Unexpect’s Fables of the Sleepless Empire is hands down one of my favorite albums ever, and an excellent listen for anyone interested in avant-garde metal. It sets my personal standard for weird shit, which I guess is a bit unfortunate for any avant-garde metal bands I come across. By that admission, my recommendation for Italy’s Embrace of Dishamony means a lot. While this relatively young band isn’t game changing or spectacular, they’re solidly strange, and their upcoming release Humanake shouldn’t be overlooked by fans of big, weird, bombastic prog metal.
As one might expect for a symphonic/avant-garde band of this persuasion, melodrama is the name of the game, and throughout Humanake the listener is inundated with lyrics that Sophocles would smile at. If you don’t mind the drama, or the somewhat strange enunciations spouting forth from the vocalists, this album is thoroughly enjoyable. Opener “Shards of Apocalypse” is a pretty good indicator of what the rest of the album has in store, bringing together all the band’s tricks everything for an 11-minute long “epic” complete with a cheezy symphonic intro, a dual synth/guitar solo, another guitar solo over tastefully played bass, piano-driven riffing, and a ton of intersecting vocal lines.
“Identity” is another standout, basing itself upon an endlessly repeated guitar motif and relentlessly cheezy vocals, yet still managing to squeeze in some of the album’s best guitar solos. “Edge of Nowhere” follows, with a middle-eastern feel accomplished by unique percussion and sustained drifting orchestration over more impressive bass work. What with the near constant smear of symphonic soundscapes, there’s a ton of Symphony X worship on this album, but Embrace of Disharmony isn’t left without a unique sound. They’re big and bombastic, a little cheezy, but occasionally smart and pretty enjoyable, sort of like a less extreme Dream Theater. Moods and sounds are pitched at each other with the wanton abandon of Unexpect, and although the end product is not quite as successful, there’s always something interesting in each song. Interesting doesn’t always mean good, though, and the album does have a few caveats.
If obvious MIDI tracking upsets you, this album isn’t your thing. “Shards of Apocalypse” opens with a minute or so of fantasy movie soundtrack that’s pretty polished, but obviously computer-generated. At worst it’s annoying, but ambition is cheap and orchestras are expensive, so I’ll let the less than pristine tone and performance of the symphonic elements slide. Apart from this regrettable faux pas, the album sounds quite good. There’s a clear emphasis on crisp but not overly loud low end, which gives the fretless bass a lovely presence when it shows up. Bassist Leonardo Barcaroli is without a doubt one of the strongest players in this group, and his performances never fail to impress (take note of the bass solo in last minute of the album), which is something that unfortunately the rest of the band can’t quite parallel.
That’s not to say that there are any standout stinkers in the lineup, but there are a lot of fairly uninteresting guitar riffs on Humanake, although, to the album’s credit, there are plenty of good ones too. “By the Hands of the Moirai” exemplifies this juxtaposition, containing delicate arpeggios along swaggering leads and forgettable rhythm parts. This duality might stem from a desire not to steal the show, but I really wouldn’t mind if this album occasionally got carried off by the guitar. The percussion also feels a bit lackluster, despite the obviously challenging material. Unlike every other instrument, the drums never really get their day, and the album lacks propelling rhythm in a few areas.
In light of these minor issues, my praise for this band is of course qualified. While Humanake isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve heard this year (than honor falls first upon Pyrrhon and then to Epistasis), it’s a solid start from a band that has the drive and potential to swivel necks rather than snap them. If you’re searching for a strangeness fix, stop here.