22/12/2006 § Leave a comment
Take some standard ingredients, throw them in a big mixer, switch them around then flip it all upside-down. However, though I could quite easily sit down and enjoy one, two, or unhealthily large quantities of apple turnovers, getting all the way through uneXpect’s new album is not so easy to stomach. Now I know that some of the more self-labelling musos out there will instantly think that I haven’t given this album enough time and that it’s not possible that I can be a true, valid music interpreter because I don’t ‘get’ uneXpect’s sound but just what their ‘sound‘ is is debatable. Oh, and by the way that’s uneXpect, not Unexpect. be sure to get the capitalised lettering in the right places or BlooGG, TreewaRT and TwiNGLEfwuMP will come after you and impose a lesson on spelling in the world of avant-garde metal.
If anything, In A Flesh Aquarium is a unique piece of work. After all my years reviewing femme metal titles I don’t think I’ve ever come across something of such waywardly challenging proportions as this. I remember when I first heard Atrox I thought it wasn’t possible that anyone could like such a band, though after a while it became possible to see the patterns and shapes, indeed the intentions behind the music. The same is true of uneXpect, though to an even more impenetrable degree. Avant-garde metal is not about conjuring beautiful soundscapes or working with the odd uncommon time signature, but creating music that a lot of the time sounds like a freeform jazz band playing rugby. This is the sound of extreme music. Base-jumping for those with instruments. And it’s not surprising that a lot of the time it comes across as 20 car horns being fired from the top of a building. Meter, rhythm and groove seem to go out the window and what we’re left with is an apparent cacophony, but one which has been crafted carefully over a number of months though still having few discernable melodies.
And this may well be the intention. uneXpect are clearly very good musicians, astoundingly good in fact. The work and talent taken to make an album of these proportions is quite amazing. Still, at first listen, or even at third or fourth, In A Flesh Aquarium is likely to go totally over a lot of people’s heads. There is nothing particular here to keep you coming back if you’re into more standard forms of music, there are no hooks or easily-accessible sections. The band drop us right in the deep end from the word go: Chromatic Chimera is a reworking of an earlier uneXpect number on the We, Invaders album though what used to be a piano-only number has turned into a fully-fledged song with vocals and distortion, but it’s hardly an easy ride. The music stops and starts all over the place and it’s almost impossible to see where it’s going to go next or even sometimes where it’s come from. The same can certainly be said of Feasting Fools though it is Desert Urbania which, after a difficult trudge though the musical minefield, finally gives us some form of release since it does have a few noticeable riffs. Silence_011010701 is a serene instrumental in comparison to the rest of the album, and the three-part The Shiver starts off quietly and then goes on to what has now become the trademark madcap uneXpect sound by the final part.
Even though In A Flesh Aquarium is very well-played and well-written, there’s no question that this is not an easy album to listen to by any stretch. There is nothing here at all for the normal pop metal listener and it’s quite a slippery piece of work, evading and challenging everything that you thought you knew about metal – or even sometimes about music. However, all these things do not make it a brilliant piece of work, or even a good piece of work at times. If there’s one thing that IAFA is incapable of doing, it’s conjuring atmospheres. The band don’t use the music as tools for making people feel anything in particular, but tools for proving what it’s possible to do with frequencies, sounds, and the preconceptions of their listeners. It’s almost like looking at a Hieronymous Bosch painting or some of the architecture by Piet Blom: you can stare at it from a distance and marvel about the gumption it took to create it, but there’s little more that you can do with it.
Above all, whether you appreciate IAFA is very much to do with what you want to get out of it. If you like your music to prove a point rather than to make you feel anything remotely poignant, uneXpect could certainly be for you, but if you like a cedilla of emotion injected into the sound you choose to fill your head with then it won’t be your cup of tea. Technically it’s astonishing but tunefully, emotionally and melodically it’s little more than a metal band having a tantrum. Hopefully uneXpect’s next album will be more of a mature piece of work with some – God forbid – more understandable and relatable passages. If I sit down to listen to an album, I would rather it were something vaguely coherent than some sermonising technical rant from an avant-garde bunch of Canadians. Being unique, talented, and original does not always make good – or worthwhile – music.