After all these years, AMG knows me far too well. If there’s something he wants done, he knows exactly what to say in order to manipulate my Heavy Metal Emotions®. And in this case, that would be “hey man, I found this band that sounds like a prog version of John Bush-era Anthrax.” The band in question is Gracepoint, an independent act based out of Minnesota. The band itself seems to have formed back to the late 1990s, but Echoes is only their 2nd LP. Their only other recorded offering is a full-length demo from back in 2000, and the band’s origins are clouded in pre-Metal Archives mystery. It’s unclear if they were on some sort of hiatus during the last 16 years, or if they just take their sweet-ass time making records.
To my surprise and gratitude, Gracepoint doesn’t sound much like Anthrax, Bush-era or otherwise. Opener “Animal” checks off many prog-metal boxes, including 7-string guitars, off-time chug riffs, and plenty of shreddy goodness courtesy of guitarists Stefan Radzilowski and Lon Kunze. Bassist Sam van Moer gets his fair share of the spotlight as well, with complex basslines and a loud, assertive tone. Given the band’s sound and when they formed, I suspect they listened to a lot of Awake-era Dream Theater and the first few Nevermore albums. Speaking of Nevermore, legendary producer/mixer Neil Kernon was enlisted to work on Echoes in that capacity, resulting in a clear, polished sound that suits the band’s compositions well.
I can see how someone might compare vocalist Matt Tennessen to John Bush, owing mostly to a similar sound in his lower register and a comparable overall range. However, Tennessen’s style is a strange beast, owing equal debts to ’80s power metal and ’90s post-grunge yarling. A lot of mid-90s bands had vocalists that walked a similar line (including Wicked Maraya, who we reviewed recently), and in some parts of the U.S., it never really went away. Regardless, Tennessen is capable of some serious power when he feels like it — witness the Matt Barlow-esque highs on “Crucible” if you don’t believe me.
In true “prog” fashion, the songwriting is a little disjointed at times. Abrupt tempo changes abound in tracks like “Spider” and “Bittersweet,” both songs sounding like they were assembled from parts that didn’t quite fit together. Instrumental “Secrets” sounds like a different band altogether, and is basically a platform for some Joe Satriani-esque melodic soloing. However, the band peaks with the the massive, double kick-driven title track, which leads into instrumental outro “Moon” for a combined 9 minutes of prog metal majesty.
Many bands from the flyover states are glacially slow at producing music, probably due to an insular music scene and less opportunity for exposure. Gracepoint clearly falls into this category, having taken over 15 years to release a debut album, and the passage of time has not done them any favors. If Echoes had been released 15 years ago, it could have been regarded as a somewhat novel approach. But in 2016, the world already has plenty of proggy, chuggy metal bands. Gracepoint is clearly late to the party, but the band’s talents are clear, and with further refining, could make for some fantastic music. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 15 years next time…