As popular as progressive metal is amongst fans, it seems even more popular amongst aspiring, talented new artists, all raring at the chance to show off their chops and dazzle with their musicianship. Unfortunately, this has led to a highly saturated market without a broad scope. There’s only so many quick time signature changes, virtuosic guitar solos and chugging riffs one can listen to before it all starts to sound the same.
And there’s another problem; for thirty years, one band has been revered as being at the forefront of this genre: Dream Theater. While this decade has seen them suffer, their legacy is still ever-present, especially in the recordings of other progressive metal artists. In fact, I’ve referred to several artists I’ve come across as “Dream Theater clones” because, even if they weren’t consciously trying to recreate their sound, the result usually felt like something I could hear on a DT album, but done much better.
All this means that artists hoping to make it in the progressive metal scene have to work twice as hard to differentiate themselves from the parent band, as well as any other competition while sticking to the prog-metal brief. Fortunately, newcomer State of Flux is ready to rise to the challenge with a stellar collection of material that has been eight years in the making. Despite all that gestation, these songs still sound fresh, with only the best cuts being presented for their debut. Moreover, with an LP-friendly length of 47 minutes, the music never feels overwrought or drawn out. In fact, you’ll be scratching your head as how that went by so quickly and want to put the album on a second or third time.
So how does State of Flux differentiate itself from the crowd? Simple really: they’re an instrumental band. “Is that it?” I hear you ask. Of course not, but explaining the rest won’t be quite as easy. Probably better to take you through the tracks.
The album starts with State Of…, one of three, minute-long tracks that tie the album together and keep the whole thing flowing. Ataraxia begins the album proper, with a major theme in 4/4 + 7/8 that would feel right at home in an arena setting. A delicious introduction to the band’s talents, Ataraxia seems destined to be State of Flux’s “main theme”. I can’t imagine a concert would be complete without this anthemic piece.
Silver Surfer throws some funk into the mix with keyboards that evoke an ancient Egyptian theme. Guitar solos dominate the first half while a breakdown centred around the bass guitar guides the listener through the middle section. Pretty soon we reach the spacy second linking track Back to Start which simply feels like an extension of the previous piece. Samsara subsequently kicks in, showing the band’s capability with dynamics as they move through a 7/8 + 4/4 riff that keeps the audience on their toes.
Cycles gives the band a chance to show their jazzier side in this simultaneously smooth and frenetic piece that features a whirlwind performance from drummer Andres Beuses. The minute-long Space provides an apt introduction to the final shorter cut of the album Interstellar. This track plays out as something of a love letter to Dream Theater, with more similarities to the band’s catalogue than I can probably point out. Just a few tracks that come to mind are In the Presence of Enemies, New Millennium and The Dance of Eternity.
The final track, Grief clocks in at fifteen-and-a-half minutes, making it the longest track on the album by far and quite separate to the rest of the proceedings. By contrast to the lightness of the earlier pieces, Grief opens with a melancholic intro similar to A Change of Seasons, again by Dream Theater. Like A Change of Seasons, this gives way to a hardcore chugging riff section, and it’s several minutes before the band let up the pace. With no lyrics to break up the piece, it’s incredible to see the group so naturally break up the piece and keep things interesting without being repetitive. Some Brian May-style squealing guitars bring the track to a close before a brief repetition of the opening theme finishes the album proper.
So, there are still a few glaring references to Dream Theater, but the band combats any similarities they might have to the parent group by being incredibly light and easy to listen to. That’s not to say the band’s talents are to be called into question; on the contrary, some of the richness and natural feel of the songs comes from the band’s dexterity. State of Flux’s debut may be over in a flash, but the impact it will leave on you will be long-lasting.
01. State Of… (1:07)
02. Ataraxia (7:16)
03. Silver Surfer (5:49)
04. Back to Start (1:01)
05. Samsara (4:44)
06. Cycles (4:36)
07. Space (0:58)
08. Interstellar (6:08)
09. Grief (15:28)
Total Time – 47:01
Andres Beuses – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards (tracks 1, 4 & 7)
Cory Bickford – Keyboards
Kevin Stewart – Guitars
Kilian Duarte – Bass
Record Label: Independent
Country Of Origin: U.S.A.
Date Of Release: 15th November 2019