Written By: Gothmog
These days, prog metal seems to be coming down to how many strings your guitar has, if you’re a virtuoso or not, and what presets you have on your Axe-FX. Seriously, it seems like all the prog metal bands in the scene today have been obsessing over effect processors and compression during production, that it just drains the enjoyment out of it. Even then, they’re too busy wanking on their guitars, trying to constantly outperform everyone else who crosses their path. Essentially, to quote Devin Townsend, it’s a “dick swinging competition.”
So in the midst of all this, Finland’s Malpractice are trudging on, six albums into their career. Turning Tides, the second release featuring vocalist Aleksi Parvianen after 2008’s mildly thrashy Triangular, continues the self-described “connoisseurs of prog”’s career and showcases that they’re as dedicated to the genre as they claim to be. Going against modern prog’s trends, Malpractice take influence from classic prog metal like Symphony X, Dream Theater (the most obvious) and Queensryche, balancing out a traditional heavy metal sound with progressive changes and rhythms here and there, while featuring plenty of melodies and massive, heavy riffs with a surprise or two. In 44 minutes, Turning Tides accomplishes nothing entirely new, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid album that might leave a bigger impression than you expect.
Take “Weight of the World” for example. Malpractice’s Dream Theater influence becomes more obvious as the song goes on, and the bridge is a full on talent spectacle. If the song hasn’t caught your attention by then, the harmonized, sweeping guitars will definitely do the job. While making their influences obvious, Malpractice have their own sound here. This also becomes obvious on the 15 minute title track, where the band works with different dynamics during the extensive and impressive bridge, keeping all aspects of the music interesting as it spirals up and down before coming back for a strong finish.
Malpractice are smart with their compositions and dynamics, too, as they know how to let a song breathe and not suffocate it with technicality. Prog bands can easily make their songs overly complicated and take away any sense of enjoyment from the music, but Malpractice prove they know better. Closing track “Out” displays this nicely when they leave most of the flashy guitar and drum work for when the vocals aren’t the main focus. You won’t feel overwhelmed at all listening to Turning Tides and that’s a major plus.
While simplicity is certainly respectable, opening track “Best Kept Secret” nearly becomes too simple, resembling that heavy metal song we’ve heard a thousand times before in some kid’s garage. It has its hooks, sure, but the riff and progression has been done by countless other bar bands. Sometimes the vocal melodies are also questionable, where they may seem outright silly or just in poor taste. This isn’t a constant issue, but when they happen it’s incredibly obvious.
The production of the album is good despite the overwhelming sound of the bass drum when the double-footwork comes in. When the band is doing simpler beats, there are no complaints to be made on the songs, however when sixteenth and thirty-second notes happen, it overwhelms the rest of the music and completely throws the mix out of synch. Had it been lowered in these parts, the drums would have been absolutely perfect.
Even so, Turning Tides is enjoyable, fun, and stays true to progressive metal as it was originally founded. There’s no crazy tricks here, but the songs are catchy, the musicianship is clean and precise, and it never drags or tries to fit with the “in” crowd. Malpractice clearly love what they do and they’re refreshingly self aware of what they are and want to be.