Alizarin – The Last Semblance Review

I love seeing unsigned bands show up in the promo sump. Often, it’s the hallmark of musicians just beginning to release their art or choosing to go their own way with a new release. Sometimes, it’s a hint that the music just isn’t good enough for a label to want it. No matter their origin I’ve been appreciating seeing those promo tags more and more as quarantine has me tooling around with old song fragments and spending more time with my guitar. If they’re releasing music, I think, why can’t I? Well, you see, I’m very busy writing about music. And sometimes that takes a long time. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the music. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what to write about the music. Sometimes I try to find every excuse I can not to listen to the music I’m supposed to write about. I have been very successful on that last front, but the difference between procrastination and abdication is delivery, and I eventually forced myself to the side of the line that results in you looking at this unique and semantically rich collection of pixels. Today you are blessed to read my review for Alizarin’s self-released The Last Semblance, submitted to our editors two weeks late.1

The Last Semblance is the second Alizarin album, and the first that is not instrumental. That’s an important note, because Alizarin is the passion project of a one Josh Kay, who wrote the songs, played the guitar parts, made the album art for, and mixed The Last Semblance. Unfortunately, Kay also sings, entirely through his choana. Though he can hit the notes and sings with a tight vibrato, Kay’s timbre ranges from campy to choking. Sounding like Serj Tankian stripped of all power and charisma, Kay does little service to his sophomore album, singing droning, mechanical melodies that exaggerate a voice that’s somehow at once nasal and throaty. At their best, his vocals would make for cheesy trad metal fare, and at their worst they become farcical, a squeaking dog toy’s dying wheeze. Kay’s range is on full display in “Elegy Simulacra;” he enters with a tone to match the spooky Dracula organs behind him but delivers the thin chorus in his most offensive register. He sticks with that style for the first four minutes of “Fathom,” but blessedly ends the song on a drawn-out Dracula-organ vamp.

Thankfully, Kay chooses to back off the mic on occasion, and it’s in these blissful instrumental segments that you can focus on where his music is coming from. Alizarin traffic in a mellow, poppy kind of prog rock that mostly borrows from Riverside and Porcupine Tree. While odd time signatures and twitchy melodies abound, they all approach at a walking pace and without too much bombast. Tracks like “Velvet Margin” and “Attenuation” gracefully transition between textures and emotions, never letting ambition lead them into prog excess.

If you ignore its verses and choruses, The Last Semblance isn’t too shabby a Riverside knockoff. It’s lacking some of the depth and production value, but that style of restrained prog rock can consistently turn out likable albums. And though not lacking in drama, The Last Semblance never feels overambitious, instead sticking to clear melodic figures in its verses and choruses and keeping solos tied into their songs. There are some memorable moments strewn around the record. A few of the melodies on “Heirloom” could have been killer components of a 2000s Dark Tranquility song, and the vocal arrangements in “Velvet Margin” are quite nice if you focus on their composition rather than timbre. Yes, the cheesy prog aesthetics are still all over The Last Semblance – I’m almost incapable of taking a song with these keyboard tones seriously. But the album proves that within the constraints of the medium, Kay is a capable songwriter, a confident guitarist, and a decent engineer to boot.

Adding a singer to Alizarin’s music was a good idea. While the songs are competent, slow prog rock does not make for a particularly thrilling listen, and a human voice should make the material much more engaging. The fact that I did everything in my power to avoid hearing this record illustrates how poorly that addition was handled. The disconnect on display here is baffling; Kay delegated drumming, keys, and even bass to other musicians; why not have someone with a good voice sing for the band? At least, that’s the question I would ask if I were, I don’t know, in charge of a record label.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Unsigned
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: July 10th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Slackbastard! – Steel
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