Monday, May 28, 2018

Album Review: Dreyelands - Stages

Progressive metal, despite the name, is not progressive at all. There are two kinds, and nearly every band can fit into one of the two boxes. Either the band is highly technical with a very high-pitched singer, or they djent away with a vocalist (clean or harsh) who adds no real melody to the songs. Progressive metal musicians may be some of the most skilled in the game, but they often lack imagination. That's why it's refreshing to hear a band that is progressive, is metal, and yet stands outside of the Dream Theater mold. Dreyelands is one of those who sounds just different enough to be interesting, and this new release takes a journey into conceptual lands.

"Stages", as the name implies, is centered around the five stages of grief, with each track standing in for one step in the process.

That begins with "Denial", where we spend two minutes building from the ominous beginning into a metallic rage. The drums and the riff echo a person either stomping or pounding their fist on a table, either a fitting metaphor. That leads us into "Anger", where things kick into gear. Over the nearly eight minutes, the band is able to go from grinding heavy riffs to atmospheric verses, from technical passages to a meaty vocal hook. There's a little bit of everything in the mix, and what makes Dreyelands stand out from the pack are the vocals of Nikola Mijic, who sits in a lower register than many prog metal singers. With the heavy tones and undertones of the music, his voice fits better than an ear-splitter ever could, not to mention the fatigue those types of singers induce in me.

"Bargaining" sees the music grow more tangled, as the step has been reached where the two sides are fighting over which will win out. The balance between involved heavy metal and soothing melody represents the dichotomy, and keeps the songs from becoming overwrought.

After the short spoken-word piece "Depression", "Acceptance" closes things out as the longest track, needing twelve minutes to reach the conclusion. The music hits its darkest point in the first half of the song, right before the catharsis comes. The change is signaled with a beautiful guitar solo, and leads us through to the other side. I've listened to enough progressive metal to know that its harder than you would think to keep the music melodic and accessible. The way Dreyelands is able to do that is paramount to their success. You can listen to this music at surface level, or dig deeper, and it works either way.

Let's boil this down. "Stages" is a release that has compelling progressive metal that does the style better than much of what you're liable to hear. The core tracks here are fantastic. The issue I take is that two of the five stages are brief interludes, meaning we only get three meaty songs to sink our teeth into. I know the adage about leaving your audience wanting more, and I do, but I also feel like an opportunity was missed to flesh out all five into an album that would have stood up well against the world of progressive metal circa 2018. "Stages" is excellent over the course of its 35 minutes. I just think the process of moving through the stages might require a bit more time. Still, "Stages" is definitely recommended.

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