Thursday, 31 January 2019

Alyaz - Portrait (2019)



Country: Kuwait
Style: Instrumental Progressive Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 12 Jan 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Mohammad Alyaz is a multi-instrumentalist from Kuwait and he provides all the bass and synths on this album, along with some of the guitar. I have no idea how much of the guitar, though, as there's a second guitarist in his band, Olly Steele, and five of the seven tracks feature guest guitar solos. I guess that cuts it down, huh?

I had to look up the backgrounds of the guests, as only two of them are members of regular bands: Per Nilsson is a founding member of Swedish melodic death metallers Scar Symmetry and Dan Sugarman had a seven year stint as lead guitarist for the deathcore band As Blood Runs Black. The others are professional musicians known for virtuoso guitarwork without delivering that within a regular band environment. Some of them guest a lot.

Beyond being fascinated by instrumental metal albums generally, I took a particular look at this one because Alyaz is donating all the profits to charity, in this case to Autism Partnership Kuwait, so I'm more than happy to help get the word out there. And hey, it's only $3 on Bandcamp.

It's also good stuff, with the variation in guests translating into a neat variation in the tracks, though they do follow a relatively consistent approach. All are instrumental and all carry a hard edge, making this progressive metal rather than rock. All are up-beat, positive in tone and guitar-centric, but most also drop into delicate sections partway. When you put the album on repeat and it starts to fade into the background after three or four times through, it's those quiet parts that stand out for attention.

The opening track, with Dave Dunsire guesting, has a couple of fantastic examples, because its delicate section midway is delightful and it's even better when reprised as the track fades out. That it's followed by the dissonant guitar in Corroded Vein, Nilsson's track, merely emphasises how sweet that was.

My problem here is the drums. Anup Sastry is good at what he does but a lot of what he does here is staccato drums that work on a jazz or funk basis rather than rock. They're high in the mix too and so mostly served as a distraction for me. When they're more traditional backing, whether slowly on Aberration, fast on Out of My Reach or at hyperspeed on Miasma, I found I enjoyed the tracks as a whole more.

The two tracks that don't feature guest solos, so we're more likely to be hearing the man for whom the band are named, are Aurora and Miasma, two related episodes if we go by the track listing. Aurora is a lot more of the guitar/drum interplay that came in late in Corroded Vein, but with a more prominent synth backdrop that takes over entirely halfway through. Miasma starts off quietly but really ratchets things up to almost black metal levels with some blistering drums.

In between those two episodes are a couple more tracks with guests. Adam Rafowitz is first up on Aberration and it really is that because it gives the impression that he provided the solo first for Alyaz and his cohorts to build a backing for, rather than the other way round. There are points where he's left mostly alone too and the quiet section late in Aberration is a delight.

Keven Eknes is the able guest on Out of My Reach and both Al Joseph and Dan Sugarman chime in with solos on the title track, the longest on the album, which wraps it up in style, because it's the most interesting and experimental piece anywhere to be found on it.

It's a good thing that this is such a guitar-focused album, because I liked the guitarwork throughout. It's easy to actively listen to and it's easy to let it slide into the background to enjoy it passively as well. The synths add texture to that, most obviously in the quieter sections but sometimes behind the guitars too. If the drums had been less interesting and a little lower in the mix, that effect would probably have been even more apparent.

All in all, this is decent stuff, even if it's heavy background music. At $3 on Bandcamp, it's a bargain. At $3 with profits going to charity, it's a gimme.

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