Monday, November 9, 2015
Album Review: Pressure Points - False Lights
For me, it's interesting to sit back and look at which wildly acclaimed bands and albums become templates for others to copy, and which ones end up getting more or less ignored as an influence in future generations of bands. You would think that any album that leaves a heavy mark on a particular genre would become the blueprint for countless bands, but it doesn't always work like that. Maybe the sound is too difficult to pull off, or maybe the followers don't think they can do justice to the classic, but there are plenty of monumental records that haven't lived on through the people who grew up listening to them. Opeth's "Blackwater Park" is one of those records. Sure, tons of bands have cited Opeth as a big influence on them, but you can rarely hear that specific point in time in their sound. Usually, what you hear is the violent back and forth of Opeth's earlier works, and not the smooth, more nuanced approach that "Blackwater Park" signaled.
Pressure Points is one of the few bands where I can say that "Blackwater Park" is the best comparison I can think of. From the guitar tones, to the construction of the songs, everything about this record calls back to that album. Don't think I'm calling it a clone, because it definitely takes the music in its own direction, but it brings back the feeling of that record in a way few others have tried.
"Wreckage" opens the album, and is perhaps the strongest song on the entire album. A throbbing bass line opens things up, with a jazzy guitar adding on top for a gentle introduction. After a minute and a half or so, the song reveals its death metal teeth. Wisely, the band explores this territory mostly in the riffs, both the simple to latch on to, and the more intricate runs of notes. The vocals are kept to a minimum, despite the growls being well done. This music wants to be melodic, which the guitars convey until we get to the clean vocals, which show passion, fire, and a strong sense of melody. Rather than being death metal and folk music bolted together in random fashion, this song moves between heavy and light sections with more focus. It's a very good example of how this kind of music can work, using death metal to color the strong melody, rather than throwing in a random melodic phrase to temper the death metal.
That's not to say the album doesn't get heavy. "Between The Lies" follows with a more death metal approach, roaring through its verses for several minutes before the softer approach takes control. That leads to the best part, as a shimmering piano sits underneath the death metal, balancing beauty and brutality, and giving us a sound that we don't hear very often. Little touches like that are what elevate bands above those that merely copy what they've already heard. And when it occurs several more times through the end of the record, it shows me that there's plenty of good decision making going on here.
"False Lights" is one of those rare albums where I don't mind the lengthy forays into instrumental territory. The band shows great skill in using their instruments to set moods, and convey textures that keep the songs far more interesting than merely playing a solo for minutes on end. These songs are always shifting, always moving on to something new, which is essential when all but one of the songs exceeds nine minutes. There is plenty of great playing all around to compliment the immediate hooks the vocals provide, making this a well-balanced album that can stand up to repeated listens without getting old.
There's also great consistency here. Nothing on the album stands out as being either exceptionally better or worse than the rest. While I prefer "Wreckage" and the immediately gratifying "Sleepwalk", the other songs aren't far behind. Everything here has plenty of charm, and sounds far more polished than this band's experience would indicate.
I've heard plenty of bands that try to do what Opeth used to, since that's the only kind of death metal I truly enjoy, and I can't recall any that have done it better than Pressure Points does it here. "False Lights" is an album that sounds like the natural continuation of "Blackwater Park", which I consider to be a form of high praise. I'm sure it will make a stronger impact on me once the snow begins flying and I'm looking for something to fit a more somber mood, but even now I can tell you that "False Lights" is a testament to a band on the rise, and is by far the best even tangentially related to death metal album I've heard all year.