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Alan Emslie - 2005 - "Dark Matter"

(44 min, 'AE Music')

TRACK LIST:                             

1.  Misanthropic Myopic Man 5:34
2.  Incomplete 5:10
3.  Dark Matter 5:30
4.  Charon 6:37
5.  Living Monster 7:04
6.  All the Time 6:27
7.  On Your Knees 4:47
8.  Two Threads 3:10


Alan Emslie - drums, percussion; keyboards, bass; vocals
John Irvine - electric guitar

Prolusion. The object of this material is the third solo album by Scottish multi-instrumentalist and composer Alan EMSLIE, "Dark Matter". For Alan's entire discography, please check my review of his previous release "Driven Heavy" or visit his website.

Analysis. Unlike its predecessor, "Dark Matter" doesn't feature additional musicians, but this time out the guys have much more widely used overdubs and the possibilities of a modern studio in general (just to meet their new design), so the album has a lush, dynamic and saturated sound, as if it was performed by a quintet. Mr. Emslie is certainly not the one to cling to the skirts of his past achievements, still continuing to change his songwriting style and improve the project's sound. Perhaps just due to Alan's bravery in the search of new ways to develop his music, each of his new albums proves to be better than the preceding one. "Dark Matter" is heavier, darker, more symphonic, but what's central, more expressive and just progressive than probably anything he has made before. Space Rock is out, Art-Rock is in; Cathedral Metal remains, but is used much wider and in a much tastier and richer way. Psychedelic elements are present on each of the eight tracks. While appearing either in open or latent form, they always impart a strong hypnotic sense to the music. Keyboards play an important role nearly everywhere, even though they are more often in the background, rather than at the forefront. Alan himself appears not only as a versatile composer and a skilled multi-instrumentalist, but also as a really extraordinary vocalist with a highly flexible and dynamic voice. While listening to Misanthropic Myopic Man and Incomplete I thought he would be the best replacement for Ozzy of Black Sabbath and Collins of Genesis, respectively. On the other songs, the artist much more often shows his own vocal face than exchanges the masks (though still always appearing as a chameleon singer), just following the ambitions of a man who has his own special way both in vocals and music. Alan's permanent partner, John Irvine, also works wonders with his guitar, making the instrument growl, cry and produce plenty of different shades of emotion, though the primary moods on the album, as implied, are reflection, dark and anxiety. Drama is the word. The opener, Misanthropic Myopic Man, is the one that is filled with raw, explosive energy practically throughout, steering somewhere between "No Rest for the Wicked" by Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest's "Painkiller". Living Monster is similar, but has an atmospheric episode in the middle with only vocals, bass and guitar. The basically slow Charon, All the Time and On Your Knees, all being laden with keyboards, are closer to what I understand as a monumental symphonic Cathedral Metal. (Which was invented by Black Sabbath, the brightest example being You Won't Change Me from "Technical Ecstasy", and was later developed and brought to perfection by Abstract Algebra.) Pure magnetism. Incomplete features a few musically different sections with theatric vocals and distinct symphonic Art-Rock arrangements, alternating with those done in the primary style. The remaining two tracks are instrumental pieces. The title track combines symphonic, darkly psychedelic and some electronic tendencies, while Two Threads, the droning sounds of guitar and bass with echoes, is just something psychedelic. At least from a progressive standpoint, there was no necessity to place Two Threads in the CD, even in the last position, because it's simple and unpretentious, looking like a makeweight to, say, the basic material. The album would have lost nothing without it, deducting 3 minutes of its playing time (44:30). The lyrics aren't profound, but sensible, most being imbued with anxiety about the fragility of mankind's morals. Finally, an important note: All the comparisons ever used in the review are relative. The project derives nothing from anyone.

Conclusion. I believe Alan Emslie could easily get a contract with Sanctuary or Eagle Records with such a strong and compelling album as "Dark Matter" (and solidly enrich their assortment with it). While the music isn't Prog in a traditional sense, each of the first seven tracks has pronounced progressive tendencies and none is instantly accessible. In any event, the album is much better to me than anything from the Neo Prog-Metal category, at least. My personal recommendations regarding it come with all sincerity.

VM: December 15, 2005

Alan Emslie - 2005 - "Dark Matter"


Analysis. There's something disturbing about this CD, from start to finish. I should probably tell you up front that I am not a fan of Metal. So, if Metal and Prog Metal is your thing, I really suggest you go off and read someone else's review, someone more tolerant of such audio assaults. The cover of the booklet features a photo of Alan Emslie, in negative, so that his skin is blue, a grim expression on his face and index finger thrust toward the viewer. My guess is that this visual is designed to set the viewer a bit ill at ease, to let you know that Mr. Emslie is going to "get in your face" with his music and perhaps to let you know that it is, well, a bit negative :-). (I scanned the cover and reversed the negative to positive and found that Mr. Emslie didn't appear nearly so fearsome in his true colors. Hopefully, the same can be said about the man, separated from his music, which I believe is probably true. A trip to his website reveals that he is a lover of good food, wine, beers and cigars.) Misanthropic Myopic Man reminds me quite a bit of early 70s hard rock, such as Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" album. The drums and guitar create a driving beat; the vocals processed to give a metallic ring for the verses, but the choruses sung outright. About 3/4 of the way through there is a short bridge where the drumming stops, giving a moment to catch your breath. Ervine provides a nice bit of guitar solo near the end, but mostly this is pounding hard rock with growling, processed vocals. This statement applies for nearly the entire album. Incomplete alternates between harshness and sweetness. Emslie proves to be a versatile vocalist, echoing the instrumental extremes, actually sounding quite pleasant through some of the more melodic passages. The title track is a gem amongst the grim, rough-and-tumble territory. The synthesizer sounds a bit like a trumpet fanfare calling across the foreboding landscape. There is a sense of struggle, a heroic quality to the melody with some nice guitar work. This is a definite bright spot on the CD. Charon takes a much slower tempo than its predecessors. Distortions and electrical buzzing reverberations return when the vocals begin. Charon is the ferryman in mythology who takes the dead across the River Styx to Hades. The singer is pleading not to be taken across. At the 5-minute mark, the music becomes clear of what I find to be irritating effects. Emslie's vocals are clear and the instrumentation becomes more melodic. Living Monster is another growler until the halfway mark when just drums and guitar create a quiet background for the vocal, again free of caustic effects, for a short time. Although the drumming is quite clear in the mix, Emslie never does anything particularly flashy with it. Two Threads closes the album, a welcome relief from the bombast of the majority of what's here. Two Threads is a peaceful, tranquil guitar solo, completely instrumental. Before this there are few glimpses of beauty to be found in this "Dark Matter". This last track, however, is like a glimmer of light amongst the darkness, as is, ironically, the title track.

Conclusion. "Dark Matter" is a completely apt title for this release by drummer Alan Emslie. The sound and subject matter are indeed dark. There are moments of lighter, more melodic music in some of the bridges and the two instrumental tracks, but overall, unless you are a metal-head, I would not recommend this CD, as it has very little that it progressive and much that is harsh and abrasive.

KW: December 15, 2005

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