Winter nights mean crackling fireplaces, warm sweaters, and mulled cider. They mean snuggling under a comfy blanket in the warmth of your house while you watch snow gently fall outside your window. They mean piping hot stew, thick wool socks, and fluffy cats curled up in your lap. What else provides warmth and comfort like that in the dead of winter? Instrumental progressive metal, of course. When we’ve had enough of devastating blastbeats, raging harsh vocals, and walls of feedback, instrumental prog is our warm blanky that helps us recover. Spain’s Jardín de la Croix have been Madrid’s warm blanket for nearly ten years now. Circadia is the band’s fourth release, and while they call themselves math rock, the album isn’t nearly as calculated (see what I did there) as we might expect from that statement.
Circadia is brief and to the point as an album, but not on a song-by-song basis. The six songs clock in at 43 minutes, meaning they’re mostly pretty long. Luckily the band knows a thing or two about arrangements, and even the longest cut, the 8:34 “Green Architect,” doesn’t bore us to tears. But at the same time, it doesn’t compel us to hit the replay button. Opening track “Seventeen Years to Hatch an Invasion” begins with an arpeggiated piano line, leading one to think this might be more prog rock than metal, but the band ramps things up quickly enough to make you realize these guys know their shit. While not on the noodlery level of Scale the Summit, Jardín de la Croix are also not on the raw post-rock level of Russian Circles. The music falls somewhere in between those two, and the enjoyment level is just a step below, like an instrumental Steve Morse album would be.
The remainder of the album pretty much follows suit. “Reversion” begins with a cleanly picked guitar melody before venturing into heavier territory. “Trail From Alaska” is the only song under six minutes and features some vigorous and dexterous work on the fret-boards, with a prominent and pleasantly growling bass. Album closer “Flowers and Carrion” is the only song that stretches beyond the structural boundaries the rest of Circadia lays down, beginning with quiet piano and chirping birds before electronic percussion loops move in. The song doesn’t push this theme far, though, and ninety seconds in they abandon experimentation and return to form.
While the musicianship is top-notch and the songwriting and production solid, Circadia suffers from the same problem that most albums of this genre do: it just doesn’t stick with the listener beyond the final note. After a dozen listens I can sort of remember a few brief moments from the album — the riff three minutes into “Seventeen Years to Hatch an Invasion,” the intro to “Green Architect” that sounds eerily similar to O.R.k.’s “Dream of Black Dust,” and the fantastic closing minute of “Flowers and Carrion” are about it. The rest of the album, while pleasant and competent in the moment it’s playing, has no staying power at all. That’s not so much a flaw of Jardín de la Croix as it is the style as a whole: instrumental prog often doesn’t latch onto the listener and maintain the hold.
Overall, nothing on Circadia is going to make you think Christmas came early. It’s solid, competent prog metal, the songs are well written, and the production is bang on. The problem, of course, is that it’s impossible to recall more than a small handful of moments from the album, even after multiple listens. But it’s warm and comforting, and if you aren’t into Christmas carols it makes for good background music while you set up the tree. Oh, and the band’s entire discography is currently on sale for “Name Your Price” on Bandcamp, so what do you have to lose?
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Aloud Music
Websites: jardindelacroix.bandcamp.com | jardindelacroix.com | facebook.com/jardindelacroix
Releases Worldwide: December 9th, 2016