Is there a better way to start a review of a metal album that with a brief discussion of semantics? Yes, there is, but I’m going to do just that anyway, written hooks be damned. Can anyone accurately define what “progressive” metal, or even “progressive” music, is? Is it letting everyone within earshot know that you listened to and enjoyed the entire discographies of King Crimson, Camel, and The Mahavishnu Orchestra? Is it mixing off-kilter riffs with huge, poppy hooks, modern-to-a-fault production, and good cop/bad cop vocals? Is it a shameless display of instrumental prowess? Is it Cynic? I have no idea, and I doubt many others do either. Point is, most things that don’t fit neatly into any genre box get thrown under the “progressive” umbrella, but are any of these countless bands truly pushing metal meaningfully forward? Probably not. Quartered, a “progressive” alt-metal band from Vancouver, are one such band guilty of this. But does that damn their anticipated new EP release, Eyes and Ears?
The EP catches my ears right off the bat with “Blink Blink Flash,” a solid number reminiscent of Deftones and Mnemic, with an incredibly catchy chorus and a groovy bridge spearheaded by guitarist Jeff Wang, where vocalist Greggor Williams screams the title a few times, sounding more than a little bit like Vision of Disorder’s Tim Williams. “Speak of the Devil” shows the abundant softer side of Quartered in its finest form, with Williams delivering a well thought out and technically proficient vocal part that becomes the highlight of the song, which succeeds compositionally too. Sure, the slow-burn buildup formula has been done to death, but Quartered manage to make it work by drawing heavily on latter-day Katatonia. “Take Me There Tonight” is a dead ringer for Mnemic in its verse, with bassist Craig Rudder and drummer Scotty Miller in lockstep with one another, giving the song a nice heft.
It’s a shame, then, that the album takes a nosedive immediately after making a such a good first impression. “Call Me Crazy” starts off with a riff that legitimately sounds like pop-punk a la The Ready Set, and this sets a tone that, with few exceptions, remains through most of the EP. Quartered often resides in metal’s own uncanny valley, one where bands can’t seem to decide whether or not they want to embrace the genre or shoot for pop fans’ hearts and wallets. Instead of enhancing both aspects of the music, it serves to negatively impact them instead, making the poppy parts feel disingenuous and the heavier parts feel forced. “Violent Love,” the most aggressive song on here, shows this clearly by sounding more like a band trying to appease their metal fan base than anything; sounding like The Dillinger Escape Plan by numbers doesn’t help either. In fact, a good four songs on this EP simply whizzed by and simply left me cold, yearning for the promise showed on “Blink Blink Flash” and “Speak of the Devil” to rear its head again.
Eye and Ears’ production, handled by the band themselves and Royce Whittaker at Spinnaker Sound, does a good job of allowing each member’s individual performance to have its own space in the mix. On a technical level, the entire band puts on a solid performance; these guys can play, and they make it known, but they never engage in senseless wankery. Another plus is the production of Miller’s drums: they sound pretty big and natural, a definite asset to the music. It’s nice to hear a modern metal band utilize more dynamic range in the mastering process, so Quartered is definitely on the right path there. Jeff Wang’s guitar tone is also quite good, if not a bit sterile in the distorted segments. This works a bit to his advantage however, as it allows for his excellent technique to shine through and not be muddied at all.
Overall, Eyes and Ears shows a young band trying to find their footing in a crowded scene and striking gold a couple of times in the process. This is a definite improvement over 2010’s much more metalcore-y Walks Like a Ghost, in both production and songwriting, and that gives me some hope for Quartered to become a louder voice in the alternative metal scene if they can keep up these consistent improvements. That said, I only find myself coming back consistently to “Blink Blink Flash” and “Speak of the Devil,” which does not say great things about the other six songs here. With more honed and memorable songwriting, Quartered could be onto something. As of right now though, their potential needs further tapping.