If my hypothesis is correct, then this should be AMG’s last full review of the year, and the honor has gone to a lowly newbie thanks to some seasonal schadenfreude courtesy of Steel Druhm. See, with our infamously dreadful December promo pool to pull from, I let the fates decide my final assignment of 2016. So while everyone else cozied up by the fire with their choice Things You Might Have Missed, he assigned me to tackle the third record of prog project The DRX, Throughout Within. Not because of any high expectations, mind you, but because the promo sheet that runs nearly as long as this very review over-promises to such a ludicrous extent that it seems destined to fail in spectacular fashion. Thus, with Steel wringing his hands with disturbing glee from the sidelines, I sat down to review an hour of overly ambitious sadboy prog. This can only go well.
The DRX is the brainchild of New Yorker Dan Romans, and on Throughout Within he combines the gloomy alt-rock of Radiohead with the synth-drenched prog of 80’s-era Rush. Oh, and he throws in some stray hardcore elements and a whole bunch o’ traditional instruments (primarily saxophone) into the pot as well. Stylistically the songs range from lengthy, downbeat anthemic ballads (“Monsters Wearing Nice Ties”) to eclectic prog compositions that can switch genres on a dime (“Ancient Lie”). It’s in the latter tracks where The DRX shines brightest, as the unique constructions and ever-fluctuating tempos can be compelling when paired with the record’s more eccentric traits.
Despite showing great promise in its best moments, Throughout Within possesses problems throughout. The more, somber, straightforward cuts are undoubtedly the weakest links in the chain. They don’t really seem to serve a purpose in the scope of the album aside from driving home just how upset Romans is about how success in society is intrinsically linked with climbing the corporate ladder (or whatever). This wouldn’t be a problem if the melodies weren’t so generically sad, but as is they seem designed to convey basic emotions rather than provide any memorable hooks. The whole thing is melodically homogeneous, and while a few regularly reprised melodies may fool some into believing this is intentional, I found myself mostly bored.
Throughout Within is largely a vocal-driven album, and Romans is unfortunately not a competent singer. His limited range and weak delivery don’t exactly do the already lackluster melodies any favors, and the fact that he insists on scooping his way into every single note makes his vocals grate long before the album’s final notes fade out. Thankfully, The DRX isn’t completely reliant on its melodies and vocals; the incorporation of instruments ranging from the aforementioned saxophone to the cello and flugelhorn makes for a typically dense soundscape, meaning that despite the stale hooks, there are often some interesting and occasionally beautiful layers at work.The hardcore elements periodically rise to the surface through grinding chugs and abrasive vocals, adding further unexpected twists that somehow manage not to break the flow of the tracks. It’s too bad, though, that the lush compositions are bound to flat production; the mellower cuts naturally manage a DR11, but the more intense tracks are compressed enough that The DRX translates into The DR8.
Records like Throughout Within are, to say the least, tough to review. An undeniable level of passion was displayed in pulling together enough guest instrumentalists to fully realize Romans’ vision, and it’s clear that The DRX possesses a handful of truly unique ideas when it comes to genre fusion. Despite the novelty of it all, Throughout Within simply doesn’t possess the melodic prowess to make for a memorable experience beyond its eccentricities. If Romans can pull in a less insufferable vocalist and work on honing his hooks for a future effort, I may just be on board, but presently I don’t see many reasons why I would choose to return to this album in the future. And three-armed Jesus wept for what could have been.