Ben Levin Group // Pulse of a Nation
Rating: 4.5/5.0 —Super cool independent prog
Release Date: December 6th, 2010
I’m not accustomed to being short for words when I write a review. It’s something that happens pretty rarely because I tend to form such strong opinions about things. And given how much shit I’ve been listening to lately for this website, it’s really cool to be able to get my hands on something that has this kind of exciting personality, but let me tell you now, I’m not sure if I’m up to the job of actually doing this record justice with my descriptions. So if for some reason you don’t feel particularly inspired after this to go out and check out this record then ignore that impulse, and check it out anyway.
Ben Levin Group is a large band that formed (or at least met) at Berklee School of Music (which also brought us Kayo Dot and fucking Dream Theater, so let’s call it a hit-or-miss record) and that produce concept records of epic scope with (as I understand it) very few vocals. Pulse of a Nation is one such full length concept record. It clocks in at 45 minutes and all I can say is that it is a truly excellent piece of composition, performance, production and that if you are a fan of progressive music even a little bit, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Pulse of a Nation is basically an amalgamation of different kinds of elements. There is a bit of guitar god influence going on here, obviously producing a record that largely consists of melody that’s being carried by an electric guitar is reminiscent of Vai or Satriniani, but unlike the show-off elements of those guys employ shamelessly, Pulse of Nation is largely predicated on smart melody. In fact, there’s not really a solo that I would call wanky on the whole album even though there is some excellent technical soloing on “Ill From the Poisons of Your Loving,” so don’t take that whole analogy too far. Take that general format, which allows for a lot of variation, and add in what sounds like noise and industrial influences and you start to get something that is simultaneously heavy, progressive and emotive. While the noisy stuff can maybe get a little overbearing (a lot of stuff is peaked in the mix, which means that listening with monitors can get painful, but the actual mix is not too loud), it works to really push the extreme feelings to a different level.
Of course, this record isn’t super heavy. It seems to me that Mr. Ben Levin (who I’m assuming does the large majority of composition) doesn’t really wander into death metal territory. The drums aren’t as heavy as I’d like and when there are vocals (which is very, very rare), they tend towards NIN kind of yell/scream, not growls. But for this project that’s all fine with me. The music is beautifully cohesive, excellently constructed and the heavy is still heavy so I don’t need it to be tech death metal or anything.
Though, to be honest, if there was one thing that I could’ve used more of it was vocals. In this case the vocals are very rare and while the melodies are certainly strong enough to carry themselves, there were moments when they probably would have been appropriate. I am a fan of instrumental music, but in this case there were some passages that felt as though they were calling for vocals. But to be fair, given that the vocals that are on here aren’t exactly stellar when it comes to lyrical themes and pure vocal ability (it really is what I would consider to be a weakness), it’s probably better that the project is left with what the band is truly good at: the music. Hard to criticize someone for playing to their strengths.
If you’re a fan of progressive music I strongly suggest that you check this project out. I also strongly suggest that if anyone from InsideOut or any other progressive label ever reads this that they sign these guys immediately, ’cause this stuff is cool and pretty unique. I’ve said many times before on this blog that the best prog rock stands on the border between technical and poppy and Pulse of a Nation does just that. Just varied and interesting enough to keep you interested and with enough hooks to stick. I’ve got a feeling that this record will continue to grow on me, too.
Huh, turns out I wasn’t at a loss for words after all.