The album begins with a wavering tremolo effect on the guitar over a thick bass line, and the band chugs and strikes along with rolling toms for the first seven or so minutes, before some guitar licks strike and screech and ruin the mood like a bad jazz solo. The rest of the song is excellent, but even repeated listens do not reveal a hidden depth to those guitar parts, at least for these ears. Also like jazz, one man’s skronking noise is another man’s bliss, so don’t take my word for it.
Track two, “X,” highlights the strong rhythm section once again. Each instrument takes turns stepping forward, whether for a gentle pattern on the high hat or a sliding riff from the guitar, later echoed by the bass. The militant riffs in the middle of “X” are some of the most “metal” on the record. The pattern that slowly built over the introduction kicks into high gear at 4:42 and feels that much heavier because of the band’s sparing use of maximum distortion and volume. But it’s the moment where the strings drop out at 5:13 and a lithe drum fill segues into another section of heavy riffage that really demonstrates 4dots’ songwriting strengths.
The cover may appear like a psychedelic journey down the hand tunnel of The Labyrinth, but it’s an effective metaphor for the band’s style. Notes, textures, and patterns all surface through porous boundaries to grab you and send you onward through your trip. Their sounds envelope and grasp the listener, and every drum hit, every rumbling bass note, every scrape, slide, and chord from the guitar all make you feel like you are in the room with the band. While much heavier and less mathy than Don Caballero, 4dots share a crisp sound and attention to each tiny detail in the sound.
The band closes their album with the nearly 15-minute “XI,” and the even longer runtime allows 4dots to expand further into post rock and contemplative riffs that hover over accentuating drums. Despite the advanced sonic palette used by 4dots, they achieve cohesion by sticking to the power trio bag of tricks: Drums that are natural but deft and using the full kit. Bass and guitar with occasional effects, but no overt studio trickery or additional instrumentation. The talent comes through in thoughtful composition, not shredding just to show off.
The worst instrumental metal comes from bands that had (or always planned for) a singer, and said, “screw it, we’ll just be instrumental” without adjusting their songwriting. 4dots clearly never wanted or needed vocals, because the songs speak for themselves. Red Sparowes and Russian Circles are good touch points for similarly moody and cinematic instrumental metal that never once feels incomplete. Allow XIXIX to wash over you during a long car trip, or a subway ride through the city, while you gaze at the ever-changing scenery. There are immediate pleasures of the unique textures or heavy riffs, but there are also little moments (most often the drums) that unfold only after multiple trips down the Helping Hands of XIXIX, where the bridges and transitions are just as much a source of joy as the main riffs and themes.