Turbulence ‒ Frontal Review

What’s in a name, anyway? In the case of Lebanon’s Turbulence, the initial impression was just of a makes-you-think kinda name for a band playing a rather heartfelt form of prog, but there was more to the story. It turns out the band’s early days included playing some full Dream Theater tribute shows, so there’s a decent chance that they’re named after their heroes’ classic Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.

And really, Dream Theater is a good starting reference point for these skilled proggers, even if one influence definitely doesn’t tell the whole story. The basic (or very much not basic) song structures are where Turbulence carries the strongest resemblance to Dream Theater, as most tunes on sophomore effort Frontal are in the 7-to-10-minute range, feature a rather extended intro, and present a heap of ideas, weird rhythms, and instrumental wizardry. Sometimes the instruments do the compete / complement dance, and the album is nearly always in motion, where no two verses are alike and a big burst of technicality is always around the corner. Also solos. Lots of (tasteful!) soloing on both the guitars and keyboards.

Release date: March 12, 2021. Label: Frontiers Records.
However, despite the basic architecture being similar, Turbulence has carved out a bit of a unique identity. Part of this comes from a bit more of a “future” vibe ‒ the occasional techno beat and techy-chuggy or djenty riff ‒ but mostly from a little thing called mood. Whereas any number of super noodly prog bands might sacrifice the overall feel of a song in the interest of 10,000 notes, Turbulence never allows this to happen, despite still playing a whole ton of notes. Sometimes they’re a tad somber or reflective, but just as often they’re downright uplifting (the gorgeous chorus of “Ignite”). The soulful style of vocalist Omar El Hajj really enhances this quality. He’s a little Ray Alder and a touch Einar Solberg, but typically restrained and without the overt flair. (He also doesn’t quite have the skills of the latter, but let’s not knock him for failing to reach the heights of a singer that might not actually be human.)

In many ways, the entire band shares this restraint in contrast to their obvious virtuosity. The entirety of the first and longest song, “Inside The Gage,” holds back from some of the dynamic heights in later tunes, which in turn aids the immediate impact of the ensuing “Madness Unforeseen.” (Important side note: the album flow is excellent, both within and between songs.) And the soft moments, of which there are many, are downright relaxing. The band is likely never relaxed, mind you, merely playing very pretty music in a precise, technical manner.

No song quite exemplifies this focus on emotion quite like “Faceless Man.” It spends a fair amount of its time employing piano, subdued vocal melodies, and otherwise softer instrumentation to create a warm, uplifting-but-somewhat-melancholy mood, so much so that when it spends its entire latter half showcasing the soloing talents of guitarist Alain Ibrahim and keyboardist Mood Yassin (yes, they even have a member named Mood), there is never an instant that feels self-indulgent. And when they’re doubling up? Big win.

This focus on emotional quality and dynamic swells also carries through the album’s heftier tracks, and they do indeed lay down some thick riffs. “Crowbar Case,” for example, starts with ultra heavy, monolithic riffs but quickly finds itself in quieter terrain again (El Hajj is particularly great here with some falsetto touches) to really set the mood. The song repeatedly stacks idea upon idea and makes several changes to volume, density, speed, and intensity, but again never loses the setting. When it reaches a finish of big, chuggy riffs (complete with a rather Kevin Moore-ish wash of keys from Yassin), that feel remains. Every tune manages this feat, a sign not just of skilled songwriters, but skilled songwriters that care about making expressive music, as opposed to a showcase.

Finding caveats on this one is tough, especially for a particular type of prog-hungry ear. One could point to the lack of originality in Turbulence’s overall style or song structure, but the band’s emotional depth really makes up for that. Some fans might want less restraint and more flash, but for that they could just go to the “circus music” passage of “A Place I Go To Hide.” El Hajj might also really let loose and go for it occasionally instead of always being in such control, but why mess with something that works really well the vast majority of the time?

Besides, the overly simplified descriptor of “Dream Theater but with a little restraint and more emotional depth” might be just what some prog fans are trying to find these days. Let’s also not forget that just a few years ago Turbulence was performing as a tribute act to that same prog legend. The fact that they’re carving out this much of an identity already is a great sign for their future, and Frontal shows they have more than enough technical and emotional chops to keep growing and exploring, while being a gem in its own right. Capital-P Prog fans ought to be all over this one.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

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