Sunday, November 7, 2021

DEVOID "Lonely Eye Movement"


(c) 2021 Frontiers Records

  1. Lonely Eye Movement
  2. Man Without Fear
  3. Impostor
  4. Destination Heaven
  5. Waiting For The Storm
  6. In The Absence of Holiness
  7. Mirror Maze
  8. Hands Of Salvation
  9. Stroboscope Life
  10. Martial Hearts
  11. Wood And Wind
Carsten "Lizard" Schultz--Lead Vocals
Shad Mae--Guitars
Gwen Kerjan--Guitars
Jorris Guilbard--Keys
Geoffrey "Shob" Neau--Bass
Benjamin Lesous--Drums

Additional Musicians
Jonas Klintstrom Larsen--Saxophone
Fabrizzio Sgattoni--Additional Guitar solo on "Man Without Fear" and "Impostor"
Max Van Esch--Additional Guitar solo on "Waiting For The Storm" and "Destination Heaven"
Christian Muenzner--Additional Guitar on "Absence of Holiness"

Four years ago, I heard an album that I declared to be "the most crankable melodic metal album I have heard in some time".  I was honestly left somewhat slack-jawed, as it had been a long, long time since a melodic prog metal record had grabbed me the way Cup Of Tears from Devoid did.  To this day, even after changing vehicles, Cup Of Tears is one of a small handful of albums that is always with me when I commute or travel.  I love that record that much!  So, when Shad Mae told me that he was working on a new Devoid record, I was obviously filled with excitement, but also a bit of trepidation, especially after I learned that the band had been signed to Frontiers Records.  Not because I have an issue with Frontiers, but more because I was worried the label might try to impose some sort of style or sound on the band, whereas Cup Of Tears was released as an indie project on Melodic Rock Records, with Shad having complete control of the sound.  Additionally, there are a couple of lineup changes here, as the entire rhythm section is changed with Neau and Lesous coming on board on bass and drums, respectively, and a second guitarist being added to the mix with Kerjan.  Would the magic and chemistry of that first record be diminished?  

And, of course, there's always that dreaded "Sophomore Slump"...can the second record EVER live up to the original?

Turns out, I had absolutely nothing to be concerned about, as Devoid has released yet another stunning album of top shelf melodic prog metal, with touches of power metal and hard rock thrown into the mix!

The album kicks off with the title track, "Lonely Eye Movement", and almost from the get-go, my ears feel like they are in their happy place!  Frantic-yet-melodic guitars rush in in a flurry, with some intricate piano work off-setting the riff frenzy that is only enhanced by the rapid-fire drum work from newcomer, Lesous.  Wow...there is a LOT going on right from the start, and the raspy powerhouse that is Lizard Schultz hasn't even sparked to life yet!  To me, Schultz is an absolutely one-of-a-kind talent that has a "gun for hire" kind of reputation (he's performed with a LOT of bands) that I am always surprised was never locked down as "the guy" by someone, and his performance on the previous Devoid album cemented his upper-echelon status for me.  And now, just one song into Devoid, Mk. II, nothing has changed, as he manages to be smooth, yet with an edge, as he drives through the album's namesake tune.  The piano break at the 2:30 mark reminds you that this is not purely a metal album, but an album of movements and textures and layers, and the album is off to a rip-roaring start!  Check out the video for this lead single below...

"Man Without Fear" (the theme song to a new Daredevil series?  No comic nerds, here?  Okay....) intros with a synthesizer that is soon buried by a screaming guitar and frantic fret runs, before everything becomes momentarily still, allowing the focus to be placed solely on Schultz as the first verse kicks off.  Have no fear, however, as the guitars return to work in short order, as does the rumbling bass from Neau, as the song builds to a powerful chorus section that really lets Schultz air things out, especially on the second and third times through.  The first guitar solo here is more about feel and fluidity than on string-scorching speed, and the keyboards add different textures to the song here as it leads into a short vocal bridge.  From this point, the speed picks up on Mae's next solo, a more aggressive attack that fans of the first album are probably accustomed to.  

