Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Album Review: Headspace - All That You Fear Is Gone

Headspace made a name for themselves with their debut album, "I Am Anonymous", which seemed to garner more attention than singer Damian Wilson's main band, Threshold. While I have enjoyed some Threshold now and again, and consider "Dead Reckoning" (which Wilson was not on) one of my favorite progressive metal albums, I was not enthralled by what I heard of Headspace. I gave the 'singles' a chance, but the sound was not something that grabbed me enough to dive deeper into the album. But as I saw the accolades piling up, I felt I owed it to myself to give this new album a shot. So what do we get here?

We start off with "Road To Supremecy", which opens the album in a way that always frustrates me. There's a single guitar line sitting in the background, but then comes a pointless narrator to set up an element of a story that will soon be forgotten. The voice itself is hard to understand, and that's before dealing with the issue that I don't consider talking to be an acceptable for of music, except under rare circumstances. Once the song gets going, it still doesn't do much for me. There's a single melody that repeats too much, Wilson talks through the bridge and outro, and the tempo shift is abrupt and jarring. It's just not a well-written song, but rather prog cliches strung together.

That feeling never really leaves, as the album feels a bit like a television show, with the songs feeling more like the artificial delineations of commercial breaks, and not natural beginnings and endings to the musical ideas. Riffs and melodies appear to blend together, which is the point, but doesn't do much to make the songs feel like they can stand on their own.

We also get some odd detours, like "Polluted Alcohol", which spends six minutes running through a ballad of acoustic slide guitars, and bears absolutely no resemblance to anything else on the record. It feels completely out of place, disconnected, and doesn't have a strong melody to justify the foray into such oddness. It's a wondering song that doesn't go anywhere, and only gives Wilson some room for his voice to breathe without having to compete with the volume of a full band. Frankly, that isn't a problem, so I'm struggling to see why such a song would ever be written and put on this album.

I like the foreboding doom of "Kill You With Kindness", where the slow riff is colored with pianos underneath. Those elements are interesting, but then the song makes no use of Wilson's melodic abilities, slogging through eight minutes of rather tuneless music. Even the shift to acoustics, and then to an almost Latin rhythm make no difference to the ultimate conclusion.

These feelings never change, as every song builds up one thing, only to shift to another with no rhyme or reason. Prog often gets criticized for sloppy songwriting, and here that is absolutely an apt observation. These aren't songs that are shifting the instrumentation to give us the theme of a song in different ways, nor are they crafted to tell a story through the shifting music. Instead, what we get are songs that jump from piece to piece like a radio scanning for a signal strong enough to hold onto. We get this, then that, and without the connective tissue holding it together, it becomes a befuddling mess of music that is harder and harder to listen to. When so many shifts go by without making sense, you slowly start to realize that there is no payoff coming. That renders the entire album rather hopeless.

And that's mostly my takeaway from listening to this. Headspace has the personnel and the talent to make good music, but this album is nearly a blueprint in how not to write progressive metal. If you take every bad stereotype and throw them together, you get "All That You Fear Is Gone".

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