Show me an up-and-coming prog metal band and I’ll show you ten that make their object of worship as obvious as the toothy Jehovah’s Witness with a foot on your doorjamb bent on ramming a copy of The Watchtower straight past your better sense to your fear of being left behind.
Dream Theater is the deity in question and it really shouldn’t surprise anybody that their influence is painted all over the self-released debut LP from Fughu, a five piece from Argentina. They were, after all, hand selected by DT to support them on their South American tour. So, what degree of influence are we talking about? Sound? Song structure? Style? Yep, yep, and yep. On nearly every count, it can be said that Absence channels Dream Theater’s most famous (and, arguably, best) work, Images & Words, all the way down to uncannily similar tuning of each instrument. On the one hand, this spells near disaster for Fughu’s first effort; a shameless ripoff unworthy of attention beyond that garnered by its brazen mimicry, right? Well, not quite, because on the other hand, it ain’t easy writing, playing and producing this stuff, and they do it really, really well. Well enough to make it fairly easy to forgive them their blind faith in the Fathers and explore a little deeper for what veins of ingenuity might be buried in the dogma.
For example, DT isn’t the only influence at work here. The cool melody, airy acoustics and undulating dynamics of “Storm” remind an awful lot of Parallels era Fates Warning, “Tilt” trajects both Kansas and Rush in some excellent guitar-keyboard interplay, and the schizoid jazzy title track conjures Queen before offering up some George Bensonesque guitar bravado.
But, Fughu is more than a mish mash of prog progenitors. Scattered throughout the glut of lifts and somethings borrowed are several glimpses of a young band ready to burst out of indoctrination and into enlightenment. “Dead End Start” finds the band waxing seditious via sauntering groove and, though instrumental “Red V” is a bit underdeveloped, its heaving march to a compelling flamenco break makes for an exciting portent of Fughu’s potential for unique songcraft. In a similar, albeit less exciting, sense, the album’s requisite restrained refrain (remember, we’re using the Dream Theater playbook), “Solitude” is reduced to piano and voice. A moody piece, it’s a showcase for Santiago Bürgi’s outstanding vocals and, while it is beautiful and masterfully executed, it sticks out among the heavier tracks like an Orthodox Jew at an Easter parade.
Unique, well-honed and powerful, Bürgi’s vocals are worthy of special attention. At times he’ll remind the listener of Flotsam and Jetsam’s A.K. Knutson (in his more subdued moments) and at others of Disillusion’s Vurtox, but he is more often his own man, obviously classically trained and always in top form, boasting extensive range and acumen for dynamics. The melding of his operatic stylings into the prog metal architecture is handled exceptionally well and, on the whole, Absence sounds fantastic. It’s rather amazing that the balance of all this progginess, with its obligatory intricate layering and billowing sonics, has been so effectively captured on the band’s apparently DIY budget.
Absence shows us a group of Dream Theater disciples most pious in their adherence to the Prog Metal Canon, yet it seems they may be on the verge of eschewing acquiescence for apostasy. The day of Fughu’s schismatic emancipation should be one of great rejoicing for those of us with an atheistic view of prog metal’s future.