[Artwork by Allyson Medeiros]
So you have probably noticed that everything is terrible right now. Not End Times bad, and maybe The End wouldn’t be the worst, because at least then we’d all be dead. No, the pandemic, the political and social upheaval, and the natural disasters, all their effects will be felt for decades…hooray…[deep fucking sigh]. But music can be a salve, and generally goes one of two directions. Music can provide a voice to the anger of the oppressed, giving furious sound to the fights against injustice, like Dropdead or Napalm Death. Or music can provide an escape and immerse you in cozy sounds, like my recent addictions, King Buffalo, Elder, and of course, the heroes of today’s story: REZN. These comfort food bands bring hazy riffs, long, meandering songs, and aural hugs from the speakers. Add Chaotic Divine to your list of musical happy places, and stop by as often as you need.
Saxophone fits well with progressive rock, no question, and it’s become almost commonplace in metal (or at least it doesn’t raise eyebrows as a novelty or gimmick). Fellow Chicagoan Bruce Lamont’s aggressive sax playing replaces spastic, twisting guitar riffs in Brain Tentacles, and is inextricable from the unique metallic hardcore sound of Yakuza. On the slightly more conventional side, both White Ward and Rivers of Nihil deploy jazzier incorporations of saxophone in metal. REZN uses the sound as an accent to mirror many of the riffs, layering psychedelic textures, but also putting the instrument to the forefront in noir-style solos. It all fits beautifully, and gives the band another facet to distinguish themselves from the stoner metal masses.
REZN’s time spent with Lume and Catechism have sparked another creative fire, and Chaotic Divine benefits from those auditory explorations. There are more ambient, modular synth passages on this album, and Ouellette brings even more toys by adding flute to his repertoire. We can only hope that he still has cards to play, and Ouellette’s Orchestra will perform on the next album.
But he’s not alone in adding instruments, as there are several tracks that include some of the exotic strings that further enhance REZN’s sonic palette. Oud, sitar, and bağlama add a little character to tracks like “Emerging” and “Mother / Forever Time.” I won’t pretend to have an ear for differentiating them, even after a brief YouTube rabbit hole, but audiophiles and musical instrument nerds will have a lot to explore with a good pair of headphones.
“Mother / Forever Time” is Chaotic Divine’s longest song at just under 11 minutes, and we’re taken on a psychedelic journey that drifts off to ambient space for nearly the entire back half. The transition to “Inner Architecture” is perfectly smooth, lifting you back to full consciousness before the chugging, heavy-as-hell riff arrives. But like most of the songs here, “Inner Architecture” is not just a one-trick pony content to only bludgeon, or only float into space. Sublime melodies from bassist Phil Cangelosi anchor the dreamy passages just as strongly as the doom, and drummer Patrick Dunn is equally comfortable at any volume or tempo. As long as we’re introducing the band, Rob McWilliams’ guitar effects reverb and wobble hypnotically, and effortlessly shift between that calm, and the supremely heavy riffs that ensure you can still file REZN under M for Metal. His clean vocals, with a distinctive high-register and slightly nasally sound, has matured on Chaotic Divine. “Garden Green” in particular takes advantage of this new found swagger.
The quartet, having honed their sound across those aforementioned releases and live shows, creates unique earworms, like the intro to “Optic Echo” that features some growling sax echoing the guitar, and a similar call and response closes the song. Rob’s vocals stride confidently to the forefront, or fade softly into the background, always in the service of the song. There’s the explosive saxophone solo in the latter third of “Waves of Sand” that seamlessly flows into a jamming lead guitar line. I get goosebumps every damn time. But not every hook needs to be a loud one. Closer “The Still Center” sounds like a farewell to a good friend, stretched out over five mellow minutes, and the final notes of the album crescendo into a cadence that deprives us of that final chord. It’s a small but playful touch to end the journey.
One of the best parts of Chaotic Divine is that nearly any song has the potential to be a favorite, depending on your mood. Need some heavy stoner doom in your life? “The Door Opens” and “Scarab” are ready. Need to just chill out and relax? “Garden Green” and “The Still Center” await. Need a fantastic mix of heavy and drugged out psych? “Waves of Sand” and “Optic Echo” have you covered. Are you the kind of weirdo that likes ambient interludes the most? Well, I suppose you have “Clear I” and “Clear II,” and you should absolutely go investigate that joint effort with Catechism, Infected Ambient Works.
Ultimately, it’s the flawless blending of stoner metal, psych rock, unique instruments, and synth-driven ambient sounds that makes Chaotic Divine so successful. REZN lives and breathes their music, and they craft it soulfully. It’s an album that takes its time, and has clearly been lovingly designed from start to finish. 2020 is complete shit, but when you need an escape, let REZN take the wheel for a while.