For Fans Of
Before we begin this run-down of ‘Sharp Turns In Dark Tunnels’, the debut EP from Brisbane super-outfit Sum Of Us (featuring members of Osaka Punch, Kodiak Empire and Red In Tooth), I need to put a disclaimer; I actually hate genre chat. It’s the biggest waste of time that any music fan – punter, writer, performer, etc. – can possibly engage in, honestly. (Well, damn, guess I’m in the wrong line of writing then, hey?) Whether something is power-thrash or melodic thrash with a hint of power metal, metalcore or melodic post-core, I don’t give a shit at the end of the day. I never really have, truth be told. It’s just a topic of conversation that is often so tiresome and usually takes away from the artist themselves; somewhat preventing their music to just be appreciated as ‘art’. As nebulous as that term may seem.
BUT! That being high and mightily said, being specific in a review about the music is key. So, I’m gonna have to go and break my own deeply loathed sin to offer some musings on what it means to be ‘progressive’ and ‘prog’ as we talk about this techy, harsh, brutal and at times, diluted debut four-track EP from Sum Of Us.
First off, people most often associate “progressive” band’s together with that of metal bands, and in some cases, rightly so! Some of the genre’s most celebrated acts, such as Fates Warning, Dream Theatre and Tool come from the heavier side of the tradition. Indeed, the Kenyes and Kenny melody influences are evident from the get-go of this new Sum Of Us release with opener ‘First Yawn‘. This first song also sees indeed talented vocalist Bryce Carleton offer vocal lines right from the 90’s prog handbook. Yet all with a nice, fitting tenancy to sit back and allow his four band-mates to also display their exceptional musical chops as well.
Likewise, next songs ‘Eleven Tigers‘ and ‘Forrest‘ are more musical showcases than conventional “songwriter” pieces, so-to-speak. Meaning if you personally like your progressive music in the shape of Porcupine Tree or Yes, then you might want to pass these tracks off to your sweaty friend in that black Dillinger Escape Plan shirt who’s yelling loudly and jumping off something high in the distant. Which now brings me around to my “old man yells at a cloud” point that I raised earlier: being prog and being progressive. Prog is just heavy and aggressive, often just for the sheer sake of it so we can have some cool riffs. Whereas progressive is dynamic, varied, and interesting; it’s a real sonic and emotional journey, in short.
What Sum Of Us have done here is an achievement of technical mastery and musical aggression. It’s heavy, it’s melodic, it’s capable, it’s skilled, it’s air-tight, and did I mention it’s heavy? However, to have the prog label so firmly stamped upon this group’s foreheads continues to fuel this rather odd new-wave tradition that to be considered ‘progressive’ your band must make 30 goddamn different musical points in the space of three minutes. Whilst also having a musical backdrop that requires a performance Ph.D. to bloody decode. (Though, for real, Dane Pulvirenti’s drumming on ‘Carousel‘ is out of this goddamn world – whether or not we call it prog, progressive, or otherwise).
Yet what can be so often forgotten nowadays, and what I find personally quite disappointing about this particular EP, is that it doesn’t offer up anything that’s genuinely ‘progressive’. Sure, that prog box gets ticked off soon enough in terms of time signatures and melodic keys. But that strong sense of story-telling, the slow and building developments and unabashed experimentations that makes the very best progressive music so enthralling are all glaringly absent here. To be fair, that’s the case with a majority of artists aiming to be grouped in these brackets, but we’re not here to talk about other artists. No, we’re here to talk about this Sum Of Us EP, and it just doesn’t go far or even deep enough for me. I love my prog, yes, but I’m much of more of a progressive lover/nerd first and foremost.
Now, don’t misquote me, I’m not saying that this release is bad. I’m also not saying that Sum Of Us are not a welcome addition to the ever-expanding Australian metal community, nor am I saying that what these five men have achieved here instrumentally and vocally is anything short of talented or mind-bending. However, what ‘Sharp Turns In Dark Tunnels‘ sorely lacks is that sense of an actual ‘journey’ through each individual track and as a whole body of work.
Despite the release’s name, there are no lyrical or thematic “sharp turns” to be had here – dark as the songs may be. While that title is perhaps more to do with the musical and instrumental intent of the release, all sensitivity has been more or less thrown away for sheer aggression. So while the squeals and bends of guitar distortion and the technical crack’s of the drums might constantly change pace, the dynamics and presentation do not. And when that’s applied to the longer form of music, it can be sadly exhausting to process.
Sum Of Us is indeed a group of incredible musicians, that much is clear from this EP’s four compositions. As there really are some exciting moments and some talented performances to be had, absolutely. However, just because the meter, key and time-signature is altered by no means suddenly makes it progressive music. When there is a notable lack of dynamic shape and growing narrative across the songs themselves, this is more so the case. And with that in mind, it’s time for me to have a shower and wash away this purist “genre chat” filth from my skin.
1. First Yawn
2. Eleven Tigers
‘Sharp Turns in Dark Tunnels’ is out now.