Quick word association game: New Jersey and metal genres. What are you thinking about? If it was jazz-infused progressive metal, well, you should probably be checked by a medical professional. Yet you’re not wrong, because that is exactly what East of the Wall have to offer, and have done for over a decade now. After releasing 4 albums in 5 years between 2008 and 2013, the band took their time for NP-Complete, partially forced by numerous line-up changes. Oftentimes, these are a sign of dissent in the ranks, and that never bodes well for the music. Could the little-known Jersey quintet have overcome their adversity?
Evidently, they have and then some! NP-Complete is a skillfully crafted album by a highly talented bunch of musicians, full of densely layered compositions, complicated time signatures and unexpected turns. Jazz fusion is often high on the wank-factor, but its influence is kept subtle here, informing the inventive songwriting rather than overpowering them with endless self-congratulatory solos. Even the 5 minute instrumental “N of 1” puts the song first, exceptional abilities second, returning to certain motifs enough to keep the structure cohesive. The tracks are put together with enough variation in dynamics as well, with textures ranging from heavy counter-tempo riffs to more subdued, mysterious vibes, and including some unexpected growls in “Somn 6” and closer “Non-functional Harmony,” the latter adding a pretty sweet saxophone solo for that extra jazz kick at the end.
The instrumental skills of East of the Wall are through the roof across the board. Special mention goes out to the rhythm section: the drums are fantastic, able to turn time signatures on their head in a split second, without ever losing the plot. The bass is regularly as complex as the guitars, adding an extra layer of depth and regularly taking the foreground, adding to the jazzy atmosphere. Keeping up with the guitars is no mean feat either, as the riffs constantly walk the line between complexity and accessibility, a balancing act the excellent songwriting excels at. The only less convincing element is the new vocalist, whose crisp voice is generally fine but can come across as a bit thin in the higher regions. It’s not enough to be a true drawback, just the least of the best, and the only criticism I can level at the execution.
The production is as well-considered as everything else; the sound is warm and rich, the mastering dynamic and crisp. It’s clear to the band that the bass is one of their strongest suits as well, because the mix lifts it up to a perfect level, where it’s able to compete with the guitars, and it sounds just wonderful. Really, the sole thing that holds me back from scoring this one higher is so subjective you might as well disregard it altogether, but I must make note of it anyway. NP-Complete shows prodigious technical skill, but it’s too clinical for me to really find any emotional attachment. It’s an issue I encounter all the time, from most technical death metal to pre-Lotus Soen, and it’s a personal qualm that keeps me from fully enjoying many records that are otherwise excellent in every regard. I repeat that this is about as subjective a reason to score down as they come, and I will stress that this is absolutely a great record in every other regard (insider trading: Kronos already counts it among his Albums of the Year.)
East of the Wall have created a record that should stand as one of the prime examples of how to infuse jazz into progressive compositions without becoming musical masturbation. NP-Complete is perfectly balanced between accessible and complex, free-flowing and cohesive, juggling different layers of texture with stellar execution and dynamic, head-spinning changes in time signatures. It’s a symphony of musicianship, strands woven together into a thing of beauty. Though listeners such as myself, who are needy and fickle when it comes to emotional attachment, may regard it as too clinical, the sheer songcraft here is a thing of beauty. If you are at all interested in prog with a jazz twist, don’t sleep on East of the Wall. Once in a blue moon, great things can still come from New Jersey.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Translation Loss Records
Websites: eastofthewall.bandcamp.com | eastofthewall.com | facebook.com/eastofthewall
Releases Worldwide: March 29th, 2019