After a five-year hiatus, cult Technical Metalcore act A LIFE ONCE LOST return to the fold with only their fifth long-player, “Ecstatic Trance” – a fitting title, given the tone and effect of the album, so out of left field as to be as bafflingly out of place with the band’s narrative as it is rewarding.
“Ecstatic Trance” barely exceeds what could only be generously called a slow-mid tempo. Gone is the technical flurry of earlier works and the Hardcore groove of “Iron Gag”, having been replaced by reserved, yet expansive, guitar work – explored through a succession of key changes and layers – and, new drummer, Jordan Crouse’s deep, plodding, kick-snare. It is these drums that drive the album, plowing forth like a locomotion – albeit, one with an occasional polyrhythmic flair – while allowing for the spaced out guitars to build atop their deep pulse. The experience of “Ecstatic Trance” is just that. It is overcoming and elating, overpowering and instantly persuasive.
The record thunders along to along to the slow, crunchy, drum beat inferred form modern MESHUGGAH, often combining with the open bass to create a bass / drum sound worthy of THE PRODIGY (see: “Madness Is God” “I See, I Hear”). There’s still plenty of (timely) reminders of the bands heavier, more extreme roots; in “I Am”, “Mirricle Worker”, “I See, I Hear” etc. and the slow, drawn out nature of the music brings to mind MESHUGGAH’s “Koloss”, if approached from an entirely different, less devastating, angle. Robert Meadows’ vocals have always been compared to Jens Kidman (MESHUGGAH), and it’s easy to see why. However, I’m picking up much more of the southern, Hardcore drawl, of VISION OF DiISORDER’s Tim Williams; especially his work on the second BLOOD SIMPLE record. There’s also a fair amount of TOOL influence apparent – especially the “Schism”-aping riff of “The Blues” – and it isn’t hard to tie the almost sensual nature of the music to the more atmospheric work of the DEFTONES.
As someone who always struggled to get into the highly recommended “Hunter” and “A Great Artist”, despite a great love of all things DEP and MESHUGGAH, “Ecstatic Trance” comes as both a delightful surprise and a window into the substance of a band never before understood. A lot of complaint has been voiced about this album being “boring”, because of the slow pace and basic, repetitive drumming, but I couldn’t disagree more. Cutting out the incessant ‘click’ of modern Metal drumming, and refraining from forcefully, slamming every riff idea they’ve ever had down your throat in as short a time as possible, allows these songs to breath, and pulse, and build, to something all-encompassing and even enlightening. There’s plenty of heaviness and guitar-technicalities going on, just the foundation beneath them has changed, shifting the sound over and into another dimension; one that you can almost float atop of even, and drift away, encapsulated… until the final, dissipating notes of “I Sit Ill” send you crashing back to earth.
(Online November 4, 2012)