I’m not the kind of guy who typically gravitates towards “emotionally driven” metal. At least, not metal that is driven solely by emotional expression. Metal, in essence, represents an outpouring of some sort of strong feelings that may vary widely by genre. But the sadboy sect devoted to mashing up dour poetry and uninvolving chord progressions robs the style of what makes it so special in the first place. Facing the Incurable, the debut offering from California’s A Dying Planet, very nearly sidesteps these pitfalls with a record that, for half of its runtime, is quite engrossing. Yet the remaining half stumbles. Blame it on flimsy album construction or uninspired songwriting, but this initially promising piece of progressive metal becomes more confusing than compelling by the end of its fifty-plus minute runtime.
In the same style as Facing the Incurable’s tracklist, we’ll get the good stuff out of the way first. This album’s first two tracks — the lengthiest of the six presented at fourteen and ten minutes apiece, respectively — represent A Dying Planet at their peak. There is a unique ebb and flow to these tracks as they actively splice spacey, somber post-rock and weighty prog metal rhythms; these songs’ constructions are much more oceanic than interstellar, with pounding guitars catching the listener in the undertow before suddenly dissipating, breaking the surface to reveal a mist of cosmic rain. Simple, effective songwriting tricks enhance the strong atmosphere, with the title track in particular quickly establishing a mystifying, two-note background riff that remains steadfast as surrounding rhythms increase in complexity and intensity. If these strengths could have been instilled throughout Facing the Incurable, it could have been an absolute success.
Here comes the painfully obvious “but”: It’s not. I hesitate to say that A Dying Planet checked out after pushing their two best pieces out the door, but this impression grows stronger with each spin of Facing the Incurable. Later tracks lack the distinct duality that defines the record’s first half, making for a curious array of lengthy numbers that vary from a lonely piano and acoustic pieces (“Human Obsolescence” and “Missing”) to hybrids of prog metal and post-hardcore (“Poisoning the Well”). These tracks not only lack internal tonal deviation, but also structural variation; ideas are typically bled dry by the songs’ halfway points, with no apparent justification for the bloated frameworks other than that they must be bloated because they exist in the context of a prog album. In fairness, the record concludes with ADP’s sole exercise in brevity, but as a cyclical and aimlessly noodly instrumental, “Separation Anxiety” leaves me with a cold, confused final impression.
For all its frustrating inconsistencies, Facing the Incurable is at least a pleasant record to listen to, with little to complain about in terms of production. The skins pop with deep, distinct tones, and while aggressive guitar passages tend to be a bit overloud (especially on “Resist”), they never threaten to obscure the post-rock atmospherics at play in the background. Perhaps due to the long musical history of founding brothers Troy and Jasun Tipton — best known for their work in Zero Hour, among other progressive metal acts — the ability to craft a compelling narrative within these songs comes across as second nature. From a post-apocalyptic eulogy for the human race (“Human Obsolescence”) to a stunningly personal piece written by Troy Tipton after losing the ability to play bass guitar due to a permanent arm injury (“Resist”), Facing the Incurable is easily one of the most lyrically conscious records I’ve listened to this year.
Even with strong lyrics, solid production, and two sprawling, gripping tracks of melancholic progressive metal, Facing the Incurable can’t hold itself together from front to back when it comes to keeping its songwriting consistently smart. While none of its tracks are especially offensive on their own, I’m puzzled as to why A Dying Planet thought these songs would gel well as a singular work, especially in the track order that they opted for. The first two tracks are absolutely worth a listen for fans of morose, intricately constructed metal, but with this album’s back end crumbling under the weight of its first half, the complete package is difficult to recommend.