Disforia - The Age of Ether - (8/10)
Published on July 2, 2014
I’ve made no secret of my somewhat debilitating mancrush on Judicator in these pages, and though my anticipation for said band’s forthcoming album (At the Expense of Humanity) is reaching fever pitch, I see no harm in taking a slight detour into the progosphere of Disforia. Yes, the inimitable John Yelland handles vocal duties here too, yes they play progressive metal and, yes, this is another helluva promising band from the increasingly fecund Utah metal scene.
“Progressive” might be a slight misnomer in the sense that, when deconstructed, there’s nothing on here that you haven’t heard before, and let’s face it, we live in an age where just about every metal act that eschews linear song structure in favor of multi-layered instrumentation and expansive lyrical narratives ends up with the ‘prog’ tag. At the risk of getting overly pedantic about it, let’s just go ahead and call Disforia a “smart metal” band not entirely dissimilar to the likes of Pharaoh and Into Eternity (insofar as their sound is built upon a foundation of alternating contrasting-yet-complementary elements that run the gamut from power to melodic death metal). It’s not the sine non qua of the subgenre but it’s intricate and engaging enough to get geeks the world over very giddy.
The somewhat ‘freeform’ approach of their Our Time Defined EP has been scuttled in favour of a more multi-layered and dense sound that seems to marry the mechanical with the organic (something evident when glancing at their logo). Sure, the disarmingly impulsive aesthetic of the EP has been lost but in its place we have a much sharper and focused product. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the constantly shifting quality of the songs the album remains rousing and impassioned throughout, whether it’s the surprisingly catchy “Dream Eater” (where wispy keyboards, driving riffs and dual cleans/growls combine to create a musical Ayreon-BlindGuardian-Into Eternity ménage à trois), the blinding light & shade interplay of the aptly titled “Chaos” or the more pensive ballad-like “The Ethereal”. In what is surely a coup de grâce for the band the one and only Hansi Kursch lends them his leaden pipes on “The Dying Firmanment”. No surprises here – hearing him duel with Yelland got me all kinds of excited. Not to be outdone, Yelland almost out-Kursches Kursch midway through “Creator’s Creator”. Good times!
For all its strengths, and there are indeed many, the album is not flawless. Yelland is somewhat precluded from letting loose in trademark Judicator style due to the dense and lyric-heavy nature of the songs, and apart from “Dream Eater,” “The Dying Firmament” and “Lunar Sunrise” many of these songs are not all that catchy. It comes with the prog, nay, smart metal territory, but I would’ve preferred a few more individual standouts. It works on the whole though, and together with the ace musicianship, crisp production job, awesome Dan Mumford cover art and will to meaning lyrical bent (Frankl would approve), this is a stellar album that is not to be missed.