Friday, 12 August 2016

Lascaille's Shroud - The Roads Leading North (2016) / 82%

Nanomachines, Space, d20s and Operas

If you have issues with albums longer than forty minutes, well, just leave now and come back when you’ll be able to sit down and listen to a two hours detour into space. I’m personally used to science fiction marathons, I’ve been watching Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise like a madman for the last two years so listening to Lascaille’s Shroud feels like the musical extension of space operas. The scope is mighty as a Klingon Bird of Prey and the execution is as precise as a photonic cannon. I’m actually sorry for the Trek references as I’m not familiar with the series of books and video games the band is using as inspirations.

The third full length album of Brett Windnagle, the mastermind behind the project, is a vast concept album with what seems to be an original story. The dude is immensely productive as it’s his second two hours album in a row. While editing your ideas is usually a good idea in music, it’s obviously not the case here. Lascaille’s Shroud sure lacks restraint but there’s no disposable songs on this record.

The story is interesting and well written but I will not actually talk about it in details, read the lyrics and enjoy the story of Elizabeth North while listening to the album if sci fi is your thing. It certainly feels like a Shadowrun game at times where you play this girl armed with nanomachines exploring a dark, futuristic world full of dangers.

The vocals on this long journey are diverse and handled by two guest musicians. Patrick Parris’ clean vocals are fairly reminiscent of the high pitched approaches of bands like Fates Warning (listen to his parts on “Restrain the Child” or “What Dwells Beneath Her Flesh”). Parris sounds super great and fits the space theme like a glove and automatically improves the songs featuring his talents. I’m often reminded of Ark’s seminal album Burn the Sun in its abrasive and aggressive but spacey approach to progressive metal. It’s busy and has barely any extended instrumental and pretentious fillers.

To be fair, I think the songs are better when the clean singer is featured, not that John Yelland (who also do some cleans) doesn’t do a good job at the harsh vocals but musically, the clean approach is a better fit for  the bonkers space opera Windnagle wrote. I actually like the addition of female vocal samples on songs like “Sketches of Madness” which is basically a synthwave interlude. Despite some odd moments here and there, the fourteen songs album feels too monolithic and repetitive for such a long story. I think there’s not enough calm moments or surprises throughout the run-time. Still, this wouldn’t be a complain if the album was actually forty minutes...

The death metal elements are overly present but they’re somewhat buried under the lush, progressive production and the large amount of synth and keyboards used. The style reminds me of Dark Tranquillity’s later material but with a long-winded structure (“Unspeakably Defiled” is eight minutes) and honestly, a track like this one with constant harsh vocals can get a bit tiresome. We still get some thick and heavy riffing but in a mechanical way. It’s not without emotions or lifeless though, it’s not industrial metal after all but more like progressive metal with an electronic approach. The drum machine, something that I have no problems with as far as metal is concerned, is efficient and sounds really good. Sure, real drums would possibly elevate the compositions to a new height but I think the performance was still enjoyable.

In the end, this is a grandiose concept album and an enjoyable experience. It’s a successful foray into science fiction storytelling through music. With the cover art and the electronic elements, it could be easy to think of Lascaille’s Shroud as a metal version of Perturbator and I’d understand why, they have a similar approach to their different styles. Despite being a self produced album, I think the sound is top notch. The guitars are aggressive, thick and the leads are well composed and epic. In 2016, it’s totally possible to record a totally professional record at home since the means are easily available. The production work on the vocals is also clear and brings a natural counterpart to the futuristic soundscapes.

While it’s a bit much to withstand in one sitting like all double albums (even the great ones like those written by Midnight Odyssey, Esoteric or Elysian Blaze), the trip is rewarding if you’re into silly prog metal (is this an oxymoron?). Recommended if you have the patience and the tolerance for aural space operas.


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