Conquering Dystopia’s Conquering Dystopia Reviewed

I can find nothing but high, high praise for this album on the internet, so it has been sitting on my list for a few months. This is the first album from a “supergroup” containing Jeff Loomis and Alex Webster among others. It is a purely instrumental album. I’ll admit that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album. Unfortunately, it didn’t really hold up on lots of repeated listens. This is the opposite of what I’d want from a great album. Usually I don’t get something, and on repeated listens it reveals its greatness to me.

First, this album feels extraordinarily familiar. I can’t quite pin down who I think they sound like. Maybe Periphery (not quite, but I can’t figure it out)? I listen to this album, and I just feel like I’ve heard it all before. The overall sound is a highly produced prog metal band that occasionally throws in some tech death infused parts for variety. It would be unfair to say that you have to do something totally new sounding to be great. I definitely think you can sound very familiar, do it extremely well, and still make a great album. But the familiarity here leaves me unsettled. I’m not saying this is what happened, but how would you feel reading a book made up of quotes from other books?

The reason I enjoyed this album so much at first is because of how great the technical playing is. The shredding and soloing has lots of fantastic melodic material embellished in all sorts of neoclassical ways with traditional scale and arpeggio patterns. The articulation is varied and clearly executed. It is technical playing at its finest for sure. This alone would have had me giving pure praise a few years ago. I’ve come to want more than pure technical wankery, though.

I think this album really shines in those moments where the band forgets about how good they all are at their instruments. “Doomsday Clock” is one such example. It switches to part acoustic guitar. It has musical direction as it builds both dynamically and harmonically. This is a song with depth that I can return to. Unfortunately, the track immediately following this one is more typical. This depth isn’t there. It is all flash and no substance (and in fact my least favorite).

I think the band has really good melodic sense. The melodies that the riffing and soloing are based around are well-made. They are simultaneously catchy, yet interesting and original. Still, I just find the overall package somewhat stale and lacking any real depth that will reward spending lots of time on it. Even the crazy soloing isn’t unfamiliar enough to require effort to process.

The next reprieve from the technique is “Lachrymose.” I have mixed feelings on this one. Overall the song’s melodic and harmonic development is solid. It is actually quite a moving song with the legato electric guitar solo providing a longing feeling over the more rigid picking of the acoustic accompaniment. It might be a bit overwrought at its climax though. It feels a bit like a cheesy 80’s ballad. Still, I have to applaud the change of pace to something that tries to provide a bit more depth.

There are a few parts that come close to this such as on “Nuclear Justice,” but for the most part they return to their technical powerhouse for the rest of the album. Also, “Kufra at Dusk” has a pretty good breakdown for a few seconds at the end. I can probably count the moments I’d want to share with people on one hand. The only track that really seems to integrate the technical with the other elements I’ve been praising is the closer (and I think they realized it which is why they ended the album with it, but it does get dangerously djenty at parts).

Don’t get me wrong. This album is worth some time. It has magnificent playing by some of the masters that you don’t want to miss. The only reason I’m being so harsh is because of how universal the praise has been. It is a good album. It just isn’t album of the year material. I imagine that the sophomore effort will fix a lot of the issues I raised. These musicians are just getting used to playing together as a unit. I’m looking forward to what they put out next.

Overall, I give it a 7.5/10. Here’s a sample:

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2 thoughts on “Conquering Dystopia’s Conquering Dystopia Reviewed

  1. david says:

    The problem is that underneath, the structure is strictly pop. This is pop-oriented material at every level. Just because it has riffs is not going to convince me of calling this metal.
    Yes, I also admire Jeff Loomis amazing technique, but this album is a huge waste of time. The parts I could kind of enjoy were the slowest parts. It has cheesy 80s “neoclassical” patterns everywhere which says a lot by itself about its character.
    I don’t think things have to be “unfamiliar” and whatnot in order to be good. I think it is about depth. I can thoroughly enjoy going through Corelli’s Sonate di Chiesa or Locatelli’s The Art of the Violin. Because there is just so much beautiful crafting in there. Even if the harmony is something that is so commonplace even for its time, even if the patterns have become cliche and we find soloing violins doing standard arpeggios at moments, it is just so well-done, and developed from themes into variations in such a masterful way that it is great without needing to be “innovative” or surprising in an “avant garde” sort of way.

    In the words of Richard Stallman:
    “Not all innovation is good.”
    There is no reason to think innovation is better than traditionalism just because. So, what makes this bad is not that it is not innovative, new or “out there” enough. It lacks spirit. It could have explored and surprised without sounding “unfamiliar”.

    • hilbertthm90 says:

      Thanks! I agree completely. I was worried comments would go the other way with all the 5/5 reviews out there.

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