Last Chance to Reason
The phrase "video game metal" is a bit of an enigma. Not only does it inspire both great excitement and great sighing among metal fans, it is often unclear as to what the phrase actually refers to. The soundtrack from Doom? Powerglove's metal adaptations of existing video game soundtracks? Or the inclusion of Soundgarden in Road Rash? I suppose these are all viable interpretations of "video game metal," but Maine's Last Chance to Reason have created something new altogether with their second album, aptly entitled "Level 2". "Level 2" represents the ultimate fusion of the two art forms - an original concept album created to go along with an original video game, and apparently sung from the point of view of the cyborg hero of the game. Unfortunately, as my computer does not have the proper operating system to run said game, I have yet to try it; however, this is not a video game review, but an album review, and so let us now turn our attention to the music.
As Last Chance to Reason is operating in a relatively small niche genre, they invite immediate comparisons to similar bands operating in similar paradigms. "Level 2" is, for lack of a better term, a jazz-metal album, in the tradition of such bands as Zero Hour, Cynic, and Atheist. However, Last Chance to Reason adds a healthy dose of aggression to the mix, through a rather brilliant combination of metalcore and Opethian death metal, thus creating something that is original as much as it is borrowed.
At this point, the tone of the album should be given a mention. The overall vibe of "Level 2" has a lot in common with that of any Zero Hour album - it is machinelike, technically complex, and relentlessly dark, with plenty of unexpected dynamic shifts, and incredible coherence throughout the album. However, Last Chance to Reason makes an important and fundamental change to this formula. Whereas there are pockets of human emotion spread throughout Zero Hour's post-apocalyptic machine world, Last Chance to Reason does away entirely with emotion, leading the listener into a world completely alien, unknown, and frightening. The relentless, machinelike instrumental attack and nearly robotic-sounding vocals create an atmosphere of restless, cold malice which permeates the album and leaves the listener unanchored, adrift in a post-human cyborg universe.
All that grandiloquence aside, the flow of the album is quite remarkable as well. There are ten tracks here, but they could just as well be one. I can't recall one point in the album in which I was sure that one song had ended and another had begun, and this is really a major strength of the album. Rather than give the listener a series of glimpses of the world in which the story takes place, it takes the listener on a journey into said world, from which there is no escape until the end of the album. With the kind of intensity present in "Level 2," this could go wrong if the album dragged on too long, but the band wisely chooses to cut it fairly short, leaving the listener wanting more, rather than wanting something else.
There is very little wrong with "Level 2." Of course, there are some little things: most notably, the death vocals are somewhat lackluster compared to those of many similar bands, and there are not a whole lot of memorable moments throughout the album. It will have a fairly limited appeal, especially considering its complexity and robot-themed lyrics. Those looking for any semblance of normal songwriting will be disappointed, as will those looking for a humanly emotional vocal performance.
However, it is obvious that the members of Last Chance to Reason understand what they are doing, and for the most part, they do a good job of it. The fact that they have taken so much emotion from the songwriting points not to a lack of emotion but rather to an understanding and mastery of it that goes beyond what most bands ever achieve. The repetitive nature of the album points not to a lack of creativity, but to the strength and clarity of the band's artistic vision.
I recommend "Level 2" for anyone interested in the jazz-metal scene, as well as those interested in video games as well as metal. Both sides of the equation have been explored very little at this point, and so it is interesting to find a band doing both at the same time. The guys from Last Chance to Reason have given us an album that pushes the boundaries of both genres ever-farther, and while their sailing of uncharted waters is not without a few minor difficulties, they managed to pull off a well-done and original, if extremely difficult, album. I look forward to hearing what these guys do in the future, as should anyone with an appreciation of the stranger side of progressive metal.