The Wring – Project Cipher Review

I fully admit I picked this record up expecting it to be terrible. Self-released prog by one dude and a bunch of guest musicians? Never a good sign. Plus grandiose Rush comparisons in the promo text. Add an album cover featuring a completely accurate photo of me at my desk. Top it off with a music video haphazardly cutting together the digital rain from The Matrix, a documentary on the WW2 era Enigma cipher machine, and random terminal output from somebody’s YouTube video titled “Fake Hacking! Pretend to be a Pro Hacker!” I figured I’d end up griping about inability to edit, throw in a few bad cryptography puns, and call it a day. As it turns out though, The Wring are much better at music than they are at music videos.

The promo’s promise of “Rush without the synths” is a pretty decent summary of what The Wring are going for here. The key elements are complex, layered, noodly guitar/bass lines and shifting time signatures. Prog’s regular downfall is letting the noodling get in the way of good songs, but The Wring keep things tight and let the songcraft lead. With seven songs in under half an hour, there’s little time for anything to outstay its welcome. At their best, The Wring can cram a bunch of interesting riffs and a catchy chorus into a four minute song (e.g. “Dissension”).

The downside is that they’re statistically indistinguishable from the preceding 50 years of progressive music. Project Cipher is never anything less than pleasant, but when you’re in a genre this played out, anything that’s not brilliant just blends in. Calling a prog rock song “Sorceress” invites comparisons with the Opeth album of the same name. For all the griping about their 70s throwback period, Opeth did it better, with more variety and a more interesting sound. I’m also reminded of the Nuclear Power Trio EP from last year, which brought a level of energy (and a Latin fusion twist) that’s lacking here. By the last couple of songs (“Dose” and “Touch”), I find my ability to differentiate the tracks from each other fading, never mind the rest of the genre.

Matters aren’t helped by the production job. The vocals are a bit overproduced and sound like they’re trying to compensate for a patchy performance. Everything sounds a bit thin, flat, and lacking heft. The lack of weight particularly obfuscates the bass, which is a shame as there’s some interesting bass lines under there. Songwriter and guitarist Don Dewulf’s guest musicians (many with credits alongside the classic prog greats) are talented, and all of the instrumental performances are great. The guitar is the focus, of course, and holds its own in the spotlight.

The Wring generally succeed at what they’re going for—Dewulf has produced a fun, catchy record. Particularly on the album’s middle section (“Cipher,” “Steelier” and “Dissension”), there’s some great songs with great riffs. If you’re after some new prog, you could do a lot worse than this album, and I found it quite hard to score. But in the end I have trouble recommending it more generally. Project Cipher is let down by the final couple of songs falling flat, and in the end it’s 2021 and the bar for new prog making it onto my playlists is high. Project Cipher comes close, but doesn’t quite make it.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 28th, 2021

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