Disperse - Living Mirrors [Season of Mist - 2013]Disperse are a Polish band that plays a melodic, existential blend of jazz fusion and progressive rock, inspired by such artists as Allan Holdsworth, Cynic (and Aeon Spoke) and Devin Townsend. For their use of syncopated, polyrhythmic permutations of staccato, sludgy downtuned chords, they may also deserve the 'djent' label, or simply be said to be influenced by Meshuggah. Their debut "Journey Through The Hidden Gardens" was released in 2010, and this album, "Living Mirrors" is their sophomore release.
In general, this is not a 'metal' band, there are heavy and powerful elements in the guitar playing, but there's about 75% ethereal, heady jazz fusion material to 25% heavier stuff, and even during these moments, there's a hopeful, exploratory, optimistic, compassionate and reverent attitude to the band's music, and very little dissonance. This music is a great deal less cheesy and emotionally detached than most jazz fusion, but otherwise takes a similarly cosmic worldview. The band creates musical interpretations of massive universal concepts such as "Prana", "AUM", "Universal Love".
The guitar playing on this album is the highlight, absolutely majestic and masterful, and every one of the 13 pieces on the album contains several absolutely delicious licks that contains so many notes yet sound so lush and natural; an entire universe of haunting expanded harmony is explored. Indeed, I wouldn't say there is anything inferior about the playing found here to the superlative virtuosos they claim as influence, and that is high praise coming from me, a huge fan of both Cynic and Devin Townsend. Many of these riffs have the rare quality of being both absurdly technical and very memorable, even catchy.
It's important to note Aeon Spoke as an influence aside from just Cynic, despite the fact that they are both projects of Paul Masvidal: Disperse tends to use a very accessible, pop oriented vocal style, each note stretching out in a long, relaxed croon even as the music behind it explodes into syncopated chaos. The vocalist never screams or becomes remotely aggressive on the album. They instead focus on complex harmonies and their ethereal blending. The vocal parts are indeed simpler than their accompanying instrumentals, and this has lead some listeners to complain that they do not fit together, but in my mind this is simply a stylistic choice which makes their music more melodically and emotionally legible.
The vocalist is not terribly unique, and sounds incredibly similar to Paul Masvidal on the recent "Carbon Based Anatomy" EP by Cynic. That said, his performance is undoubtedly passionate, and carries the melodies with a pure, alpine sort of tone, perfectly augmented by the generous helpings of flange and chorus that saturate the band's entire sound. He doesn't enunciate many of the lyrics terribly clearly, but that's fine since this album is an intensely cerebral instrumental and compositional experience that is perhaps best left in the abstract state in which it exists without comprehension of the lyrics.
At its best moments, the band's songwriting is surprisingly and refreshingly brilliant. The opening 1-2 of quasi-ambient instrumental "Dancing with Endless Love" and the progressive opus "Enigma of Abode" is the most fantastic music of this kind I have heard in many years, perhaps since Cynic released "Traced In Air". "Enigma of Abode" in particular shows the band grasping a truly epic, magnificent scope in which starkly contrasted ideas becoming poignant and meaningful in a free flowing spiritual narrative. The repeated end section, which would have been the 'chorus' in any other band's song, is a perfectly harmonious moment when the vocals and restlessly complex instrumental combine in an emotional tapestry.
There are electronic ambient interludes throughout the album, likely constructed through tasteful treatment of guitar tones, and they never overstay their welcome. These tie together the album's conceptual continuity, it is all oceanic fluidity, ebb and flow.
Some of the albums less energetic songs, like the ballad "Message from Atlantis", lack the excitement, power and memorable nature of "Enigma of Abode", but the band's sense of melody is always deeply fascinating. The energetic arc of the album is admittedly rather odd, as they've put the most energetic pieces at the beginning and end of the record, leading to a dragging sort of feeling in the middle, but as all compositions are solid on their own merits I can't give this album anything less than the best rating possible. You simply don't find a song like "Enigma of Abode" or "Unbroken Shiver" (the highlight of the album's second half) every day, or every month, or even every year.
If you have any interest in jazz fusion, progressive metal, or any kind of ethereal music, check this album/band out. Listen to it more than once, and if at first the elements do not seem to congeal, challenge yourself to understand. Disperse's "Living Mirrors" is up there with the best progressive and fusion recordings I've ever heard.Josh Landry