Thursday 17 January 2019

Phaeton - Phaeton (2018)

Country: Canada
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Dec 2018
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

I vividly remember Sid at Groové Records in Halifax giving me a promo copy of Dark Tranquillity's Skydancer with the comment that it contained fantastic instrumental work but was spoiled by vocals. Today, that's still one of my favourite albums, so I have to beg to disagree with the venerable Sid, but he comes back to mind every time I hear a new instrumental metal album.

Phaeton are a progressive metal band from Canada and I kind of have the same problem with prog metal that Sid had with early melodic death metal; while prog metal tends towards clean vocals, they often distract from the musicianship for me. However, that won't be a problem with Phaeton because they're entirely instrumental. Sadly, I'm not finding instrumental prog rock albums of the quality I'm finding instrumental stoner rock albums. Such a tangled web.

I initially wondered if Phaeton was going to be another example of that because the first two tracks, Siege Engine and Voyage Eternal, didn't do it for me, being decent but undistinguished efforts on a first listen, but it kicked in nicely with March of the Synthetics.

It's a longer track, never a problem for prog bands—though longer here does mean six minutes rather than sixty—and it mixes things up far more than twice the previous two. It may not entirely find its groove but it comes pretty close, especially late on, and I dug its layers. It was impressive on a first listen and it grew with further plays too.

Phantasm is even better and I wondered how many instruments were actually being played because it flits back and forth between combinations of slow chugging electric guitar, electric soloing and noodling on both an acoustic guitar and a piano. It's interesting interplay and it leads nicely to the rocking second half which definitely succeeds in finding its groove. Its ending was well constructed too.

And, to me, that's what prog is all about: capable but interesting constructions, the merging of different sounds and instruments (and lyrics, if we're going that way) into something new that often layers up. I found those layers more as the album ran on, all the way to Vortex with its almost industrial vibe at points. It's Vortex that finally demonstrates that Phaeton can indeed create a catchy riff that doesn't prevent them from dancing around with the other instruments. This album definitely needed more of that. Crossing the Divide and Labyrinth come close but Vortex got there.

What it benefits most from, though, is a second visit. Every one of these seven tracks sounds better the second time through and familiarity often improves them from average to good or from good to better. It needs you to invest some time into it. If you do that, it'll reward you for the effort.

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