East of the Wall Returns After Five Years With a Strong Prog Rock LP

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

East of the Wall is a progressive metal outfit from Keyport, New Jersey. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 2006, which kicked off a fairly impressive career and expansive catalog. However, after their fourth full length LP in 2013, they seemed to fall off the map a bit, only releasing one EP in 2015 under Epistemic Records instead of their usual partners, Translation Loss Records. After a long hiatus and more than a few notable lineup changes, they’ve finally returned with their first full scale release in almost six years, NP-Complete.

Much of what works so well about this album is what one would expect from a prog metal band of this caliber, but there are a few surprises, namely in the production. The stereo imaging on this album is absolutely wonderful, and really demands a nice set of headphones. Take a track like the opener, “Tell Them I’m Sorry,” for example. The production work doesn’t quite jump out, but closer examination shows that not only is every instrument, especially the drums, extremely well mixed, but every sound has a direction allowing this album to really surround a listener. 

Another strength which is all too often ignored in the metal world is the excellent bass guitar work. From cuts like the hilariously named “Fast-Bang Pooper Doop,” to the later “Somn 6,” the bass is not only extremely well played, leaving the guitars side for some inspired melodic lines, but it’s also able to cut through the rather chaotic mixes and shine quite effectively. It’s often missing from even the best metal records, and so a strong bass presence is a welcome feeling on NP-Complete.

Of course, the staples of great progressive rock are still here. A multitude of electric guitars form the melodic front to nearly every track, even verging on some shoe-gaze inspirations at a few points. “Leinholder,” is an excellent example of the pure proficiency with which these guitars are played by nearly every member of the band and the track dances through strange signatures and quick riffs with ease. The closer and best track, “Non-Functional Harmony,” on the other hand, is more sparsely populated with a driving and well written riff.

However, while the guitars may be the muscles of this project, Seth Rheam on drums is definitely the backbone. Nearly every song incorporates complex rhythms, strange signatures, and remarkably fast fills, all of which Rheam does with relative ease. “Clapping on the Ones and Threes,” is a nice shining moment for the drums as Seth strikes a great balance between tight, sharp fills and explosive cymbal shots. “N of 1,” on the other hand kicks off with a fantastic drum solo which carries over into one of the best, most rhythmic cuts on the album.

All this being said, I do have a few loud gripes with the album. First and foremost, the vocals leave quite a bit to be desired. While there are a few nice moments like the brutal screams on “Somn 6,” but the majority of the album is packed full of incredible instrumental work and sub par vocals.

Additionally, the instrumental and overall sound pallet are a bit clean and safe for my taste. Nearly every guitar sounds almost pristine, and the majority of vocals are clean as well. When they do attempt to add other instruments, be they synths or a saxophone on the closer, it feels mostly out of step with the direction of the track. I can’t help but wish for a more daring, and perhaps more abrasive pallet.

Worst of all, though, the pacing varies widely, but leans on the side of slow and dense. This, of course, may not be an issue for the hardline prog-metal fan, and I myself can forgive some of it, but a track like “The Almost People,” illustrates this quite well as it just becomes lost in itself over the near eight minute runtime, with no discernible sectioning or direction.

Overall, I enjoyed NP-Complete. It can be a bit of a slog at times, and the lack of risks does catch up with the band at times, but for fans of long-form, jazz-influenced, technically challenging music, this is a treat.

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Greta Van Fleet Releases Explosive First LP, Despite Production Issues

Greta Van Fleet still has a lot of room to grow, but this album leaves me excited to take that journey with them.

     Greta Van Fleet is neo-classic rock group based in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The group has achieved massive success since the release of their debut EP, Black Smoke Rising in the summer of 2017 and the follow up, From the Fires a few months later. The latter was certified gold and peaked in the top 40 on billboard, reaching number one in their hard rock classification.

   Their sound is often compared to that of Led Zeppelin, an observation which gains the bulk of its credibility from from frontman, Josh Kiszka’s high pitched vocal with which he wails over virtually every track. Beyond this, the instrumental work, particularly Jake Kiszka’s guitar, is evocative of the indulgent style of rock’s golden age in the early to mid-1970’s. Greta Van Fleet have continually dispelled the direct comparisons to Zeppelin in many interviews, and it’s become something of a hot topic in online circles. Personally, the similarities are far to obvious to be missed, but it’s never bothered me or effected my enjoyment of the band’s work, which I’ve found to be some of the best in modern rock music over the past few years. That being said, this LP had it’s work cut out, as it was tasked with exploring new sonic landscapes without losing the group’s classic style. It’s a difficult juggling act, but I must say, Anthem of the Peaceful Army performs it quite well.

   The Greta we know and love is hear in full force, particularly on tracks like “The Cold Wind,” or the lead single, “When the Curtains Fall.” Here, we’re treated to well toned guitar work, rock beats, and pure rock vocals. It’s fun, it’s powerful, and in every way it’s classic, which is everything we’ve come to love and expect from the group.

   There are also consistent improvements, however. Sam Kiszka’s bass work, which has been lacking up to this point, is excellent on “The New Day,” and “You’re the One.” In addition, Danny Wagner’s drums on tracks like “Mountain of the Sun,” are vastly better on this project, retaining the basic rock beats of From the Fires, but adorning them with well placed fills and crashes.

   And, of course, Josh and Jake Kiszka’s contributions on vocals and guitar respectively are fantastic, as expected. A tracks like “Lover, Leaver,” and “Brave New World,” just couldn’t be accomplished by many bands in the current rock scene, but Josh and Jake muscle them to excellence through catchy hooks and soaring vocals, both of which can be found on nearly every second of the forty minute runtime.

   The best addition to Greta’s arsenal, overall, are the dark and atmospheric tracks like “Watching Over,” and the opener, “Age of Man.” The latter works in a bit of orchestration and the latter uses an almost minimalist approach and an excellent guitar solo, but each achieve a more nocturnal feel than was ever possible on the band’s earlier hits. The best example of this comes in the closer, “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer),” the longest track on the record and my personal favorite, which dances between droning guitars, minimal interludes, and explosive screams to carry all of its six minutes. This is an obvious moment of growth for Greta, and as such a young band thrown into such a bright spotlight, the willingness to branch out is commendable, as well as sonically enjoyable.

   On the other hand, there was a surprising amount of acoustic guitar on this record, which doesn’t always work to the band’s favor. “The New Day” utilizes this quite well, but tracks like “Anthem” and my least favorite entry, “You’re the One,” which also suffers from poor lyricism and, my biggest complaint with this record as a whole, boring production.

   The production team at Republic records seems to have missed a large portion of what makes Greta Van Fleet the group they are, and because of this, this album suffers from multiple missed opportunities. This band has the opportunity to build a lush, maximalist sound, and instead, it sounds like for, albeit talented, musicians performing together. One of the best elements of the indulgent, stadium rock of the 70’s was hearing lead riffs, drum fills, and vocal hooks seem to peak above a powerful wave of sound for only a moment. This is a missed opportunity which I hope will be corrected in later projects.

   Anthem of the Peaceful Army is a blast to listen to. Its made to be played very loud and harken to a much earlier, prouder time in rock’s history, and yet it delivers substance along with its aesthetic. Every aspect of the band’s sound has improved and, despite a few lyrical and production missteps along the way, they’ve crafted an extremely enjoyable LP.

   Greta Van Fleet still has a lot of room to grow, but this album leaves me excited to take that journey with them.

7/10

HEAR ANTHEM OF THE PEACEFUL ARMYhttps://open.spotify.com/album/7zeCZY6rQRufc8IHGKyXGX