Progressive rock/metal has traditionally enjoyed a love-hate relationship with me. While I grew up listening to vintage prog (Crimson, Yes, Genesis) before I discovered punk and subsequently went through a lengthy period of distaste for epic composition, I have recently stopped denying that I’m a massive dork and accepted that, dammit, I like prog. So in recent years, as I’ve re-discovered my affection for the King Crimson/Fates Warning records of my past, I’ve also kept a prog-friendly ear to the ground for more current groups that fit somewhere alongside or between those slashes. Statesboro, Georgia’s Canvas Solaris, by now on their fourth record, fits snugly in that lineage, their brand of vocal-free prog-metal part technical flash, part fleet-fingered metal riffing and part vintage space-rock atmosphere. The Atomized Dream is the band’s second release for Sensory, after two discs for metalcore haven Tribunal, and with the addition of a full-time synth player in the last few years, the band has moved even further away from its death metal roots in favor of spacier terrain.
Parts of The Atomized Dream are reminiscent of Porcupine Tree’s vintage-leaning-and-yet-current approach, evoking 70s prog rock without being too “retro” or slavish. And parts of The Atomized Dream hint at the classic era of fusion-influenced tech-death, the era of Unquestionable Presence and Focus. But that former part outweighs the latter, so a minor word of caution: go into this expecting quality but not earth-rumbling heaviness. (There’s also a part of “Chromatic Dusk” that sounds vaguely of funky 80s synth-pop. Just saying.) What’s here is spacey, highly complex instrumental metal, rife with Donnie Smith’s analog synths, Hunter Ginn’s impressive drumming and some intricate guitar interplay courtesy of Nathan Sapp and Chris Rushing. There’s absolutely no denying that the guys of Canvas Solaris have mastered their instruments, and like Atheist and Cynic did all those moons ago, they manage to craft tunes that are simultaneously challenging and listenable.
All my positivity comes with small caveats, however. The production here is acceptable, but hardly overwhelming, and I do wish there were some heavier, punchier moments. And also and most importantly, as good as this may be, despite the comparisons to the likes of Porcupine Tree and Cynic, The Atomized Dream differs from records by those bands in one major way: I don’t feel it’s presence is unquestionably essential. It’s damn good, and fans of those bands I’ve now cited several times would likely appreciate it, true. But Focus and Deadwing are records I think everyone should hear, and The Atomized Dream falls into a category with Behold…The Arctopus and other such complex metal groups, that second tier of undiscovered gems for those already looking for them. Put less verbosely: if you don’t already like what the band does, this won’t change your mind. Also, one last critique: The Atomized Dream suffers a wee bit as the album wears on, a complaint I find myself leveling against quite a few records these days. It’s not that it’s overlong so much as that the instrumental aspect of it tends to make it sound the same after forty minutes. The earlier Canvas Solaris records were a notch better at keeping my interest, although I won’t lie and pretend that I’ve spent vast amounts of time with any record in the band’s canon thusfar.
But in the end, the good here outweighs those notable but minor points. The Atomized Dream is a good record, and Canvas Solaris is a good band. Prog fans should explore without hesitation.