Check this out. The new American band, Conquering Dystopia, has their eponymous instrumental debut album on sale for about $10. Fans and listeners can legally stream the album from the band’s official website for the huge price of FREE though. Yes, in our time of “no free lunch”, this professionally recorded, 12-song release will invade your ears for FREE. What purpose does the price tag serve if the music is actually being given away though? This review is written from the album stream on Conquering Dystopia’s official website, as contacting the band for a digital review copy was both unsuccessful and unnecessary.
It would be more surprising if these two “shred specialists”, Jeff Loomis and Keith Merrow, Cannibal Corpse‘s longtime bassist Alex Webster, and extreme metal drummer Alex Rudinger got together and concocted a pop-rock or jazz record. Seeing the cast of characters, you’re sort-of on the right track without hearing a single note – “instinctively”, you know you’re in for one of those whirlwind cruises “by the seat of your pants”. And it delivers that in spades. Nearly every tune is chock full of fretboard-scorching, finger-buster guitar gymnastics.
A lot of music that contains any ‘guitar work’ at all these days is mis-labeled as shred. Are Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton shredders, was Paco de Lucia a shredder? Er… no. Blues, rock, and contemporary flamenco/Latin are not what people conjure up when they think of “shred guitar”. It’s artists playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” behind their head at 4 times the speed of sound these fans are thinking of… and Conquering Dystopia is far closer to the latter then to the former. If you’re looking to check out some genuine, well-composed, well-executed contemporary shred, a great place to start is the band’s “downloads” page. Here, you’ll find yourself thrust in to the dark world of aggressive, athletic guitar, which sounds “like death metal without the vocals”. For those who couldn’t listen to death metal due to the vocals, but found the underlying music enjoyable, this is for you. It’s all of the instrumental attack with none of the “cookie monster”. Do you miss the vocalist here? Nah.
An interesting facet of the release is that it doesn’t really seem to have standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus structured songs. It’s much more jazz-like with a couple of repeating heads, juxtaposed or fitted to a slew of solos. With nods to melodic rock, contemporary fusion, and symphonic metal, this is a record where compliments like “this sounds like a can of whoop-ass” wouldn’t be too far from home, or too far off the mark. Basically, the record is rip-your-face-off speed, compounded in to various dark and foreboding sonic situations.
Burly and ready for a fight, it starts up and does not let go. “Prelude to Obliteration”, the opening track, sets the timbre for the record: dark, ominous, and flay-you-alive fast. “Tethys”, named for a primordial sea, is a little more whimsical, but still very, very firmly rooted in extreme metal. It’s just a little more mellow and moody. “Totalitarian Sphere” and “Lachrymose” are the most “different”, mood-wise, on the record, featuring far slower tempos, stray advances in to melodic territory. The poignant “Lachrymose” is especially melancholy, meandering, and melodic. “Resurrection in Black” and “Destroyer of Dreams” flow easily from one to the next – they seem to be crafted from the same dark yet (slightly) melodic sonic fabric.
The album seems to avoid one of shred’s biggest problems, which is “icepick tone”. Because this is an album grasping at death metal’s roots, it’s very heavy on the low end, made to be aggressive rather then abrasive, and very riffy. So when these guys do their million-miles-an-hour sweeps and runs, which nearly every tune has, it’s thankfully not eardrum piercing. It would be nice to hear the bass guitar in more then a couple of tiny breaks in the sonic clouds, so to speak. Songs featuring the full band would be fantastic, as it’s a full band effort and not really meant to be just backing tracks for guitar clinics. Besides that, it seems to have a couple of the death metal flaws, namely a tappity typewriter (or “triggered”) “double bass” drum sound (at times), and an overall dynamic of “always on ten”. It does have it’s peaks and valleys, but they’re far less frequent then you’re going to hear then on say, a Joe Satriani disc. As a side note, there is no volume control on the website, so what level you hear this at, is dependent on your system’s volume control.
When you’re playing this fast, the individual notes go by so quickly that even the most cross-armed, grim, guitar afficionado fan is going to have a hard time making a ‘tone’ critique stick. So, these pros can ply their seven-stringed whammy bar trade without worry. If, however, you aren’t a fan of shred, you’re not going to like this – those solos aren’t kept at “Cinnamon Girl” sparseness or AC/DC simplicity. Loomis and Merrow are not trying to make the guitars sound like they’re speaking. It’s not a melodic, poppy record. Conquering Dystopia, by the band of the same name, is, for the most part blazing fast, custom tailored to match the mood of the music at any given point.
Track Listing with Run times –
Prelude to Obliteration — 04:39
Tethys — 05:16
Ashes of Lesser Men — 05:35
Doomsday Clock — 02:15
Inexhaustible Savagery — 04:05
Totalitarian Sphere — 04:35
Lachrymose — 03:02
Autarch — 05:07
Nuclear Justice — 05:51
Kufra at Dusk — 03:54
Resurrection in Black — 01:01
Destroyer of Dreams — 07:36
Keith Merrow – Guitar
Jeff Loomis – Guitar
Alex Webster – Bass Guitar
Alex Rudinger – Drums