Without Waves – Comedian Review

Cover art can be make or break. Despite that old axiom, I do indeed judge a book by its often horrific cover. I tend to avoid the intentionally bad (looking at you, Voivod’s Target Earth) and the unabashedly anatomical (I’ve already seen The Reek of Putrefaction, thank you very much.) However, there’s plenty of room between the two extremes to play, and you can always count on a few quality covers lurking around the primeval AMG promo sump; the kind that just begs for a spin or three. Such was the case with Comedian, the latest from Chicago-based progressive metalers Without Waves. Their fortuitous choice to immortalize a moment in the life of one very unlucky flamingo has earned them one whole review. But does the cover, with its in-your-face depiction of avian violence, evince an equally effective set o’ songs? Let’s see if their sophomore effort does these pink beasts justice.

Way back in the halcyon days of 2017, the mighty Kronos reviewed Without Waves’ first album Lunar. Having read that review and listened to Comedian, a lot of those five-year-old plaudits and criticisms still apply, as do a lot of the influences Kronos first mentioned. The Porcupine Tree is strong with this one, especially in the slower, more sparse arrangements, complete with mournful atmospherics and sadboi cleans. When Without Waves let their prog flag fly, it’s often in djenty, more Meshuggah-adjacent moments. You also wouldn’t be out of line for noting the grunge-tinged choruses (another astute Kronos observation), the metalcore breakdowns or the hardcore vocals. And with most songs clocking in between 5 and 7 minutes, all of these ingredients are often present in a single track, bouncing from one to another like a line cook with ADHD. In less capable hands, these transitions could induce a nasty case of whiplash. Luckily, Without Waves are talented musicians and songwriters, able to reign in some of their more Malmsteenian tendencies to deliver pleasant surprises rather than discordant duds.

All that said, if you’re looking for a balanced record, Comedian isn’t it. While I found myself enjoying the album in bits and pieces and especially digging the intentionally off-kilter “Algorithm” and the In Absentia/The Incident-era Porcupine Tree stylings of the plaintive “Day 15,” listening to it in one setting proves trying, primarily because it’s such an uneven experience. The first three songs (four if you count sections of “Set & Setting”) are djenty, melodic examples of engaging progressive metal, with flourishes here and there that evoke such disparate influences as Acid Bath and Powerman 5000. This is the kind of prog insanity I signed up for. Soon after, however, things take an unexpected melancholic turn, churning out numbers like “Sleep Deep,” “Sleight in Shadows,” “World’s Apart” and “Seven,” all of which crank the sadboi to eleven with sparse instrumentation, lush ballads and layered, teary-eyed cleans that just don’t resonate, especially compared to the earlier might and bombast. Much like the issues I had with Moon Unit last year, this bait and switch, complete with surprise boy band crooning and overly-restrained musicianship, weakens the entire affair, slows the momentum, and proves that all the technical prowess in the world is no substitute for knowing how to structure an album.

Comedian is one odd bird. Even though I had a genuinely negative reaction, I can’t say I dislike any of the songs. There are choruses that stick, tracks worth multiple replays, bold musicianship, and impressive transitions from one style to another. Taken as individual pieces, these can and should be understood as unqualified successes. However, Without Waves’ has a terminal problem in the vocal department, an issue that Kronos also pointed out in his earlier review. While the hardcore harshes are serviceable, the cleans are so syrupy sweet, so painfully earnest, so wildly overused, that you might find yourself questioning if you’ve accidentally hit shuffle and landed on your super secret screamo playlist.

While individual sections and most of the songs are worth a listen, the jarring organization and the cringey cleans knock this one down several notches. I go into each review hoping for an immersive experience; a reason to not only enjoy individual tracks, but to appreciate the album as a unified whole. Comedian makes that a trying task. Without Waves’ latest definitely brings it in terms of technicality and variety, but loses me just as quickly thanks to poor structure and vexing vocals. Stick a beak in me, because I’m done.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: withoutwaves.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/withoutwavesmusic
Releases Worldwide: March 18th, 2022

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