Clay Withrow – Dissonance Rising

I’m going to call this ‘progressive metal’ for want of a better term, because I don’t really feel that there’s a genre that fits Clay Withrow. When you hear ‘prog metal’, you think of Dream Theater, Opeth, maybe something more esoteric such as Spastic Ink, but generally not like this. Clay Withrow has a superficial resemblance to one of those: I’d describe them as being like Dream Theater if Dream Theater were, you know, good. But I’d say that the music here is ‘progressive’ in a way that’s much more like an artist such as As Light Dies; technical, but not overly so, and progressive in the amount of layers and contrasting rhythms and melodies that are going on at any given moment. Additionally, Clay Withrow can actually write songs, not just elaborate exercises, immediately thrusting this band to the top of the prog metal heap in one movement.

There are elements from various genres here: power metal, a bit of gothic, a pinch of industrial, plenty of prog rock/metal, but just a set of ingredients doesn’t really express what the band does as a whole. A lot of the music here is quite soft and unmetallic; the general emphasis is on keyboard and vocal melodies, with guitars acting as a supporting element rather than riff factories. There are comparatively violent and aggressive parts, such as at the beginning of ‘Proxima Centauri’, but the tracks are generally rather mellow and gently introspective, like ‘The Grinding Part One’. The melodies aren’t light and fluffy, but somewhat dark and emotional in the vein of Evergrey. This is an overpoweringly melodic album: guitars, keyboards and vocals overpower everything during the heavier portions, with a drum presence that’s very subdued, almost to the point of inaudibility, with only the faintest traces of bass and snare keeping rhythm for the rest of the band to build upon.

Keyboards in the form of twinkling electronic sounds or more traditional piano effects are very frequently used, combining with small, reverbed clean guitar lines for the sections that are most like Dream Theater. The more aggressive riffing is strangely distorted and seemingly raw: the sounds of hands on fretboards are left in, and the tremolo that occasionally occurs comes in flurries of low, dark chords, played almost like black metal but without the distinct melodies. Contrasting soft and heavy parts are used, but in a rather natural way, with gentle Cynic-derived melodies alternating with tumultuous, stormy displays of conflict very nicely. Clean vocals are powerful and lack any sort of doubt or awkwardness, moving from placidity to aggression in a clean and organic fashion, with emotional displays being realistic and not laced with hints of melodrama like so many other prog artists.

The album’s flaws are primarily a matter of degree. Much of the album is not particularly memorable, and its lack of inherent abrasiveness allows it to fall into background noise rather easily. While the songwriting is good, it’s not the best we’ve ever heard, though it is very strong for a debut release. Some metalheads may be turned off by the lack of percusiveness in the general sound, and of the production which doesn’t have quite as severe a punch as your average DM record. People who hate Dream Theater may like this, as long as they hate that band for specifics, and not the genre. Some of the patterns of the album are a bit awkward due to the use of atypical time signatures, but for the most part they’re incorporated rather naturally. The technicality of the individual instruments is above average, certainly, but nowhere near your average shred or prog album. Instead, this band relies on a more subtle manipulation of elements to entrance the listener.

For a debut, ‘Dissonance Rising’ is a very strong prog metal release, even to one such as myself that normally dislikes the genre greatly. This can only indicate to progheads as being even better than I state, so I’d say this release should be investigated by most of you out there. It’s powerful and compelling and gets better with every listen.

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~ by noktorn on August 19, 2007.

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