Communic sits comfortably in the subgroup of metal acts that don’t get the attention they deserve. With 4 albums of pretty consistently sharp, heavy prog metal under their belts, they’ve essentially filled the gap left when Nevermore folded shop. Albums like Conspiracy in Mind and Waves of Visual Decay mixed a satisfying crunch with soaring vocal harmonies, slick progressive sensibilities and a dark edge that draws me back often. While I wasn’t floored by 2011s The Bottom Deep, I still wanted to hear more from the band and expected a quality rebound. After a 6 year wait we get Where Echoes Gather and it’s definitely superior to its predecessor, though not quite up the lofty standards of their early works. You still get that hefty, Nevermore meets Morgana Lefay sound, top-shelf musicianship and the dark, edgy mood they’ve always done so well. In a year when several of my favorite prog-power acts disappointed, this is a welcome development indeed.
This time the band opted to craft a series of multi-part songs, which is ambitious and risky. They’ve always had a penchant for long-winded songcraft, so created multiple chapters could get messy. Opener “Pulse of the Earth (Part I – the Magnetic Chamber)” is classic Communic, with chunky riffs providing the foundation for Oddleif Stensland’s vocals. He’s always sounded a fair amount like Warrel Dane and still does, but he also has a touch of Hansi Kursch’s grit and Peavy Wagner’s nasal sneer. He’s very effective here on what is a satisfying example of prog-metal with a dark edge, similar to Tad Morose‘s A Mended Rhyme album. “Pulse of the Earth (Part I – Impact of the Waves)” is heavier and darker but features the same slick riffing and herky-jerky progressive time signatures. There’s little to indicate when Part I ends and Part II begins and as expected, they essentially form one long song. It’s a good one though with enough change-ups and interesting ideas to keep the listener keyed in. It’s also righteously crunchy and aggressive, which is grand.
The two-part “Where Echoes Gather” is even better, with a richly melancholic atmosphere and a creepy but captivating chorus that will stick with you. This is the album high-point, taking things back to the band’s salad days, even incorporating some Voivod-like off-kilter guitar histrionics. Stensland sounds excellent and the writing comes together just right. “Moondance” is a melodic power ballad of sorts that calls to mind the best moments of Steel Prophet, and though I really enjoy what the band is doing (especially Stensland’s softer vocal turn), at nearly 9 minutes, the song is majorly stretched and runs past it’s expiration date. Heavy rager “Black Flag of Hate” is the most aggressive cut, with Kataklysm style riffs merging with Queensyche‘s moody guitar phrasing. At over 7 minutes though, it too would have benefited from some trimming.
Things take a turn for the tiring with the concluding two-parts of “Claws of the Sea.” While neither part is anywhere near bad and both have a downcast, brooding vibe I appreciate, at a combined 12-minutes it just isn’t the most stirring example of the Communic sound and after a succession of long, winding songs, fatigue has set in terminally before I ever come to grapple with it.
At 53 minutes, Where Echoes Gather feels longer than it should. As the album unspools the song lengths increase and by the mid-point things start to feel a bit dragged down. The production is decent though, allowing the talented trio to be heard at their technical best with a heavy guitar tone and a pop to the drums.
I’ve always been enamored with Stensland’s guitar prowess and he has a lot of impressive ideas scattered throughout the material here. He’s adept at crafting driving riffs that are equal parts heavy and proggy. His solo-work is used very sparingly, making it all the more effective when it pops up. His vocals can be a love or hate proposition, and though he’s been accused of imitating Warrel Dane too closely, he seems more his own person here. He’s backed by an uber talented backline in bassist Erik Mortensen and Tor Atle Andersen on drums. Together the trio flex quite the powerful musical muscle and you’d swear there were 5 or more folks in the band. If they’d just tightened up the writing a bit, this thing would be a smoke show of heavy prog-power.
As it stands, Where Echoes Gather is a solid, technically impressive outing fans of prog-power should enjoy. I doubt this release will help Communic garner the respect they deserve, but at this point they’ve probably accepted their place in the metal pecking order and do it for the love of music. If you haven’t heard these guys before, definitely check them out. Lots of quality music to be found, here and in their back catalog.