The summer months notwithstanding, 2016 has been a banner year for quality metal and it’s set to fly ever higher after a busy fall. Yet flying a dulled flag won’t attest to much more than surrender. For what it’s worth, bands this year have hoisted their colors high, and many a memorable cover has graced AMG’s notorious background image. I’ve commented before on the excellence of select album covers and continue to keep an eye out for the very best of the bunch, often discovering new music simply on the merits of a killer Bandcamp icon. After all, if you’re an independent band with little in the way of PR, it pays to invest in a jacket that gets a listener’s proverbial foot in the door. Such seems to be the strategy of Tardive Dyskinesia, who know that even if you have a poor memory for names, at least you’ll remember this face.
Despite its obvious – and beautiful – King Crimson homage, Harmonic Confusion is more 21st century than schizoid man, a smooth blend of post-metal a la The Ocean with modern prog/djent of Textures that kids these days love so dearly. If you’re a fan of either band, Harmonic Confusion will be worth checking out, but as someone who thought Pelagial was overrated and hasn’t listened to the latter band in years, this LP leaves me a bit cold.
“Fire Red Glass Heart” is the album’s most ambitious song, and though its structure and length don’t stymie the band, its main riffs are painfully unimaginative. Where have I heard mid-paced octave string-skipping before? Oh, that’s right: every amateur djent song1. Yet there are plenty of tasty, bluesy riffs across the album that counterpoint the mediocrity that bogs down songs like “Fire Red Glass Heart.” The recurring scramble of “Savior Complex” gets plenty of replay across the lengthy song, sometimes harmonized, sometimes down an octave, and sometimes counter-pointed by syncopated chugs. The track’s languorous sax solo is a standout as well, adding welcome textural contrast to the band’s clean prog metal sound.
The propulsive djent riffing and triple-layered guitars of “Chronicity” show the band at their best, twirling together complex rhythm and subtle melodicism for what would have made a fantastic song if fully explored. As it stands, the three and a half-minute snippet is severely underdeveloped, and fading out the album on such a stunted sprout of a song gives off a feeling of a band insecure in their writing. A group on their fourth album should be a little more sure-footed, especially when churning out complex six- and seven-minute songs, the largest of which could have really used a decent riff or three. It’s a credit to the band’s composing skills that these long songs don’t wander, and often feel much shorter than they are, but the spottiness of their riffs is something I can’t overlook.
The band’s overall sound doesn’t sit too well with me either. Guitarist/vocalist Manthos sounds an awful lot like The Ocean‘s Loïc Rossetti, who I’ve always thought has a pretty bland tone, and his double-tracked clean/scream performances feel papery and flat. He and his partner in crime do dish out cool riffs occasionally, but they’re really quite harmonically homogeneous. Their approach to dynamics is uninspiring as well and seem to be content with playing everything just medium-loud – a level that the mastering matches. Overall, the album just doesn’t feel very exciting, and though the instrumental performances are skilled, they also seem very practiced and lack spontaneity and suggestion.
Harmonic Confusion has the polish and the personality of a respectable prog metal album, but ultimately fails to produce enough catchy riffs and memorable melodies to make an impression. Fans of Textures or The Ocean might find a bit more to latch on to than me but I doubt their enthusiasm will last later into the year. With a little more meat on its well-structured songs, and perhaps a more dynamic vocal performance, this could have been an album worthy of its beautiful cover – but as it stands, I can’t recommend it.