I’ve been a fan of England’s Coldbones since the very beginning of this review. Though the trio of Tory’s has been doing their cold and bony thing since at least 2014, I began this adventure with zero prior exposure to these kids from Kent, selecting this one solely for the band name. Progressive shoegaze may be the genre tag, but the imagery evoked by that namesake brought tidings of darkness just as grim as blackened—anything and I was worried that there was too much happiness in my life as of late, so here we are at Where It All Began. Now let’s, like, begin.
So, just what does progressive shoegaze sound like? For starters, it’s not actually all that dark all that often, it’s rarely grim, and it’s blackened -nothing. According to Coldbones, the answer is actually a smooth blend of Deftones, Tool, and Scale the Summit with just a hint of Corelia sprinkled throughout. Guitarist Jordan produces emotional atmospheres and luscious licks with equal skill, though the balance favors the former far more frequently than not. Max’s percussion proves pivotal in providing each piece a point of direction, his perfectly punctuated shifts in pacing and power transforming any given reverb-laden post-metal tremolo passage from a gentle buildup into an explosion with aplomb. Tracks like “New Heights” even see bassist Nick stepping up into the sonic forefront to shine, a welcome move to the shoegaze scene. Indeed, all of this musical goodness swims in a crystal clear mix (despite that atrocious DR), allowing the respective rompings of the band members to blend fluidly with each other while still flourishing on their own. My, what nice instrumentation you got there, Coldbones. It’d be a shame if a shitty vocalist were to… happen to it.
To that end, Coldbones take no chances and eliminate the risk entirely. That’s right, yo, this shit’s instrumental. Coldbones traverse the tonal territory of Where It All Began sans vocal tour guide, and for the most part, this absence proves beneficial by giving the listeners imagination the lead navigational role. The intensity and textures of any given song ebb and flow enough to carve their own stories without a lyrical narrative; “New Heights” and the title track are uplifting and triumphant without relying on a cheerleader, and anyone hearing a joyful message in “Lost” should probably be kept far away from people. One minute Coldbones are doing proggy Tool things, the next they’re doing post-y Spotlights things, and rarely does the music feel like it really needs vocal things. Moods are conveyed clearly and effectively throughout each of Where It All Began‘s eight tracks, and given that it took me three whole tracks to even realize I was listening to an instrumental album, I’d say Coldbones do an admirable job of crafting music that doesn’t utilize vocals.
While the bulk of Where It All Began is dynamic and engaging enough to maintain a sense of direction without a singer, many of its songs find themselves writhing within the same, not too terribly captivating moment for longer than is perhaps advisable without a vocal performance to lend life to the lackluster lowlights of the album. The whole less-is-more bit is a dangerous game to play with riffs as it is, subtracting vocals from the equation only increases the odds of yielding slightly fizzling, somewhat underwhelming results, and Coldbones haven’t quite mastered that delicate art just yet. Though there’s an undeniable mood-album appeal here for those seeking songs sans singer, I find the works of Scale the Summit or early Intervals to be a touch more engaging and thusly more effective at scratching that particular itch. The scenery here is vibrant and diverse enough to warrant the occasional visit, yet the overall lack of wildlife tends to render the tracks a tad too lifeless to warrant frequent returns.
Where It All Began may not be the most exhilarating trip in the world, but it’s still a pleasant journey lead by some very capable adventurers. Either a little fat trimming or else maybe adding a touch more Corelian flare to the scenery could go a long way toward this being something really remarkable, maybe even “at least a 4.5,” as our resident Huckman absolutely 100% definitely purported this to be. In my refined, beady little Muppet eyes, though, this one’s great for when you’re in the mood to Scale the Molehill, but those seeking a little more thrill in their sonic adventures should probably leave this one for the Sunday listeners.