"Impostor" builds upon the big, atmospheric, choir-like synthesizer that leads the song into existence, adding Lesous' thundering drums and the twin guitars of Mae and Kerjan on this seemingly mid-tempo melodic rocker.  I say "seemingly" because there is all sorts of aggression and speed and metallic intent dwelling just beneath the surface here, with machinegun-like bursts from Lesous and some seriously aggressive, metallic sonics in places here, including an absolutely blazing guitar solo, that doesn't do anything to belie the epicness of the song overall.  This is a big song that may require multiple listens to truly appreciate everything that is going on...because there is a LOT going on.  Definitely a track that vies for top-billing here.

"Destination Heaven" mixes things up, with an Eastern-sounding intro with a much slower tempo than anything else up to this point, but that changes up quickly as Mae's fingers start to fly on a big solo run before the first verse even kicks off.  And Mae isn't alone in his solo efforts on this track, as Max Van Esch also throws down with a massive axe attack on this song that features not one, not two, but three different guitar solos, along with even more impressive kit work from Lesous, who may be becoming a real hero on the drums for me.  It's not that he's the fastest drummer on Earth (although speed is NOT an issue), it's the little things he does to fill in gaps, to alter tempo ever so slightly, or to catch the listener's attention in a passage that may otherwise sound relatively routine.  Of course Schultz dominates here, alternating between a full bore wail and a lower-registered rasp, and everything is clicking perfectly and the Devoid machine is charging ahead with precision performance at this point.

Things change a bit, stylistically, with "Waiting For The Storm", which is a bit moodier than the previous tracks.  The second longest track on the record at more than six minutes in length, "Waiting For The Storm" is also the album's first venture into slower territory, although we aren't listening to a ballad by any means.  The track enters with a wash of keyboards, followed by much slower-tempo guitars and drums than anything up to this point, building in power through the verse sections to get to the big chorus, where once again Schultz is given room to soar across some excellent layered backing vocals.  At around the four minute mark, Devoid really throws a curveball to the listener, as a rich tenor saxophone solo drops in, adding a completely different flavor and mood to the tune.  Personally, I have always loved the use of the sax in the right songs ("Promised Land" by Queensryche, anyone?), and this is definitely the "right" song!  This is a big, big song already, and the addition of out-of-the-box instrumentation only serves to show the depth of the songwriting and the confidence of the band in the material they are working with.  A lot of bands might have chosen to play things safe with a big label debut; I'm glad Devoid isn't a lot of bands!

"In The Absence Of Holiness" jolts the listener with yet another quirk, this time with a syncopated drum rhythm that totally changes the feel of the track right from the outset.  Slower during the verse sections and built up just a bit tempo-wise in the chorus breaks, the pace of this track is all over the place (in a good way), and it is amazing to me just how fast a drum pattern can be in a song that is otherwise not really all that fast.  Ditto the blistering fret-burner of a solo from Mae; how fast can your fingers fly in a song that many would consider the "slow point" on the record?  Again, this isn't some kind of power ballad, but it definitely isn't speed metal, either, and keeping track of the tempo changes from instrument to instrument would likely require a chart and musical calculus I don't feel comfortable performing.  "In The Absence..." is a completely different animal than pretty much everything else on Lonely Eye Movement, and even after repeated listens, I can't always predict where the speed-ups and slow-downs are going to hit.  Good stuff!

"Mirror Maze" picks up the pace from its predecessor, with even more virtuoso-styled playing from Mae and Kerjan.  For me, however, the use of a completely foreign percussion element here adds an entirely different layer of uniqueness to this track.  The first time I heard it, I was scouring the internet (seriously...I can be that big of a nerd at times) to find out what instrument I was hearing, as it sounded like hollow wooden blocks, the type you sometimes hear on music from remote islands, was being implemented in this otherwise modern melodic metal tune.  Finally, just the other day, I messaged Shad to enlighten me as to what was being played.  He put my brain to rest when he told me the sound was actually synthesized, but in no way does that fact damper the impression the sounds add to the music here.  I love the experimentation and the ability to move beyond the scope of what is considered "metal", even in a prog metal atmosphere.

