originally written by Jim Brandon
I wouldn’t be surprised if more than three of you out there have thrown these guys into your listening queue and hit shuffle alongside acts like Crowpath, Ion Dissonance, Despised Icon, or any other current spastic tech metal band that’s cool to namedrop at the moment. Though Elementary still retains much of the technical precision and calamity of their previous work, there is a noticeable human feel to the new disc by Canada‘s The End. Vibes of A Perfect Circle, with elements of The Esoteric and Tool are now present, and while the stylistic change may be a little drastic, the quality is still quite high from a songwriting standpoint even though there are a few missteps along the way.
A good sit-down with the lyric sheet reveals Elementary to be an intensely personal album, which, in an obvious way, explains why the music is a departure. While Aaron Wolfe may be using a clean, more soulful tone of voice through much of this CD, the subject matter is something many of us can relate to: severe depression, serious conflicts with other people around you, frustration over life choices, and the frequent (bad) habit of self-defeat many of us suffer from. In that regard, it makes sense, but while one side might be desperate and damaged, the natural flipside is to express the inevitable screaming rage that comes from this steady internal buildup. They haven’t completely softened, as evidenced by the tumultuous “Awake?”, a track that would fit snugly on Within Dividia, but even their harshest points are easier to listen and relate to.
To be honest, “Dangerous” didn’t impress me much as an opening track, for the riffs are almost too straightforward and the tune drifts off into Neur-Isis/Tool (think “The Grudge”) territory a little too far for my liking. “The Never Ever Aftermath” has a compellingly arranged, two-part chorus and throws in a quick bit of Catch Thirty-Three Meshuggah about two-thirds of the way through, which was kind of cool. “Animals”, “Throwing Stones”, and “My Abyss” follow similar aesthetic of sly groove mixed with their more regulation highly technical intensity, as if trying to find that middle ground that does justice to their more abrasive side, while still making it listenable. For the most part these tunes really rock, the structures are sophisticated and ambitious, but also result in very well rounded, mellower songs like the heartfelt soul of “The Moth And I”, and the gut-wrenching concluding ballad “And Always…”, two genuinely awesome examples of how to put together emotional pieces of art that don’t sound tacky or syrupy.
However, along with the aforementioned “Dangerous”, “A Fell Wind” is just sound-effect filler which, ironically, sounds somewhat like putting your ear to a gently blowing household fan, and following song “In Distress” reminds me entirely too much of a Rage Against The Machine number with a bouncy groove and bass guitar driven, semi-spoken word verses. They manage to rescue the track towards the conclusion with an impressive musical swell of atmosphere, but it goes to show there are still improvements that can be made, and further experimental directions followed. The production was also a little if-fy and sounds like it was mixed by someone who doesn’t normally work with metal bands, but even at their most unsteady, The End wipes the floor with emo garbage.
The problem most bands run into when trying to make a change in sound is to fall into their new vision without making a smooth transition; the statement of change is what matters most. In the case of The End, they’ve taken very careful steps to insure this change in direction was made as smoothly as possible, because it’s not as if they sound like a completely different band entirely. Again, I honestly don’t see this as being an attempt to gain a wider audience since this really isn’t a more welcoming album than any of their previous works, and for attempting such a deceptively mellow sound, they really nailed it through about 80% of Elementary. A notch above The Esoteric’s Subverter, but not quite at the level of Cave-In’s Jupiter, and personally, this has been in my regular rotation for months now and I’m still not getting tired of it.