Only slightly more often than weary travelers are said to see visions of Brigadoon, there comes an album that delivers on all the possible promises of its chosen genre. The record possesses skill, strength, deep musical understanding and a unique ability to stimulate each and every cynical synapse in the brain of the listener. To capture and impress that kind of breakthrough is a distant cousin to capturing lightning in a bottle. In 2014, the Italian band (for to add a descriptor and call them a metal band is insultingly limited,) channeled all of that into their album “Are You Kidding Me? No.” To do so again for their new record “A Means to No End,” to inscribe that same musical magic a second time, would be a borderline miracle, no?
And yet, at the risk of abating the suspense too early, here we are again, faced with another masterpiece from the unquiet and imaginative minds that mix and blend and cut and make whole entire catalogues of musical acumen. Bear with me a moment - no, this new record is not a unilateral improvement from “Are You Kidding Me? No,” and that’s the highest possible compliment that can be bestowed upon it; that a follow up album could be every bit as captivating and thunderously powerful as the engaging and consuming album that preceded it.
For those familiar with the band we’re talking about, let’s hit the differences real fast so that you can move on quickly and get to listening without further delay. “A Means to No End” follows much of the same unconstrained, borderline progressive idiom as its predecessor, free to change gears and switch cadences with little rhyme or reason except that it has the capacity to do so. The album can be haunting one moment and comforting the next, ponderous and gentle, both electric and eclectic. The primary difference between the two is that “A Means to No End” is less likely to completely change musical tracks and more content to stay within the varying partitions of metal. So, no, there are no mariachi interludes or passing lounge bridges or quick jazz escapes this time around. Instead, the band concentrates on their riffs, delivering delicious hooks that hit and run and leave the listening wanting amid the constant traffic of an altering musical landscape.
Now, if that’s all you need to know, get out of here and get to listening. If you’re new to this particular game, here comes the tutorial.
Let’s close up that comment on riffs before we get into the other meat and potatoes. Unlike nearly any other band on the circuit in any walk of music today, Destrage never allows one of their riffs to overstay its welcome, no matter how compelling or captivating. It’s really an art, the band’s ability to keep the portion size small enough that the listener leaves hungry after each and every song, thus ensuring the album’s ability to be listened to over and over again in order to get that same flavor back on their palette.
As the cherry on that proverbial sundae, Destrage composes riffs that are more than just a catchy collection of five or six notes well-placed in relation to each other. Each of the truly memorable licks has an intricacy that makes it easy to identify as great, but complex enough that it doesn’t wear itself out banging around your subconscious, easily amused musical cerebrum. In short, none of these riffs are Pantera’s “Walk,” which while great, can be recalled ad nauseum at the drop of a hat.
Just listen to the cycling power of the main line for “The Flight.” That’s one part the smooth but muscled thump of Wolfmother, one part the jagged edge of Soundgarden and one part the precision of Fear Factory all fused seamlessly into a dynamic and enticing whole that you love when you hear it, but have a hard time humming an hour later. All that does is make you want to hear it again.
The dirty secret in Destrage’s compositional style is that they borrow a good bit of styling and flair from the alternative rock and grunge scene of the ‘90s, couching them all within distorted piles of scrap metal and whatever other pointy aural objects are scattered around. Just listen to “Peacefully Lost,” and you’ll hear that the first two thirds of the song could have easily been a cut nestled in the b-side of Alice in Chains’ self-titled record. Similarly, “Symphony of the Ego,” particularly as it picks through its opening salvo, sounds akin to some of the classic Primus tracks from twenty years ago, weaving in and out with an Annihilator-ish breakdown. The influence isn’t always easy to detect, but the elements are always there.
As a kicker, Destrage maintains their real calling card, which has been prevalent on each and every one of their albums; the band has a mastery like no other band of finding the exact right time to bring a song back from the brink by inserting a memorable and highly accessible chorus. The baseline melody, if it can be called such, or “Blah Blah” is abstract at the best of times, but your ear catches the hallmarks of the bass riff every time the song is about to hit the chorus again. That makes the undulating but unpredictable and fuzzy meanderings of the rest of the song come together, as Destrage always crosses back over the zero sum line to keep the song moving.
And oh, by the way, if we haven’t talked about it yet, as though it’s even important after everything we’ve just discussed, yes, the album is full of the customary metal broken-glass sludge that goes to eleven and breaks your neck with its dominating power and virility.
That’s it. I’m out of superlatives, and to try and use further language to describe this record would be attempting to render a pattern out of an album that is liquid and beyond easy, glib epithets. “A Means to No End,” again at the risk of dropping the pretense of mystery, the clubhouse leader for album of the year, and there’s not a lot of year left.