It’s prog time, baby. Having only dipped my metal-shod toes in my favorite genre a handful of times this year, I made a concerted effort to get ahead of my coworkers in October and indulge me of some progressive metal. First on the docket is Iris Divine, a trio from Virginia who are dropping their second album, The Static and the Noise, this month. Citing alt-metal influences such as Deftones and Alice in Chains, and prog metal such as King’s X and Porcupine Tree (all bands I’m fond of), The Static and the Noise promises to be an intriguing alt-prog amalgamation. At least, I hope so.
One minute into opening cut “Catalyst,” and a number of points are clear: first, the production is dead on, not too slick or modern, but plenty ballsy. Second, Iris Divine write some dynamic riffs that stick with you. And third, bass player Brian Dobbs kicks major butt. This trilogy of points hammers their way home throughout the album, and not a song went by where I wasn’t in awe of Dobbs’ work. In fact, I would put him just one step below Justin Chancellor on my imaginary list of bass players who haul ass. And for their part, drummer Kris Combs and guitarist Navid Rashid keep up with him, making Iris Divine a formidable trio. Not only can these three play, but they also write engaging songs — heavy, melodic, and progressive enough to keep the discerning amongst us interested.
As for the influences listed in the opening paragraph, Iris Divine have more in common with Byzantine, and even the latest iteration of Queensryche, than any of those bands. “Taking Back the Fall” is a great slab of modern metal with plenty of melody and ample changeups, while standout cut “Fractures” displays elements of Tool and Byzantine to excellent effect. “Like Glass” has a very radio-friendly clean intro and a poppy chorus that still manages to retain a degree of heaviness. Album closer “We Dissolve” reminded me of moments from Operation: Mindcrime, with its moody intro building to a satisfying climax. Even the weakest cuts (“Echoes_Effigies” and the title track) are good songs, but not quite on par with the rest of the record. The only downside of The Static and the Noise, and Iris Divine, in general, is the vocals.
I’m trying to categorize exactly what it is about Navid Rashid’s vocals that turn me off and it’s hard. The copout is to say “His vocals just don’t work for me,” but I need to do better than that, dammit. What it boils down to is that his singing is just plain average. Rashid’s voice isn’t bad, he’s in tune, and he’s got some good screams, but there’s a bit of a nasal quality, more pronounced in the higher register, that at times makes me wince — check out the chorus in “Like Glass” for the best example. Or most of the title track, which is otherwise a very strong song. It’s a poor critique, I know, and I’m positive the vocals won’t turn anyone off of The Static and the Noise, especially with such stellar musicianship, production, and songwriting, but it’s me nitpicking, so there you go.
All told this is a well-done record, and aside from the aforementioned intangible vocal issue, I would have a hard time keeping it off my playlist. Iris Divine show a penchant for excellent songwriting, accessibly progressive with a keen sense of melody and aggression. That aggression is matched in Drew Mazurek’s (Byzantine, Nothingface) production, with vocals and guitar solos in your face, and perhaps most-enjoyable, the ever-present bass guitar. Despite my dislike of the vocals, The Static and the Noise is an album I can wholeheartedly recommend, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more from Iris Divine in the future.