"Hands Of Salvation" continues with the more aggressive work and follows up "Mirror Maze" spectacularly.  Pretty straight forward in its sonic assault, the rhythm guitars claw their way through the track and Lesous utilizes a galloping style in numerous places here to push the band's sonic agenda here.  The solo from Mae is absolutely blazing along...and then BAM!...a completely out of nowhere piano interlude drops in at nowhere near the pace of the rest of the track, only to be absorbed back into the rest of the song as the tempo builds back to its original level, with the guitars screaming to life then fading, leaving only Schultz to hold out the last few beats of the chorus by himself at the end of the track.

"Stroboscope Life" hits hard right from the start with the guitars and drums, with the verse sections especially aggressive, before the keys are filtered into the chorus sections and the tempo backs off a click or two.  Once again, some really solid layering is done to the backing vocals, which I always love to hear, and some metallic riffing is done to really kick off Mae's next fret flurry, with a run that changes tone and style no fewer than three times in the span of the solo.  The music fades beneath the repeated runs through the chorus at the end, and Schultz stands alone at the close as he runs through "another flash of light..." one last time.  

"Martial Hearts" feels like a bit of everything this album has been building to, taking various elements of speed, melody, harmony, and rhythm, and intertwining everything.  A big, epic keyboard intro, powerful verse sections supported by those taut, aggressive rhythm guitars and machinegun drums, and a catchy, hooky chorus all snag the listener's ear, only to be dragged this way and that by the various guitar acrobatics that Mae unleashes.  Schultz is equally impressive, utilizing multiple different approaches on his vocals, adding grit here, subtracting volume there, building up and then backing off.  Clocking in at more than 7 minutes, "Martial Hearts" is broken into two cleanly separated sections, with the interlude at the 4:30 mark washing into nothing but a single, static layer of keys holding the same note for a stretch of several seconds.  It feels as if the song may be allowed to fade out after a time, but slowly the band rebuilds everything it had seemingly allowed to come crumbling down, a new sonic landscape of guitars and drums and keys growing and growing out of that interlude of nothingness.  For more than two minutes the song builds to a crescendo, with new layers of instrumentation being added, new guitar lines ringing in, and then the song is allowed to finally fade, bringing the album proper to an uplifting end. 

The album closes with "Wood And Wind", an acoustic jazz instrumental that features more saxophone than many of "true metalheads" have likely heard on an entire album, let alone on a song, as outside of the acoustic guitar, that sax is really all there is.  Written for Shad's daughter, "Wood And Wind" won't add a ton to the album for a lot of people, again, especially not the "true" crowd, but for those of us who simply appreciate great musical talent, it is a fun, fascinating listen.  To me, it adds further proof as to the songwriting abilities and musical talents of this incredible band. 

The production is spectacular to my ears, with a clear separation of guitars and really, really good sound being culled from the drums.  I love the tones used throughout the record on all of the instruments, and I am impressed with how Schultz's vocals are handled, as he is never buried, nor does he bury anything else.  The flow of the record is pretty much perfect to my ears, with the variance between song lengths and styles keeping things interesting and unpredictable.

How you receive this record is going to depend largely on how you approach music in general.  If you are looking for horns-in-the-air metal anthems, or big-haired power ballads, neither is going to be found here.  No death vocals to offset the clean vocals, no breakdowns, and no radio hits are going to be found on Lonely Eye Movement.  What you will find, however, is one of the most compelling, interesting, sonically intricate melodic metal albums of the last few years, with long, string-bending solos and flourishes of speed countered by sections of power and expression, both musical and lyrical.  Heavy doses of aggression are backed by equal doses of melody, and massive, hook-laden songs that stick in your brain for hours on end, not because of a repetitive chorus being chanted over and over, but because the songs speak to you in a way most music doesn't.  At least that has been my experience in absorbing this latest effort from Devoid, and I truly feel it will be yours, as well.

Devoid proves they are no fluke with Lonely Eye Movement, adding new elements to the already spectacular platform created by the band on Cup Of Tears.  Continued emphasis on superior songwriting, Mae's exceptional guitar bolstered by his accomplice, Kerjan...and Schultz's top-notch vocals all contribute to an amazing follow-up.  No "sophomore slump" here, Lonely Eye Movement is guaranteed to hit the G2G Top 21 of 2021!

Rating:  Crank this to an incredible 10!

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