The thing about Australia is, it’s very big. Really, its very hard to imagine how big that place is and it’s not helped by the fact that most of it is endless desert. More pertinent to our discussion today is how this size translates into just the sheer number of scenes, bands, and venues that operate out of there. It’s hard to keep track and we here at Heavy Blog have been trying to do our best to cover what has been one of the most prolific scenes in the last decade (which is a bit unfair to be honest, seeing as “the scene” is a whole damn continent). But even so, because of how massive Australia is, we’ll never catch all of them and many bands considered to be influential over there will be virtually unknown to us. Alarum is a good example.
When I received Circle’s End, I had no idea what I was clicking on. I didn’t know these guys have been operating for a while (and by a while, I mean over two decades) and were considered one of the more interesting voices in the progressive metal scene down under. But what I did know is that what I heard when I first played play on the album was immediately great. Alarum, on Circle’s End at least, seem to have dipped into the same well as bands like Watchtower and Voivod. From this well, they bring forth the progressive thrash sound so often forgotten and neglected today. But Alarum marry this sound with their own progressive metal tendencies to create something quite unique.
Second track “Syzygy” is a pretty good example of the progressive thrash side of things. The main guitar line which opens it is thrash-y as all hell; you can hear those distinct Jarzombek-esque screeches on the guitar, working so well with the tone and the drums. The bass follows suit, painting figure eights around the main line of the track. The breaks and odd time-signatures fit right in, alongside the off-kilter backing guitars, adding that last flourish of weirdness that you’d expect from any great progressive thrash band. The “open” expansive of the middle of the track, once again putting on display the Watchtower reminiscent bends and shrieks, infuses the track with the requisite groove, sending it with lots of momentum to its outro.
“Delta”, the track which comes next, hits pretty much the same note, albeit somewhat more aggressively. But then we get “Crystals” and “Crystals” is fucking weird guys. It features a massive vocal guest performance, reminding us perhaps of Pink Floyd‘s use of the same kind of timbre on “The Great Gig in the Sky”, a guest performance which is backed up by more signature screeches from the band’s main vocalist. The music moves in Devin Townsend tinged circles, bombastic and soothing at the same time. Nor does “Crystals” stand alone; the track right after it, “Sand”, opens with a progressive fusion intro that quickly explodes back into thrash ferocity. Meanwhile, the choruses make good on the Devin Townsend references above, washing over us with an admirable energy.
It’s these touches that hints towards the fact that Alarum have one foot firmly in the progressive thrash sphere of sound but the other in a sort of Strapping Young Lad chromaticism, a fascination with bright, progressive sounds. These sounds don’t undercut the heaviness; on the contrary, they work to amplify the abrasiveness and aggression of the heavier parts on the album. Nor should these comparisons to established and world renowned artists come as a surprise; Alarum were right there at the edge of this style of music when it was being created and their dedication to it shines through on their latest release. The end result is what every great progressive album should be: weird, unexpected, groovy, and inventive. The word comes from the deserts of Australia and that word is shred!
Alarum’s Circle’s End releases on June 19th. Head on over here to pre-order it.