It always gives me a great deal of satisfaction to review a local band's material, and even more so when said local band is really making some great music. I'm extremely pleased to say that this is the case with Chaos Frame, an up-and-coming young progressive metal band from the Twin Cities area. Though I've only seen them perform live once, I was graced with an advance copy that, after listening through a few times, I daresay is going to drive some of the local scene nuts.
You see, while it sometimes is so hard just to get a musical project off the ground, in this day and age modern recording technology makes releasing demos (or even LPs) possible from even a decent home studio. The quality of production on "Another Life" certainly is a bit rough round the edges, but then that's not generally something you hold against a band on their first release (especially when you realize that it's self-produced). So, on to the contents, shall we?
Chaos Frame ventures forth on its debut with progressive metal that seems rooted in the highly technical side of things (Dream Theater), while avoiding great instrumental distractions that serve no purpose. In general, my attention span and tastes run more to power metal, but the more that I listen to this debut, the more that I like it. This is at least in part to the variety of substance that runs through "Another Life". There seems to be no concrete formula for the band, but rather a sinuous coagulation of ideas that have aligned themselves in such a way that they've snared even my admittedly short attention.
Allow me to describe what I mean: the pacing of the songs on "Another Life" contributes to the overall strength of the album in a way that I've rarely identified before. The opening song, "The Distance", is a head-lowered barrel into the unknown, and is probably also the most accessible tune on the album. After the convulsing stagger that makes up much of "Dogma" (I mean this in a good way, and am reminded a bit of Psychotic Waltz), and a somewhat similar feel on "No Answer", the speed is recovered on "The Good Fight", driving into the second half of the album. After this, we're treated to the slow-paced, pensive and whimsical stroll through the oddly named "Sunken Boat Equilibrium". The combination of some very fun acoustic guitar work and off-kilter rhythms (I really enjoy the percussive side of this tune) actually make this my favorite track on the album, odd though that may seem. The next pair of tracks cycle through soft guitar and drum-driven sections, bass fills, and crunchy guitar solos to eventually reach the band's crowning achievement, the nineteen-and-a-half minute title track. "Another Life" does a good bit of ambient looming before the guitar breaks in, delivering a strong and proggy hook that comprises the first section of many within this monster song. In general, I tend to hesitate when I see something of this length, since most “epic” tracks seem to swing strongly one way or another in quality. However, Chaos Frame transcend the typical prog trappings to deliver something technical but consistently interesting throughout most of the title track's length. It's no "2112 Overture", but it does nicely without running on too far.
Most of the musical elements fall neatly into place on this album. The guitar is always pleasing, whether it's blasting your eardrums in with heavy riffing or soothing them with some acoustic licks. I was extremely pleased with the bass here as well, since I'm always a sucker for a good bass fill. Not only is the low end audible and active, it steals the show now and again before smugly stepping back into its supporting role. Drums are generally a big selling point for me in prog, and while the percussive tones aren't overly varied, there's not much redundancy here to speak of either. Lastly, I arrive at the vocals. While I don't care over-abundantly for the occasional harsh vocals on "Another Life", I don't feel that they detract from the experience. The cleans vary a bit, from sounding immature at times to delivering a dazzling vibrato. Maybe this is the production in part, but if you're going to sing disjointed melody lines that aren't the most melodic and easy to follow, you can do much worse than is found here (Tangent Plane anyone?).
I'm really quite impressed by what this band has done with their self-produced debut. I don't listen to a lot of "basement" prog, but maybe I ought to start, because this is pretty darn enjoyable. I recommend this album very highly to any that want to look into potent, varied, and consistently fresh progressive metal. High marks for keeping a powerhead entertained and growing on me. I've been spinning this repeatedly despite all the other music I need to listen to. That in and of itself should say something.
- - -
The Protagonist's Rating: 3.75 out of 5
For song samples, I recommend visiting the band's MySpace page.