“Are you melodic black symphonic metal?”
“Push off! ‘Melodic black symphonic metal!’ We’re symphonic black death metal.”
I have a great deal of symphony for AC/DC’s position: when asked, they insist they play Rock and Roll but to review “The Calm, The Storm”, an EP from The Sun Explodes, there is one genre I will not be able to avoid: Prog.
Since I don’t like defining genres, I’ll summarise the key aspects from wikipedia’s definition of Progressive Rock:
|Progressive Rock – Wikipedia Definition||The Sun Explodes|
|Progressive rock attempts to give greater artistic weight and credibility to rock music.||On the strength of this EP, not only do they have the musical weight but they also have the heft to carry it off.|
|Musicians in progressive rock typically display a high degree of instrumental skill.||These boys can play! I am particularly impressed with the drummer but there are no weak links that I can hear.|
|Songs have extended sections and musical interludes which results in classical-style suites.||Not just three minute pop songs, this EP is full of finely crafted compositions that flow and develop.|
|Tempo, key and time signature changes are common within progressive rock compositions.||Have I mentioned the drummer? These songs go way beyond, “Thump-tish, thump-tish!”.|
|Some find the musical concepts “pretentious” and the sounds “pompous” and “overblown”.||Pretentious? Nah! … Well, maybe a bit. But you say that like it’s a bad thing.|
The last line of the table is not entirely fair. “Pretentious” has connotations of pretending to be more than you are, or of overreaching. This band is not pretending. This band delivers.
A final aspect of Progressive Rock is the concept album. Now, I’m not certain, but this could be a Concept EP. (Is that even a thing? If it isn’t, it is possible that The Sun Explodes has invented the Concept EP!) I can’t be sure because working from an mp3 version I lack that essential of prog: the gatefold sleeve with lyrics (and preferably a back- story too). Certainly, the lyrics in “The Calm” the first track are repeated in “Storm Of Light” the final track. I may be in missheard lyrics territory here but I think one repeated section goes something like this:
Whistle through the reeds on the banks of the Nile.
Ultra-violet kiss, carcinogen smile.
You know you are in the land of Prog with lyrics like that! Note the mention of the Nile. This is one of many references to water in the songs on this EP: rivers; lakes; wells; waves; the sea… There may be some nefarious goings on but there also seems to be water cleansing and, perhaps, the possibility of redemption:
We’ll wash ourselves in the river
We’ll cleanse our sins in the river
— Lyrics from “The Unnatural”
So, is it a concept EP? I can’t say for certain. There are certainly repeated themes that are picked up and re-visited across all the tracks. Whether they intended it to be a Concept EP or not is neither here nor there. It feels like a Concept EP, and that’s good enough for me to declare it to be so!
If at this stage you find yourself saying, “But I don’t like prog.”, then stop right there. That’s why I don’t like sticking bands in a genre. It can lead people to dismiss them unheard. Put your prejudice aside and give this a listen:
Now tell me you don’t like it. These guys rock! I’ve already said how good Jamie Harris, the drummer, is although he really should grow more facial hair to match his band mates – it’s not right that someone so talented looks like a 15 year old. And what about the guitar solo? Not sure who is playing (though safe to guess it’s Alex) but it’s not the prog stereotype of a beardy hippy noodling away as an intellectual musical exercise. This is a muscular, full on rock guitar solo. The other guitarist, I’m guessing Alex, is no slouch either and together Messrs Adamson and Harris make a phenomenal racket! Mike Walker, the Bass player, doesn’t hang back in the shadows, he more than keeps up with his band mates. Dave Maclachlan, the vocalist, has a voice that sounds great at the best of times but, when necessary, he can unleash a powerfalsetto that Justin Hawkins would be impressed with (for another example, check out the section towards the end of “I Walk Alone”). As well as handling vocal duties, Dave contributes keyboards adding texture without drowning out the other instruments.
The EP is called The Calm, The Storm, not “the calm before the storm”. In other words, this is the calm, the storm and everything in between! That pretty much sums up the tracks on this EP. There are moments of calm tranquillity; there are moments where there is a storm of instruments and vocals; and there are moments when you can’t actually hear a kitchen sink but wouldn’t be surprised if there was one in the mix somewhere. And talking of the mix, the tracks sound fantastic. There is no impenetrable mush of sound with everything turned up to 11, instead, all the instruments are given the space they need to breathe.
This is the first work I have heard from this band and I am hugely impressed. I will be checking out their previous releases and looking forward to hearing what they do next, not to mention watching for news of tour dates.
An all you can eat buffet of an EP: a great variety on offer; perhaps over indulgent; loads to digest so it will keep you going for ages; … but it’s songs not food.
The Sun Explodes is a five piece band from Carlisle in the UK and “The Calm, The Storm” is their latest recording which is due for release on 18 May.