Blaze Bayley needs no introduction for listeners of metal and readers of this blog. Of course, as I recently wrote about, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a good thing. Like many vocalists in metal, Bayley is a controversial figure. Some, like myself, like his voice and the music he’s been involved in. Some of us even like his legacy—to the shock and dismay of people who are wrong on the Internet. But for me, his solo career has seen the very best and worst of Bayley’s production as a musician. So every time I get a new record from Blaze, I exist in a state he once named a (pretty darn good) album: promise and terror.
Infinite Entanglement follows in the footsteps of Tenth Dimension in that it is a concept album. Better yet, it’s a concept record which pushes the story in the ways that Blaze wasn’t able to pursue back in 2002. The story—as far as I can tell—is about a man who is selected from thousands of applicants for a journey to space (“Infinite Entanglement”), and is selected to wear a suit that will lead to living an unnaturally long life (“A Thousand Years”). Similar to Tenth Dimension, Infinite Entanglement focuses on the way in which governments and private actors abuse power and act unethically in the pursuit of weapons of war and technological advancement. I won’t, however, give too much of this away, because it’s a cool story and I don’t want to spoil it.
The freedom to pursue a concept album has also given Blaze the freedom to pursue some of his most diverse material to date. “What Will Come,” for example, is a ballad featuring only violin and acoustic guitar. The album’s outro “Shall We Begin” is a genuine cliffhanger, begging for a sequel. In fact, the ability to play with the voice actors and record flow seems to have allowed for little flares and moments that put this beyond the standard album format. This is to the record’s benefit. Final full song “A Work of Anger” wanders into neo-baroque chord progressions, for example, but also evokes The X Factor (or Candlemass) in its slow, powerful approach. Infinite Entanglement reminds me a lot of records produced in the 1980s. The music is mid-paced, vocal heavy, and at times anthemic. The songs here aren’t the kind of heavy you heard from the post-BLAZE band on Promise and Terror, they don’t have the same edge, but they’re fun to listen to and surprisingly intricate upon repeated listens.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that this the music on Infinite Entanglement is terribly far afield for Bayley. “Good, honest heavy metal” has always been Blaze’s M.O. and that’s what this record is chock full of. Mid-paced tracks like “Stars Are Burning” and “Calling You Home” are driven by catchy choruses, where Infinite Entanglement is at its absolute best. Blaze’s lyrics develop similar, familiar themes—though wrapped in a space suit—that his music has always touched on; independence, corruption, isolation and loss.1 Chris Appleton’s guitars are rife with classic thrash metalisms, but it’s obvious that he’s comfortable with white space in how he riffs—eschewing backing tracks for lonely guitar leads at times. He’s a good writer and lead guitarist, too; knocking out some shred here and there. The white space leaves room for drummer McNee and bassist Schramm to fill out the mix. In fact, McNee’s drums sound acoustic and full and that helps the stripped down style of Infinite Entanglement.
While the engineering is good, Infinite Entanglement falls under the weight of its production. While it’s a DR7 and, y’know, that could be better, the big problem here is in the mix. While the drums sound great, the bass could be a lot higher in the mix and Bayley himself needs to be turned down. This is not a mild annoyance; at times it just makes songs difficult to listen to. Even more frustrating, this isn’t a problem when using headphones, but it is a problem when I use my monitor speakers or my computer speakers. This just makes the mix seem, frankly, amateur. Secondly, it’s not just that Blaze’s vocals are high in the mix. As a singer he doesn’t really regulate his dynamics. While “What Will Come” is a great song—the song is well-composed and I think it’s cool that Blaze included such a track on the album—Blaze dominates it completely. Rather than matching the light, wistful feel, he simply belts out the vocals just like he would on the heaviest tracks on the record. “Stars Are Burning” is one of my favorite songs on the album, but Blaze is just too damned loud during the verses. The guitars—on deep listens—are actually doing some pretty interesting stuff, but the vocals dominate the mix so totally that it’s like listening to the record with Blaze sitting in your living room while the band is playing down the block.
Ultimately, I think that Infinite Entanglement is a really good record. Repeated listens have resulted in an album that continually grows on me. I regularly find myself singing the songs while I’m doing other things and wanting to come back again and again. I love the concept and the team writing the music for him are the best he’s had in a decade. Tracks like “Solar Wind” and “A Work of Anger” are good additions to Blaze’s discography, while “A Thousand Years,” “Infinite Entanglement,” “Calling You Home” and “Stars Are Burning” are most certainly excellent live and really high quality songs. It’s a shame that Infinite Entanglement only feels like a qualified win, though, because I long to hear these tracks live, and I’m kinda looking forward to the sequel.
- There’s an irony that with Blood & Belief the guys in the first go ’round asked him to write about personal stuff. I have always thought that given the recurrence of themes such as the aforementioned that Blaze writes personal songs. But rather than writing biographically, he writes fictionally. ↩