Metal band Solemn Vision did an incredibly cool thing with their debut album, which they had the good fortune to release just months before the 2020 lockdown: they put out two versions, one instrumental and one with the vocals. That means that if singing over some of the smartest, most unpredictable metal released in the last few years is your thing, you can grab the record at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. No disrespect to frontman Aaron Harris, but this band’s epics are so interesting and outside-the-box that they work perfectly on their own without the vocals. Everything on the record other than the brief instrumental intro is in the eight or nine-minute range, with solos that are on the short side and leave you wanting more.
Obviously, most people are going to want to hear the vocal version of the record. Even better, you can catch the group live when they headline a multi-band bill at around 11:30 PM on Dec 9 at Lucky 13 Saloon. Cover is $15
Let’s be counteirntuitive and give the instrumental version of the record a spin, shall we? A bright, synthy intro that could be Nektar or Rick Wakeman disappears when the crunchy guitars kick in. And in the first song, A Perch For Demons, when axemen Kadin Wisniewski and Mauricio Gutierrez fire up the jagged tritone chords and allusive chromatics over the surprisingly nimble rhythm section of bassist Anthony Rafferty and drummer Carlos Crowcell, it’s game on. The song is pissed off, with a weary, exasperated edge: the guitar solos that veer back and forth from jagged and menacing to crazed volleys of tapping are spot-on. Maybe it was just bad lucky that the plandemic was unleashed when it was, but this band deserves to be headlining stadiums.
Next up is Perish, an epic feast of thrashy, stampeding tremolo-picking with unexpected hints of glamrock, a swirling, cyclotron chorus of multitracks and a closing solo that will absolutely slay you. Midnight Sun begins with a swirly reprise of the album’s opening theme and quickly shifts to a bitter heroic theme in slowly galloping 6/8 time: it’s arguably the catchiest tune here and just gets more ornate as it goes along.
The Soul Impaled has a creepy, icy, dream sequence that one of the guitarists slashes his way out of with a mean pickslide, followed by brontosaurus-on-steroids interludes and a slight return to the tritone menace of the first song. The band plunge deeper into that macabre atmosphere in Fortress of Solitude, which grows both grittier and more riff-oriented than the other tracks here, with some tantalizing twin lead breaks.
Purposeless has a pulsing Pink Floyd-tinged acoustic guitar-and-bass intro, followed by a galloping attack and another rich, resonant, multitracked series of choruses. The final cut, Reincarnate, is a much shorter reprise. With or without vocals, this one of the most astonishingly good metal albums of the last few years.