Written By: Nameless N00b_19
Bands who churn up a variety of styles within their sound present some challenges to music consumers and the journalists who cover them. On the one hand they provide a host of talking points in a single review, while on the other they make it difficult to categorize and pigeonhole. And there is nothing wrong with that, per se. One glance at where heavy metal music has drifted from its 1970s roots is all it takes to affirm that these mash-ups of styles can and often do enrich the genre. Lyken21, hailing from the state of New Jersey, have been in business for at least the last twelve years to the tune of four full-length studio albums. They certainly fit the genre-hopper category, taking influence from styles as disparate as jazz, metal, fusion, classical, and punk, and like past works, their new album showcases a band unwilling to stay within the lanes of predictability. As with any creative work so ambitious, the key to success rests on Lyken21’s ability to meld styles fluidly and convincingly, and not for the mere sake of being different.
The feeling the album generates on initial listens is that there’s a traditional heavy metal heart beating beneath a chameleon-like skin, but individuals for whom nu-metal and ‘core’ sounds represent a big old red flag will have a bit of a problem in places. “Shadows” is an example of a band blending System of a Down-esque vocal arrangements with a NWoBHM underbelly. Good soloing and guitar/bass harmonies are sabotaged by that sort of rapped, sort of screamed vocal line that simply does not resonate with the average extreme metal fan’s typical tastes. This frankly quite trying vocal approach persists on “Sanctified,” and yet, the song itself is structured well and even features some smart keyboard melodies. One wonders if Lyken21 is taking influence from Prong and even Skyclad (sans the fiddle) along with the aforesaid nu-metal sound. As much as the vocal lines here may have at first irritated me, the guitar soloing is top-notch and the song became a bit of a grower.
Where Cyclical Insight truly shines is in the nine-minute centerpiece “Revelation Reality.” Enlightened spoken word intros are not something you encounter very much, and this one sets a dark mood following a silky guitar lead. Featuring bass guitar work from Mike LaPond of Symphony X fame, the vocals are soaring and unique, a trade-off between the robust and the epic that absolutely sticks the landing. Is it possible to mix Operation Mindcrime-era Queensryche with a bit of late 1990’s Fear Factory? I daresay Lyken21 does that here, dashing their composition with more smooth and engrossing guitar leads. Not even the rhythmic breakdown and half-spoken lyric toward the end of the song can derail its grandeur.
As if to underscore their zero-f*cks given mentality, Lyken21 include a Pat Benatar cover on Cyclical Insight. No, this isn’t a typo. “Hell’s 4 Children,” a bit needlessly spelled with slang, nevertheless winds up being an album highlight. It fits well with the socially conscious, distrustful-of-power lyrical slant and message that comprises the album. Vocalist Martin Miklos has a powerful voice, doing the inimitable pipes of Ms. Benatar a great degree of justice.
Cyclical Insight certainly doesn’t rest on any stylistic laurels, as even more straight ahead songs like “American Zombie” sizzle instrumentally. The metal pulse is strong here, pumping out solos and melodies to go with that robust, bordering on ‘bro-metal’ vocal approach which doesn’t quite detract from the experience as much as the traditionalist in me thinks it should. I’m ready to dismiss “Starlight” as too much of a modern metal construct when a keyboard solo whisks me back to my comfort zone, the rest of the tune quite enjoyable as well.
Therein lies the crux of the experience of listening to Cyclical Insight. Those for whom the post-90’s era of American metal is just a miasma of this and that ‘core,’ will find that this album will both grate and be great. There are elements aplenty on the album that positively simmer with nods to nu-metal. (Closer “Ebb of Humanity” perhaps the biggest transgressor next to the aforesaid “Shadows.”) Yet unlike most bands who flirt with that sound, Lyken21 manage to combine stellar individual performances with some damn good song ideas, in such a way as to smooth out the less palatable elements of their sound. Instrumentally, the band exhibits some rather superior song craft, but they might want to tone down those tough-guy vocals next time out; it’s the only place where the album feels forced and, let’s face it, that singing style bleeds a disingenuous immaturity so out of place in a band with such a massive amount of talent as Lyken21.