For Fans Of
Death affects us all in a multitude of ways, both directly and indirectly. You can’t escape it; not in your personal circles and not when you turn on the news or when you flick through your never-ending social media feeds. Sometimes it’s your number that comes up out of nowhere, and other times your ticket comes close to being punched in by old mate hooded death, but you thankfully live on to see another day.
This latter instant is what Branch Arterial bassist Kade Turner and lead vocalist Nigel Jackson experienced in 2013; Turner suffered a horrific motorcycle accident while overseas in South America whereas Jackson was struck with a life-threatening illness, involving a bone marrow transplant to make a recovery. After multiple stints in hospital, both members thankfully recovered fully and they rejoined their bandmates to complete recording and writing what would eventually become Branch Arterial’s latest, ‘Beyond The Border’.
Now, obviously, that title is a reference to the fleeting life-and-death line that the two band members came close to crossing when creating this record. As such, this ten-track release is far from being a happy or upbeat record, as the songs thematically range from heavy topics such as dire climate change, drug and physical abuse, an array mental health issues, individual struggles, failures of the self, life, death, etc. Yet while the emotions and original theme behind this record deal with this Rubicon crossing of sorts, the Melbourne band’s actual music doesn’t follow suit.
Instead, what we have here is simply another prog-rock release from an Australian rock band that skirts the proggy waters; a scene that’s becoming more and more crowded in recent years.
While not awful or bad by any means, ‘Beyond The Border‘ is simply a comfortable listen, for lack of a better description. It’s got some damn solid performances on it, a tight mix all-around (the bass tone present here is just superb), it flows well from song to song, and the record delivers what any fan or genre aficionado would expect from prog-rock/metal such as this. But that’s about it, really.
As someone who spent a large chunk of 2016 listening through Dead Letter Circus, Karnivool, Coheed & Cambria and Circa Survive’s respective back catalogues, this record is vocally and instrumentally – from the drumming, riffs, layers, tones, etc. – very similar to those aforementioned bands. Thus, this record a well-worn road that I’ve personally been down before many times lately. Here, songs like ‘Waste Away’ and ‘My Curse’ feel like straight-up Dead Letter Circus rip-offs for the most part; ‘Take Me’ sounds like what Karnivool would release now in 2017; and songs like ‘Circus’ and ‘New Way Home’ seem to be long lost B-sides from Circa Survive’s career standout ‘Letting Go’.
Some might argue that I shouldn’t compare this record to older albums or other bigger bands as that’s not fair on Branch Arterial; that I should let them and their new record “be their own thing”. However, A) this band’s sound doesn’t exist in a bubble, B) you simply cannot treat every single band as being completely original, and C) I’ve heard better of this sound, frankly. I mean, just see the four the bands I mentioned at the start of the previous paragraph.
With ‘Beyond The Border’, Branch Arterial would have done well to challenge the well-versed listeners of this proggy rock sound – the genre that Branch Arterial most certainly exists within – and take their music far past the “borders”. Yes, not every single record has to be a subversive listen or challenging towards the genre expectations that it fits within, and while this quintet does indeed nail their sound, the overall payoff would’ve been far greater with a higher sense of ambition. Now, to be fair, album closer ‘Where Are You Now’ hints at this pushing of the band’s sonic envelope, but it isn’t taken far enough to create the full impact nor to create something truly interesting and engaging. Plus, by that time in this record’s journey, it’s just too little, too late.
In our interview with Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders last year, the guitarist broke down his distinction of ‘progressive’ and ‘prog’, saying, “I think that progressive music is a genre that was defined by bands like King Crimson, Rush, Yes and Genesis and you then had a lot of copycat bands, who would copy right down to the gear used in that era, so for instance, early analogue synths and their distinct aesthetic approaches. But then you have ‘prog’ bands that are emulating those who started the genre and then you have ‘progressive’ as an actual concept of forwarding thinking, which is antithetical to what sounds came before.”
And I couldn’t agree more. That’s the true difference between actual ‘progressive’ acts – bands that fully challenge themselves and what’s come before in their genre – and ‘prog’ bands such as Branch Arterial and ‘Beyond The Border’; solid bands with decent releases that just keep the gears of certain genres turning without further expansion.
1. Waste Away
2. My Curse
3. Where I Belong
5. Take Me
6. Beyond The Border
8. New Way Home
9. Alone Together
10. Where Are You Now
‘Beyond The Border’ is out now.