There are two-billion-plus different ways something can sound “progressive.” For the sake of brevity, let’s oversimplify the matter and assume that these two billion ways of being progressive boil down to two possible end results. The first, of course, is the ubiquitous sensation that what we hear sounds unmistakably like “progressive” music—things like Yes, King Crimson, Dream Theatre. Multifaceted and complex songs abound, often long-form and occasionally exploring more time signatures than you can count, but in every case there is no mistaking that “progressive” framework. The second result is music that many hesitate to call “progressive” because it definitely doesn’t feel “progressive,” but agreeing on any one genre or band comparison is difficult enough that you call it “progressive” anyway. “Is it prog?” “No.” “Is it kinda prog, though?” “Yes?” “Is it prog-melo-thrash-atmo-power?” “Mmmmmmmayyyybe?” “Oh who cares!” Sound familiar? Yeah, I bet it does. It’s the very debate I had with myself when considering what to call Texas five-piece Runescarred and their debut full-length The Distant Infinite.
Runescarred blend thrash, heavy and progressive metal together into an amalgam that is simultaneously all of those things and its own thing entirely. Immediately upon completing a preliminary spin of The Distant Infinite, bands which first came to mind included The Offering, Nevermore, and Havok. The production is thoroughly modern but tones across the board, particularly in the vocals and the lead guitars, possess satisfying grit to make up for it. Expect a lot of energy in these forty-four minutes as well, since most of The Distant Infinite adopts a boisterous and magnetic personality. Many will struggle to classify anything offered here with absolute certainty, just as I did, but the overarching benefit of that struggle is that the record is thoroughly intriguing.
In a rare feat, Runescarred executed an impressive five-song hot streak right from the get-go. Opener “Hexit” is arguably the strongest of the five, with Tim Driscoll’s and Skunk Manhattan’s (nice) killer thrashy riffs suited for frightening your boring neighbors in satisfying fashion. Following close behind in the rankings is “Legionem Eclipsem,” which is easily the most outright fun to be had on The Distant Infinite. It also happens to be a personal best for mic man Ven Scott, who nails a bullseye on the vocal Ven
n diagram between rough growls, snarly barks and gravelly cleans. “Swallow Your Tail” invites some bluesy swagger to the party, which breaks things up in an unexpected but pleasing manner, and showcases Payton Holekamp’s adaptability behind the kit. “Inviting Rivers” and “Minor Progressions” round out the grouping with plenty of melody and songwriting dynamics to please any metalhead.
Things get a bit bumpy after that. Three songs in the second half—”Twisted Flesh,” “This Distant Infinite,” and “Sorrow Is”—expose Runescarred‘s main weaknesses. Firstly, Ven Scott’s performance, while versatile, is occasionally too gruff and untamed to achieve harmony within the more intimate moments here. Secondly, the mix puts the vocals too far forward and the bass too far back in these songs, which might play a supplementary role towards the aforementioned cohesion issue. Thirdly, the lyrics seem awkward, not in subject matter or meaning but in choice of words. I found it distracting even after eight spins, each time the same strange phrases dragging me out of the story the band wanted to tell. Lastly, some excess material requires trimming. “Twisted Flesh” is two minutes too long, most of the bloat manifesting in the song’s midsection, and the instrumental “This Distant Infinite” is entirely disposable even at a hair shy of two minutes.
Thankfully, Runescarred right the ship just before journey’s end. “Poison Oasis” returns to Josh Robins his ample bass presence and thereby puts much appreciated meat back on this LP’s bones, and “Mammoth” brings things to a sensible close, opening the audience up for a second spin. Nevertheless, deep in the recesses of my mind I know that the experience as a whole felt uneven. Had The Distance Infinite maintained the steadfast quality apparent in the first half through to the end, I might tout the record as a potential list-season upset. Such as it is, The Distant Infinite qualifies as a solid debut with great energy by a promising young band from which I expect great things.