There are some excellent metal records out there—Voyager‘s Ghost Mile comes to mind, along with Wishfield‘s self-titled release from earlier this month—that I find quite relaxing. These kinds of records sneak up on you. You might not think much of them at first, but as time passes you crave them more and more. Which brings us to the band of the day: Avandra. Based out of Puerto Rico, the four-piece specialize in proggy introspective metal that soothes in a way most never think they need. Their debut record, Tymora, was a joy to listen to, even if it wasn’t the greatest album ever. Let’s see if their second offering, Descender ascends to a higher plane.
I’ll say this. Descender is a consistently pleasant album. While not quite as varied as Voyager, Avandra doles out prog metal cut from similar cloth, using contemplative melodies and soaring vocal lines backed by groovy riffs with a fair amount of kink in them. You’ll also detect a hint of Myrath in the instrumentation, what with their propensity for double harmonic scales scattered about every so often. A considerable amount of acoustics, strings and other synthetic bits instill a certain measure of ethereality to the record. Vocals that remind me of metalized John Mayer croon and swoon throughout and songs range from five minutes to thirteen minutes and change. Don’t be fooled, though; this is an easy album to imbibe and should not pose a challenge for most listeners.
Let’s switch things up and get the negatives out of the way. First off, while everything on Descender has a nice flow to it (observe the magnificent transition between “Helios Awakens” and “Helios Descends”) and should pass by without complaint, I must point out that some songs contain their share of filler. “The Narrowing of Meaning” is a quintessential example of this condition, noodling in the midsection for about two minutes longer than it could have. “Adder’s Bite” suffers in a similar fashion, but there it’s sourced from the introduction more so than the midpoint or conclusion. Outside of bloat, the biggest concern I have relates to the period of time Descender needs to stick. At first, I worried I would lose this record to the abyss of abandoned memory, but just a few days ago I began spontaneously humming bits and pieces from a number of cuts on offer. I couldn’t remember where I had heard it for a minute until it struck me like a bolt of lightning that it was Avandra. This is memorable stuff, but it takes more time to retain than I would normally estimate.
Okay, now for the positives. Firstly, Christian Ayala Cruz (a.k.a. Volteau) and his pipes are incredible assets to Avandra‘s sound. Soulful, warm and delicate all at once, Volteau compassionately serenades the listener (“A Decision Must Be Made”) and his tasteful application of keys and deceivingly propulsive guitar-work (see “Helios Descends”) similarly attract. Luis Javier Rivera Guilbot supplements Volteau’s guitars with his own nocturne melodies across the record, giving the material a richness I always like to hear. On the kit, Adrián Arroyo Schuck administers a minimalist but sufficiently dynamic performance, always ready to grab your attention with a nicely timed fill or some interesting cymbal-play. And last but not least, Gabriel Rodríguez Martinez rounds out the package with an appreciable presence, occasionally providing a counterpoint for the leads and otherwise supplying a healthy undercarriage to support the musical structures (“The Narrowing of Meaning”).
I want to give special mention to the pacing of this record. Track arrangement is something with which Avandra excels, placing more energetic sections where they are most required and inserting dreamy divertimentos where they are most desired. Sure, there is some bloat on a song-by-song basis (as I already delineated), but as an album, this hour-long journey is organized to feel less daunting, especially after repeat listens.
Descender is a pleasure. It is the kind of record that you bask in, that you let wash over you while it envelops your senses. The best part? It’s also a major grower, so long as you give it time. Some may not be able to stick it out for the full hour, and others may not remember much of it when it’s over. So I guess, like its predecessor, Descender isn’t the greatest album in the world. But I’d recommend it all the same.