Servers – The Vertical Plane Review

It’s been quite a while since I last reviewed anyone hailing from even close to my neck of the woods but, this week, I present for your perusal Servers. Hailing from Barnsley in South Yorkshire, UK,  the band—the label blurb tells me they’re a quintet and then proceeds to name only three members1—return with their fourth album, the follow-up to 2019’s Ad Nauseam. Servers take the title of The Vertical Plane from a book of the same name about the (apparently) infamous Dodleston mysteries in 1985, which saw an (apparently) haunted, pre-internet BBC computer receive a series of messages from the sixteenth century.  I confess that neither I, nor any of my fellow British AMG scribes, had come across this mystery but, fear not, Sentynel is on the case and will soon provide a thorough report as to how these medieval messages definitely reached us, confirming that the whole thing definitely wasn’t made up by the tabloid press.

In the meantime, on The Vertical PlaneServers delves into a series of examinations of the failings of religion in the face of science, through the medium of progressive metal. Servers slightly shifts its sound every song, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so. After each listen I come away with an overall impression of something like Kylesa played in the style of Baroness, with Khemmis-esque flourishes and even Blood Mountain-era Mastodon in places (see the closing riff on “Crimson Tide”, for example). The success of this blueprint varies according to the stylistic variations employed. The crazed polka rhythms that open, and indeed dominate, “You Still Come Willingly” make me sit up on each listen and are genuinely fun, while opener “Absolom”, with its electronica, synths and crunchy guitars has an oppressive, yet raucous vibe, driven by Baronessy vocals and also features some quite tasty solos. By contrast, tracks like “Incorruption” and “Despond to Despair”, which focus on a more bass-driven groove, are forgettable and lacking in identity.

Occupying the middle ground between these two schools are tracks that seems to oscillate between the different aspects of Servers’ sound, without ever quite finding their stride. “Stranglehold” is a prime example of this, opening with a juddering synth that promises a lot (and feels very familiar, although I can’t place it), only to descend into ragged d-beat verses and generic semi-clean vocal choruses in its midsection. Just as you think the band has lost its way completely on this track, the back half of “Stranglehold” sees those almost NWOBHM leads re-enter the fray and Servers have my attention once more. This pattern repeats itself across “Mother of all Lies” and “Crimson Tide”.

New guitarist Will Price has added some flare to the guitar work across The Vertical Plane, while Lee Wilde’s bass is strong throughout. Founding member Lee Storrar also handles guitars and gets the principal credit for the vocals, although Price contributes to these too. In terms of the performances, it’s the vocals that are the most problematic. Not, I should say, because any of them are bad per se. Rather the sheer range of styles Servers employs, ranging from Mother of Millions-like cleans and more Baroness-influenced gruff chants to harsher barking vox that border on a sludgy post-hardcore note, manages to create a slightly disjointed experience that lacks cohesion. Many of the vocals are also drenched in echoing effects, which are unnecessary and over-used. Where the vocals click (“Absolom” or “Here, There, Everywhere”), the pieces snap into place nicely but sadly this is not consistent. In terms of production, the master is too loud and creates a rough and tiring audio experience, although many of the individual components sound decent.

The Vertical Plane is a frustrating album. There are a couple of very good songs and so many flashes of what could have been great songs. For me, Servers has attempted to put too much into this record. On one view, it represents a step forward from Ad Nauseam as it sees the band experimenting with its sound and influences, and taking some risks, several of which pay off (“You Still Come Willingly” and “Crimson Tide”, for example). The Vertical Plane is a much more uneven affair than its predecessor, however, and a few of its songs feel bland (“Incorruption”), while others need further refining to truly work (“Stranglehold”). I like to see bands take risks though, and Servers clearly have talent and a vision but it’s not quite there yet.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Undergroove Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: May 19th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. But then it also says that Servers ”return to action in ADD MONTH”.
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