Style: Progressive Metal
Release Date: 1 Mar 2020
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Here's an interesting debut of what's almost a one man band. Tristan Feilla is the main man here, responsible for the vocals, guitars, bass and most of the keyboard work. Excepting a couple of guest musicians who show up for a song each, the only other person involved is Mark Stewart, who took care of the drums, as well as the mixing and mastering of the album.
It's a carefully constructed album because there's a great deal of dynamic play going on and not just because of the shorter delicate interludes which sit between songs. Even a song as pumped up as the opener, White Knuckles, has a lot going on within it, if not as much as later ones like Bloodlines or Leavings of the Wolf. White Knuckles is an appropriate title because of how much effort Feilla puts into it. He throws everything he can into those vocals and, while he's certainly more polished as a guitarist than he is as a singer, I can't fault him for effort.
It's Bloodlines, the next full song on offer and the longest to be found on the album, that really shows us how much Feilla plans to play with dynamics. It's quiet and introspective one moment, then raucous and driving the next. There are emphatic vocals here too, but quieter, more controlled singing as well. What's more, Feilla layers his contributions so that, not only does he vary his delivery as the song grows, but sometimes there are multiple styles ongoing at once, like a shouty lead backed with an almost soothing backing.
While the music here is intricate metal, Feilla clearly listens to a lot of hardcore or the shouty modern metal that adopted that vocal style, because it's his default mode when not varying for effect. I'm not generally a fan of that shouty style but I think it works here because it's a logical stop on a scale of dynamics that ranges from soft up to very hard indeed. Clean vocals wouldn't work at that extreme without this turning into something it isn't and I get the decision to go with shouts over growls.
All that said, it's fair to say I prefer the music to the vocals. This is a prog metal album rather than metalcore and there's a heck of a lot going on in the instrumentation. I particularly like Leavings of the Wolf, because of the sheer range that it explores and the fact that it does so appropriately, without stretching the song beyond its natural limits. There are solo vocal sections that carry a lot of atmosphere to echo the cover art, intricate and heavy guitar sections and a lot of interesting bass work too. It feels a lot more epic than 4:19 ought to allow it to be.
Really, all these songs are epics that just seem shorter because the intros to them are labelled separately. Bloodlines is a couple of minutes longer if we include L'appel du vide, which sits before it; Leavings of the Wolf would be almost seven minutes if we count in Fourth Birch; and Depths would sneak over that mark with Empty Sky factored into its running time. This might seem like a minor gripe but it fundamentally shifts how we see the album. Right now, it's eleven short songs over less than three quarters of an hour, but a shift in perspective makes it five long songs and White Knuckles as a guide.
The more I listen to it, the more engaging it becomes. It's a good album if we treat it in isolation. It's an even better one if we acknowledge that it was almost entirely created by one man and it marks his debut in the studio. With that in mind, Feilla is clearly someone to watch, even by someone like me who isn't that fond of shouty vocals. Let's see what he conjures up next.