I didn’t know this album was coming. I thought The Odious had faded out of existence long ago, trapped behind an ever-thickening glass of ‘what-if’s’ that both magnifies and distorts the legacy of bands that disappear just as they reach their creative zenith. You’ve heard swansongs before, but never from as fluffy and yolk-drenched a cygnet as The Odious were, releasing a career’s worth of great ideas over the course of two years and two releases – 2012’s Joint Ventures LP preceded by the That Night a Forest Grew EP in 2011. Now reaching for an altogether opposite avian metaphor, the band have reformed.
The Odious defy easy descriptions and sidestep flattering ones, but any honest accounting of the band’s sound either leans on or heavily implies the word “progressive.” Not in the sounds-like-Pink-Floyd sense – though the band happily Webber-ise “Fix” – but in the sense that they make music that defies tradition and champions new ideas just as it twists old ones. The earworm single “Repugnant” exemplifies their singular approach, beating in a hardcore-meets-funk groove that’s somehow both ingenious and obvious. Perhaps stranger, perhaps catchier, “物の哀れ” casts complex rhythms in a support role behind the band’s tremendous melodic and harmonic acumen. “Heavy Rhetoric” puts a funky spin on brutal math metal a la Ion Dissonance but finishes on a pompous groove straight out of Deconstruction-era Devin Townsend Project. The Odious never do what you expect and yet utterly fail to disappoint.
The result is an album that at once embraces and rebukes progressive metal’s tropes. Though their writing is far from simple or straightforward, the band never lapse into heady instrumental voyages or force-feed the album’s disjointed narrative to listeners; each song on the album is both a great standalone track and a natural partner to those around it. And though born out of the djent boom, the performances and production at play here realize the songs as fun music rather than as challenging tablature. Even more impressive, The Odious shine as brightly in their shorter and more straightforward songs – like “Heavy Rhetoric” and “Misuse and Malignment” as they do in longer songs. These more concise cuts tend to favor the band’s more extreme side, blending their usual funk-influenced take on Meshuggah riffing with the jarring dissonance that so many death metal bands now rely on.
As diverse as they are, the songs of Vesica Piscis all rely on – and reinforce – the herculean strength of The Odious’ core sound, provided by the band’s core members. Spencer Linn’s guitar and bass work obliterates your notion – so obvious as to be invisible – that one can’t play funk and death metal at the same time. Likewise, you might think that a band who split vocal duties between Ben Duerr (Shadow of Intent) and Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) would sound ridiculous. Linn and lead singer Patrick Jobe dispatch this misconception. New drummer Garrett Haag seems tailor-made for the band, capable of not only punctuating but also accentuating and contrasting Linn’s Meshuggah grooves, Gorguts freakouts, and Mars Volta counterpoints.
In true prog-fashion, Vesica Piscis begins on the piano line that Joint Ventures petered out in, but the continuity gap implied in the end of this album sets up the band for greater things to come. It’s impossible to end an album as inventive as this with something more unexpected than what came before. But “The Fix” does. The moody build, the bubbling ‘90s synths, the unconventional vocal melodies, even the cheeky “Echoes” rip-off could never prepare you for Vesica Piscis’ sudden and touching twist ending. It’s a fitting denouement to the eight year journey the band took to get to this point and would be a worthy last word. I dearly hope it is not.