Chicago has a busy music scene, and I can hardly be bothered to go to shows even when bands I already like are playing, so there are plenty of cool second city bands that I’ve always heard of but never checked out. One such familiar name is Without Waves, an experimental/prog metal/rock outfit set to release their third album, Lunar, into a crowded field of new music this March 17th. Having to duke it out for attention with Dodecahedron and Fit for an Autopsy is no small order, but if there’s any little prog outfit ready to grab my attention, it’s this band and their mix of Pink Floydian aesthetics and idiosyncratic writing.
Despite the late-’80s cover art, Lunar is very much a modern progressive metal record and therefore opts to kick off “Sewing Together the Limbs” with a straight-up Meshuggah riff. Launching directly into a prog-metal freakout establishes the album’s cred right upfront — a smart move, as the song’s weak alt-rock chorus does its best to undermine that after about three minutes. The chorus is pretty annoying, to be sure, but surrounded by much darker riffing it’s a weird cut-and-paste job to hear. Lunar is full of such oddities, and the success of the experimentation varies hugely. The nine-minute “Us Against” starts out in Porcupine Tree mode and ends up in a bucolic plod reminiscent of modern day Pink Floyd, but moves through some great material getting there. Its three-part structure certainly keeps things interesting, but I can’t shake the feeling that ending on a less Gilmour-ey note would have served it much better.
After the Mastodon/Gorguts mashup of “Victorian Punishment,” the second half of Lunar offers much more consistent songs. “EDMS” melds an alt-rock vocal line with mathcore riffing and actually works pretty well, feeling dry and ugly throughout. But Without Waves really hit the jackpot with the incredible duo of “Lost Art” and “Fractals,” two great songs that seem to tie together all of the previously shattered angst of the album. “Lost Art” develops slowly out of twinkling guitars into a powerful chorus that leads smoothly into the song’s conclusion. But “Fractals” has it easily beaten in the chorus department, and has been stuck in my head for days.
Lunar is well-balanced across the board from a mixing standpoint, but I’m not quite on board with its overall sound. It’s a bit on the dry side, and while that tone works fairly well for the band’s heavier moments, the other half of the album is subdued and lyrical and could do with a little more low end for a lush feel. It’s quite an easy album to replay, and at fifty minutes, it’s a good length for a progressive rock LP and Lunar feels cinematic but at times a little forced. There are moments in nearly every song that feel a bit tired, whether it’s the radio-grunge choruses or just a slightly tacky transition here and there.
Lunar is an album with as many stumbles as successes, and while it can be a tough climb up to its peaks, the view is great there for a little while. I really liked this album for a while, but giving it repeated closer listens revealed enough roughness around the edges to dull my enthusiasm. Perhaps this is just too much of a rock album for my thoroughly brutalized ears. No matter the reason, “Fractals” and “Lost Art” together make for a compelling reason to listen to Lunar and dig into Without Waves‘ back catalog. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t feel the need to down-tune every guitar they see and run around stealing snare wires, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this album. And if you don’t, there’s plenty else to choose from this March.