Even before entering the world of Biolith, I had a couple qualms with Third Ion. But I only have myself to blame for this. I picked up Biolith for their new vocalist but found nerdy album covers and absurd record titles. The album of discussion here is Third Ion‘s 2015 debut, 13/8 Bit. And Biolith continues along the same lines as the debut (more of that to come). Some of you may find this exciting, but I do not; never having been a fan of video games. Do I hate them? Well, no, but my anger management specialist suggested I give up this vice or he’d walk. For years he has been trying to convince me that Guile is no match for Ryu and my stubbornness will lead to homicide. But, if there is a style of metal appropriate for all the video game mumbo jumbo, it’s prog. Biolith has a bit more focus than 13/8 Bit, but it’s all still there and still lacks staying power. Anyway, let’s get back to the real reason everyone has been talking about this band: the vocalist. Well, I guess the band isn’t short of semi-famous members.
For those keeping tabs on Annihilator‘s infamous turnover, you know Dave Padden is no longer with the band. Having spent a decade as guitarist and vocalist for these Canadian thrashers, Padden appears ready to lend his voice to prog. Not the perfect fit (or is Third Ion the perfect band), Padden does get a chance to show off his pipes. Using his signature cleans and gruffs, Padden is a more capable vocalist for the band than Tyler Gilbert. Unfortunately, a key element is missing on Biolith: cohesion. Except for “Temporal Divide,” the lengthier tracks go on and on, and the album, as a whole, seems headed for nowhere. There are definitely good and great moments, but, as is the case with the debut, the final destination is hard to predict.
“State of Flux” opens the album with the typical guitar noodlings of most proggy outfits. The technicality isn’t awe-inspiring, but it does have all those typical technical flavorings. After alternating between heavy and melodic, the song changes course at the seven-minute mark. Of its nine-minute length, this last section is the most entertaining. The band provides some interesting riffs, slick melodies, nifty solos, and precision drum work. Not a terrible song, but one that needs many spins to appreciate. Unfortunately, “Biolith” is one of those songs that repeat listens does not make better. No matter how many times I listen to the title track, it just won’t click. The title track appears to be the “epic” here; and what a mess it is. There are ups, downs, harsh and calm vocals, thrashy riffs, acoustic guitars, and Mario Bros. boops and bops strewn about its ten-minute length. Apart from the chorus and those Spanish-inspired acoustic guitars, the song is too much. Oh, and that intro hurts me.
As mentioned before, the lengthy “Temporal Divide” is one of the tracks that works. Though it has a seven-minute length, it feels concise. It’s got groove and accessibility in the songwriting, and the atmospheres do well to round it out. “Lessons Burned” is similar in approach and Padden’s performance is one of the best on the album. “Cosmic Delusion” is another standout track with chunky grooves and a nice Dream Theater-like pace. It is simple, yet effective—especially when compared to the bloated character of other songs. And there are”Status Undetermined” and “Corpus Solaris.” Which make them memorable in a completely different way. Both act almost as “instrumentals” for the album. The former acting as a mid-album intermission and the latter representing the closer. The gentle vocals and building Toolish atmospheres provide structure to the disjointed chaos and give the album a hint of purpose. Also, these songs (along with “Illogical”) allow Padden a chance to unleash his mellow cleans.
In the end, Biolith fails to grab and maintain my attention for long. After a dozen listens, I find myself skipping between the stronger tracks, completely avoiding the weaker ones. Never the less, the guitars are good (Justin Bender; ex-Into Eternity), the drumming is meticulous, and the bass is respectable (Mike Young; ex-The Devin Townsend Band). For examples of the bass work, check out the end of “Illogical.” The vocals are worlds better than the debut, but the songwriting seems to be holding them back. This band does have potential. It just needs a bit of trimming.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3