The Vicious Head Society – Abject Tomorrow CD Review27th January 2017
I love long songs. With the average length on this album being around 8 minutes (with an 18 minute long epic to end) then you’d better love long songs too.
This concept album follows a man whose emotion-inhibiting implant, in a dystopian future where humans are required to have these, fails, and he begins a journey to discover his own humanity.
It starts with what can only be described as an 80’s space-horror soundtrack written by Dream Theatre. It moves from the synth/complex rhythmic intro into a voice (Wilmer Waarbroek) you don’t expect in the slightest, sort of a mixture of both Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters with the occasional Dio tinge thrown in, interjected with classical guitar twangs and reverby extra percussion further back in the mix. It’s got all the Prog staples you want- synth breakdowns, sections in 7/4, 5 minutes of duelling guitar solos. But so far I’m not entirely convinced by it.
Track 2 is where it starts to pick up, of course, you get the staples, but also something rare for Prog: a more verse/chorus structure, alternating between a haunting speech-like verse, and a genuinely very catchy chorus. This song is the only on the album to feature vocals from Nathan Pickering, whose voice sounds very similar to Geoff Tate of Queensryche here… before it sounds SO not. We get the first use of harsh vocals after the chorus, and its impressive. It fits perfectly where it comes in and the tone is incredible. Obviously, if you like your Prog more Jethro Tull than Opeth then it may be off-putting, but for metal fans, it’s a great moment. It returns a few times and I’m hoping the rest of the album takes a similar course to this song. Unfortunately, Nathan Pickering couldn’t finish his work on the album and this is the only track he sings on, a shame because his voice is phenomenal.
For the next few tracks, you just have to appreciate how juxtaposing Prog can be. In Wilmer Waarbroek‘s harsh voice you can hear influences Jonathan Davis‘ guttural Korn vocals crossed with Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir, thrown on top of piano interludes and violin solos. It’s impressive to combine, and it’s refreshing to hear in metal, but to me, it mostly just sounds forced. It seems like they’ve made a list of what they think is innovative and decided to close their eyes and pick five things for each song. Admittedly there are times that it works, but a lot of the time it just seems to be thrown in because someone has a keyboard with a nice string sound.
The middle section of the album is very strange if I’m honest. Track 3, in particular, includes some interesting lyrical choices; ‘She will fly‘ being wailed for a few minutes was one of the highlights. Track 4 is a bizarre alternation between what seems to be an attempt at serious death metal, into a kid’s TV sing-a-long. It’s hard to take the spoken word mutterings about… something concept albumy… seriously at around 8 minutes in, because whatever it is they’re talking about sounds like it could be coming straight from Spinal Tap. But it does lead into one of the best instrumental sections of the album, and these remain consistently impressive throughout, combining soaring solos and complex rhythmic patterns. The strangeness continues in track 5, with some Yes style vocal harmonies slotted in between the guttural vocals (something that actually does work quite well) and finally comes to an end after the instrumental interlude ‘Psychedelic torture trip‘- an experiment in rhythm, atonality and contrast, which as a music student, I love.
Track 7 ‘Gods of the new age‘ seemed to me like filler, and just something blocking me from what I’d been waiting for- the 18-minute long ‘Analogue Spectre‘. It opens with more spoken word, over a soundtrack that seems to imply some sort of spaceship takeoff, somewhat coming full circle from the sound of the beginning of the album. There are sections that seem thin, almost like there’s something missing (pretty opposite how some of the rest of the album sounded), but then there are sections of dense complexity that Dream Theatre would be proud of, especially in the first extended instrumental section. It extends into a dreamy Pink Floyd soundscape, eventually reaching a short jazz piano solo, into the most explosive guitar solo of the album and another very heavy breakdown. It ends with a chanting power-metal outro and a big, orchestral finish, which seems to wrap up the album and storyline quite satisfyingly.
Overall, it’s a good album. It’s not Opeth. But it’s good. There are weird moments, but they aren’t necessarily bad. As a debut release, you can see how much work has gone into it. The composer, Graham Keane, is a hugely talented guitarist and has managed to create an incredibly complex album and has done well to fund the album and find such skilled musicians to both play and sing with him. Despite seemingly getting carried away with having so many Prog elements to fit in, there are some moments of brilliance, most notably, the title track.
A final point- something that never tends to grab my attention- the album art is absolutely incredible, fitting perfectly with the story, message, and sound of the album.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
Abject Tomorrow Information
- The Sycophants
- Abject Tomorrow
- The 11th Hour
- Psychedelic Torture Trip
- Gods Of The New Age
- Analogue Spectre
24th March 2017
For fans of
Dream Theatre, Opeth, Queensryche