Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Album Review: DGM - The Passage

Where does the time go? I ask that as I sit here and consider the newest album by Italian prog-metal veterans DGM. I remember hearing about them years ago, and quite liking their album "Different Shapes". I tuned out when they went through a singer change, but now that I'm looking back, that was almost a decade ago. Can it be so long? Regardless, this feels like the right time to jump back in and see what the band is doing, since prog metal has been having a tough go of it. The records that have been good have been only decently so, and the biggest name of them all delivered a flaming disaster. That's a lot of pressure to put on DGM, but prog metal could seriously use someone to pump it up right now.

The best thing DGM has going for them is that while they are excellent musicians, there has never been any doubt that they place the songs over their skills. Even in the extended numbers, you aren't going to find five-to-ten minute long stretches of solos that don't serve any purpose to moving the song forward. Take the opening epic track, "The Secret", which is divided into two parts that combine to stretch over fifteen or so minutes. There's some wonderful technical playing in both the guitars and keyboards, and plenty of room for multiple solos from both, but the songs don't spend an inordinate amount of time ever wandering away from the core of the song. That's a great decision, not just because I have little patience for extended prog wankery, but because the best thing DGM has going for them is the ability to combine that technical playing with big, sweet melodies that pop and contrast.

It might sound like an odd way of putting this, but DGM is the mainstream fan's best bet when it comes to prog metal. Marco Basile has a strong mid-range tone, unlike many of the shriekers who populate the genre, and he and the band are able to come up with rousing melodies that ensure every song has a memorable hook. They make the music work on both the intellectual and visceral level. There's something in there for music snobs, and people who just like to sing along to a good tune. That's the art of prog that is often lost.

And that is the beauty of what DGM does. Over time, they have managed to bolster both sides of the equation. They are playing an even more involved, technical style of metal that borrows heavily from Symphony X, but they accentuate it with even bigger melodies that ever before, and far better than their influences are able to. I was intensely disappointed with the last few Symphony X albums for the nearly total lack of real melody from Russell Allen, and DGM justifies my feelings. "The Passage" is the album that Symphony X has been trying to make for the last decade, but can't see past their own 'metal cred' to follow through on. It's hard not to hear that in "Animal", but DGM does that sound better in ever way imaginable, from the vocal hook, to the riffing, to the flawless production.

We get guest appearances from Evergrey's Tom Englung, and Michael Romeo of that band I've just mentioned a few times. Englund always has a commanding voice, and whether it was coincidence or not, he makes "Ghost Of Insanity" sound more like Evergrey than any other song on the album. He's an incredibly unique presence. Romeo, on the other hand, is completely redundant here. I couldn't tell his playing from anyone else's. And honestly, the solos in many of the other songs are better anyway.

The downside of the album is that, because of the density of the music, it begins to blend together by the end of the hour. There isn't enough in the way of dynamics between, or within, the songs from my perspective. The progressive approach to metal is great, but it works best in short doses. There's a difference between 'prog' and 'Prog', and the album could have used a better balance of the two. We do get a one minute piano interlude, but that could have been better served being integrated into a longer song.

But don't let that detract from the overwhelming success that "The Passage" is. When it comes to prog metal, it's incredibly difficult to strike the balance between technical playing and melody. DGM has done that beautifully here. "the Passage" is a great example of how progressive metal can be more than the jokes about Dream Theater give it credit for. "The Passage" redeems a lot of the terrible prog metal that has been put out this year.

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