If you’ve been reading my reviews on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed that I’ll take on pretty much anything under the sun. You could pin that on me as having no taste (and you might have a case), but I prefer to think of myself as open minded. Even the most stigmatized genres within the metal canon were born out of an earnest desire to innovate, and as such I’m willing to give any style — or in this case, a combination of styles — a fair shake. Enter Greece’s Locust Leaves, a band I was rather eager to cover due to their proclaimed fusion of prog, black, thrash, and doom metal. Locust Leaves does indeed cover all of these styles (and more!) in the span of just thirty-six minutes on their long-gestating debut A Subtler Kind of Light, but is the end product a work of bonkers brilliance or the metal equivalent of a budget buffet?
While not outright amazing, Locust Leaves certainly falls closer to the former camp. A Subtler Kind of Light is split into four tracks that feel like four distinct movements and genres, and while this results in an unfocused vision, the record is undoubtedly stuffed with surprises. LL briskly moves from folky and progressive takes on traditional metal in the vein of Hammers of Misfortune (“Light (Fos)”) to death metal tinged prog epics (“Pillar (Vraxos)”) and then to prog-doom that morphs into tech thrash a la Vektor (“Fall (Ptosi).” Though the stylistic changes are jarring, it’s undeniable that A Subtler Kind of Light sounds unlike anything else out there. There’s a clear affinity for classic prog rock a la Jethro Tull permeating this record even in its heaviest moments, and while I suppose “progressive metal” is the most appropriate descriptor here, the ceaseless genre bending places Locust Leaves in that rare pantheon of bands that cannot (and should not) be referred to in such basic terms. For its first three tracks, ASKoL is consistently innovative and captivating, even if the songs don’t gel into a cohesive experience.
But the fourth track (“Flight (Ptisi)”)… ah, that fourth track. Ambient. In recent months I’ve gained an unexpected reverence for the genre, which I once believed to be a series of random noises carelessly tossed into a blender labeled “modern art,” and Locust Leaves admittedly handles the style well with a combination of celestial and industrial droning. That being said, this track has absolutely no business being a part of this record. While I’ve personally never felt the need to prematurely turn off the album before the fourth track arrives (again, I enjoy the style), the vast majority of metal fans who check out A Subtler Kind of Light are going to feel burned by its finale. It feels completely removed from the rest of the record, a misguided artistic choice that obliterates the continuity of an album that was already disjointed, to begin with.
ASKoL disappoints as a complete package, but I still really dig it because it’s so damned good moment to moment. Sure, there are too many components to Locust Leaves’ formula, but they somehow succeed at pretty much everything they try, and it’s impressive that the musicians are capable of pulling off so many styles. Vocalist Nick K. is particularly adaptable; despite some wavering, his broad, booming cleans effectively accompany the epic scope of the more traditional sections, while his understated, snarling harsh performances are a great match for the record’s darker moments. The production here also deserves special mention, and not just for its dynamic master. The drums have a live, forceful quality to them, and the guitar tones possess a fuzzy, old school charm to them that holds up across the vastness of the band’s scope. This record certainly has a unique sound to it, and despite the heterogeneity of the compositions, Locust Leaves always sounds like Locust Leaves.
While A Subtler Kind of Light fails as a well-rounded album, it’s an impressive experimental (and yes, even artistic) statement. There’s quite literally something for everyone to enjoy here, and though few people will love every moment Locust Leaves has composed and most will be disappointed by its anticlimactic finale, it’s still absolutely worth checking out for the novelty factor alone, and the excellent production and flexible performances sweeten the deal. With more effort placed into creating a unified sound, Locust Leaves could easily become one of the underground’s most intriguing bands. They’re already one of the most promising.