Greece’s September Code (formerly just September) plays progressive rock of the subtle, restrained variety on their new album Remembering Mirrors. The kind of stuff that is big on texture and atmosphere (read: keyboards), not musical complexity or technical showboating. In other words, the kind of music that prog metal guys make when they grow up. Picture late-’80s Rush or Promised Land-era Queensryche and you’re in the ballpark.
However, the most glaring difference between those bands and September Code is in the vocal department. SC vocalist Dim Koskinas only has two settings: “operatic whispery guy” and “pleasantly generic James Hetfield-ish growly dude.” If you enjoy the musical side of prog but are turned off by the high-pitched singers that usually come with it, this might be the thing for you. But as far as I’m concerned, if you’re gonna play prog, the vocal dramatics (and acrobatics) come with the territory, and help keep things interesting — especially if you’re going for the minimalist, no-shredding approach that SC has taken.
Oddly, the guitar work is pushed to the back of the bus on Remembering Mirrors, despite the fact that the band has two guitarists (one of whom is Koskinas). There’s very few actual riffs here, and the guitars are pretty buried in the mix. The solos are really good in a jazzy sort of way, but they’re few and far between (I counted four, I think). Instead, the album is dominated by bass and keyboards, both compositionally and volume-wise. It seems to me that those two guitarists could be better utilized.
But there’s a much bigger problem than that: the songs here don’t really go anywhere or have any kind of dynamics. There’s some really good hooks and interesting musical bits, for sure. Songs will build up slowly, the tension escalates slightly, and then…nothing. Flatline. I keep waiting for that one guitar part, or that high note, SOMETHING awesome to bust out of the speakers and kick my ass. It doesn’t happen. Instead, the songs just sort of stay where they’re at [i.e. musical blue balls syndrome — Dr. Steel Druhm].
This is unacceptable. Something, somehow, has to happen in a song to make it interesting. Period. You can work around limited vocals if the musicianship and songwriting can keep your attention (see: Porcupine Tree), and you can also get away with pretty boneheaded music if you have a badass singer (see: every band from the ’80s). It would take a pretty intense vocalist to keep this particular batch of songs interesting — and unfortunately, Koskinas is not the guy to shoulder that weight.
What makes this even more frustrating is that there are flashes of good ideas throughout Remembering Mirrors. The Middle Eastern instrumentation in “Beautiful As a Sin” works surprisingly well. So does the flashy classical guitar in “War.” And “X E Cute” finally brings a little aggression to the table — too bad this track is buried towards the end of the album. But clearly, these guys have the chops needed to liven things up.
This review may sound harsh, but the upside is that the band has most of the raw ingredients to do something cool. These guys can write some solid hooks, and they’re certainly competent musically (particularly the bassist and drummer). With some more attention to dynamics, and possibly a little variation in the vocals, September Code has serious potential.