Source originally perked up our ears back in 2016, when the quickly-departed Zephyrous wrote about their debut, Return to Nothing, and none other than Madam X included the album in her Least Disliked Ten(ish) of 2016 list. Not everyone was on board with their wanton and blatant Tool-meets-Opeth template, but you can count me amongst their followers. After all, it was their first album, and the trio from Boulder, Colorado had to mimic someone. Over the past couple of years, the Madam and I have often posed the questions, “How’s it going with Source? And is their sound going to evolve into their own, or are we gonna get another Tool-ish record?” “It’s going well,” and “Sort of,” would be the correct answers, via their sophomore effort, Totality.
The band gets right down to business with “Benjamin,” a possibly autobiographical song from the band’s leader, guitarist/singer Ben Gleason. It’s a sharp, aggressive number, much like older Tool material, with driving, precise percussion, angular guitar riffing, and very tasty bass underpinnings. Topping it off, Gleason approaches the vocals on this song with a higher level of emotion than on the debut; the lyrics clearly matter to him. “Sinking” and “The Witness” are similarly strong, aggressive songs, actually more reminiscent of Soen than Tool at times. “Intimacy” sticks out from the crowd with more of an alt-metal feel to it—think Soen meets Chevelle here. It’s not the band’s best work on Totality, but as a weak spot it’s still well-written. There’s wonderful variety in the song arrangements throughout, as well as in the album’s pacing: aggressive opening tracks, a trio in the middle with a more alt-metal feel, followed by one of the best back halves of an album I’ve heard in ages. The band takes things to another level towards the end of “Unsure,” with a swirling, climactic riff, and carry on with four more amazing songs.
Return to Nothing saw Source making use of harsh vocals and gratuitous blast beats, neither of which really fit with the band’s overall sound. Thankfully, they have moved on from those stylistic choices here, and instead Gleason employs clean vocals throughout. Yes, he does still need to work on them: he’s raised his game emotionally on many tracks here, but still lacks punch in his delivery at times. As well, Source are a band that draw influence from meditation and other profound metaphysical practices, and here on Totality those explorations are conveyed in both lyrics and music. Eastern influences permeate the record: the stellar album closer “Embodied” is a combination of Eastern-influenced arrangements and killer riffs. It’s already one of my favorite tracks of the year. “Between” is a beautiful instrumental, full of delicate percussion, soft strings, and guitar harmonics that draw the listener into another world—exactly as the band intend. “The Changes Constant” also displays a more mature songwriting style, with piano, clean guitar, and an airy approach to a song that certainly has its heavy moments.
Another area of improvement on Totality is the production. The album has been mastered with much more tact than Return to Nothing was, and the result is a more aggressive, lush, dynamic soundscape. Justin Mirarck attacks the drums with vigor, and his energy is conveyed in the mix. Guitars, bass, and vocals never overwhelm each other, and in the quieter and more delicately-arranged moments of the album (“Between,” “The Changes Constant”) the emotion of the music really hits home. Ulrich Wild (Deftones, Pantera, Dethklok, Otep) was brought on to produce Totality and exceeds my expectations here. Gleason’s vocals have taken a step forward as well, and while at times the lyrics about transformation, change, and so forth are still too reminiscent of some of MJK’s lyrics, his delivery is for the most part more emotional than on the debut. Vocals are still the weakest link in the band, but far less so.
One can’t help but compare Source to similar acts like Tool and Soen: their sounds and styles converge more often than not. However, much like Soen’s trajectory, Totality finds Source moving in their own direction, incorporating more of their own personalities into the songs and relying less on their influences. Dropping the harsh vocals and adding in the Eastern musical influences strengthens Totality. Source still have room to grow, which is a great thing. As Gleason’s vocals continue to improve and the band’s song-writing evolves even further, we could be witnessing the birth of the next great progressive metal band.