It’s not often that you get a smack in the face from an album on first listen and then have such a wider perspective of it on subsequent listens. That smack isn’t because this is a heavy album, it’s the technicality of it. My God, your mind races between these being the most talented set of musicians ever to take to the stage and a WTF moment of “can I even hear what’s going on here?”. It’s almost like you are pulled into a vortex of complex rhythms and music all played at a ferocious pace, so fast you can’t get your head around exactly what is going on. It is of no surprise then when reading about the history of the band that there have been several line-up changes, primarily due to the nature and exactness of the playing and the high standards expected from Letters From The Colony’s main man, Alexander Backlund.
Beyond the math rock there is a lot going on with these tracks on this album and I was intrigued to see that they were going for a Gojira or Opeth feel. My initial reaction was that this math rock, death metal, hard-hitting combination doesn’t have that emotional depth of those bands but you have to see beyond the numbers which is why once the initial shock wears off you are in for a bit of a treat that is most definitely worth pursuing.
Unusually I am going to start at the end with the last track, the title track of the album “Vignette”, because this expansive, epic of a song is obviously close to the heart of Backlund. This song, he states, is his metaphor for the state of the environment and the thought and heart that has gone into this track is very apparent. Yes, it is complex, but it has a flow like that of mother nature. Imagine a stream in winter time and imagine the camera following the flow and capturing the ice formations in the grasses at the side as it goes down, and the sun shining off the white-tipped flow. Now imagine, this reaches an area with a discarded shopping trolley and half a mattress and this is the journey that “Vignette” takes you on. Both beautiful, sad and shameful. It’s mainly instrumental punctuated with the occasional lyrics and a great Steve Vai style guitar solo enhances it only further as we continue down that stream
At the other end of the scale, opening track “Galax” also starts in an almost ambient fashion but we are soon introduced to what is their signature playing style. It is fast, super technical, loud, in your face, full of life whilst at the same time being the breakdown of matter. This is why I think, on first listen, I was so taken aback by the playing style which is heavy as well as technical, both vocally and musically. However, once you have listened to this album a couple of times you are able to see beyond the algebra and suddenly the equations start to make sense. There is so much vitality in this album and in the opening track it is very apparent. The way the band switches time signatures and styles, yet still maintains a bruising pace is impressive
What I do like about Letter From The Colony is that there is a lot going on in each of their songs. Take “Erasing Contrast”; on the one hand we have very fast, highly punctuated lyrics and complex rhythms but then it goes off into a mid-section that is more ambient and dreamlike. At this point they don’t reach the overall atmosphere of some of Opeth and Gojira’s work, not hitting the same level of emotional diversity but it does offer something different, moments to wallow in and more promisingly I can only see this band getting better.
Where they do get closer to that connection is on “Glasshouse”. The start is slower-paced and slightly simpler and hits the right nerves. When it complicates itself with the lyrics and rhythm you have already bought into the essence of the song, making you flow with the complexity of it rather than against it. The vocals too have an emotional intensity, matched with the best piece of bass playing on the album, tricky but with a voice. This track flows despite its constant movement around the time signatures and it takes you with it.
There is one thing for sure, you cannot fail to be impressed by the skill sand technicality of this band. They are phenomenal, and I can see so many people wanting to see them live just to witness this in full flow. Where at first my mind was blown, I was later able to embrace the album, the patterns and the meanings and dig further and a whole different world and experience was opened up for me. I think there is much potential there and as Backlund settles with a constant line up expect even greater from this band in the future. Beyond the numbers is a beautiful world just desperately trying to escape and this constant battle between art and the sciences is both fascinating and exciting.
Vignette is out on Feb 16th