision from the aforementioned Torrential Downpour graced our ideas, we knew Sherman was someone to watch out for. He makes this abundantly clear on Designed to Disappear; his furious style lends the first four (actually three, since the first is an intro track) an irresistible forward momentum which drives the instrumentation ever-forward. Nor do the instruments lag behind all that much; you’ll be treated to a chaotic, noisy and technical variety right off the bat. In fact, “Reverse Speak”, the track which closes off this initial quarter might be one of the best tracks on the album. It’s guitar leads are ridiculously heavy and satisfying and Sherman performs in a capacity which calls Archspire to mind, with their spitfire vocalist leading the charge.
It’s on the next track though, “A Summertime Song”, where things get really interesting. You see, on the first two track there is a certain “open” chord line that latches on to your brain as things get heavier and heavier. It’s super bright, akin perhaps to some of the chord choices which fueled Dream Theater‘s earlier career or Between the Buried and Me‘s mid-career. But that line is abandoned, seemingly never to return. Until it does, on “A Summertime Song”, where it gets placed front and center in the track’s coolest moments. These are these short bridges, where the “bright” chord lines reigns supreme, backed by clean vocals. The bass is also very prominent in this track, its tone lending to the overall bouncy and energetic feel of the track.
This is what we meant by the “several approaches” remarks in the opening paragraph; Dead Empires could have just written eight tracks filled with technical wizardry and intricate parts and hey, you know what, that would have been just fine. But it would also have made an album that’s somewhat forgettable, another addition the progressive metal pile. Instead, Designed to Disappear is an album with its own identity; “A Summertime Song” is just one example of the flair and unique style on display. There are many other moments on the album which make you scratch your head or even laugh a bit with wonder the first times you hear them.
Herein, of course, also lies the weakness of the album and the justification for the “mostly” part which closes off the first paragraph. The album works and works well, except for when it doesn’t. For example, there’s a drone/ambiance part in “Reverse Speak”, right at the edge of the opening quarter of tracks. While we get what the band was going for here, it isn’t really that well executed, nor is it placed correctly; it only serves to rob the album of the momentum it had. It picks it up soon enough, but this segment feels a bit contrived and could have been lost in editing. There are a few more passages like that, where the fat of the album needed trimming, where there wasn’t a need for yet another different direction or approach. Luckily, the rest of the album is just so good that it more than makes up for these rare missteps; if you’re a fan of progressive metal, and especially extreme progressive metal, that isn’t afraid to take the chances, this is the album for you.
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Designed to Disappear sees release tomorrow, February 23rd, on Silent Pendulum Records. You can head on over to the band’s Bandcamp above to grab it; you should!