It’s been a decade since Polish band Acute Mind last released an album. This year’s release, Under the Empty Sky, is surely proof that good things take time. This second album from the band is absolutely incredible, and blows away their debut – which was, itself, a great album. Returning from the previous incarnation of the band are Marek Majewski, Paweł Ciuraj and Arkadiusz Piskorek on vocals, guitars and bass, with newcomers Piotr Włodarcyzk and Artur Jasiński on keys and drums.
Almost immediately, the opening number shows that the core of the band remaining provides continuity from the first album, with Piskorek’s punchy bass leading the groove. I loved the bass of Wojciech Rowicki on the first album, but Piskorek has definitely stepped up to the plate, taking on that role. With Piskorek moving to bass, Paweł Ciuraj is joined by Marek Majewski on guitars for this album, which provides less difference than you might expect. But, though, subtle, the differences are still notable on the tracks where Majewski plays the lead guitar. And, of course, there are Majewski’s vocals. He has a wonderful clear voice, and it’s far better suited for the music of Acute Mind, than Osada Vida, for whom he was vocalist for a time. I remember being quite excited when I first heard Majewski would be joining Osada Vida, and then a little underwhelmed. I do love both albums Majewski sings on (especially the second of the two), but he really shines within Acute Mind.
Under the Empty Sky feels like a heavier beast than the debut, but it’s not until third track, Daddy, that this really became apparent. It drips with malevolence and malice. Acute Mind have flirted with darkness before, but this is far more overt. The quieter passages are full of barely restrained threat, and the heavier passages are downright brutal. As if in recognition that the band has taken their sound to a new extreme, they follow with the gentle ballad Hope from the Heart. The minimal, almost ambient, tones of the keys in this song are gorgeous. And yet, even if there is hope in the title, it is tempered by a feeling that something is not quite right. By the halfway point, this sense of dread is proved to have been correct, as the song takes a turn for something heavier and darker, before returning to a more optimistic, almost triumphant vocal in the final minute or so. The song ends more hopefully than it began, and considerably louder. Whispered hopes can’t compete with defiant shouts!
The next song is one I was very interested to hear, as it is the first in two albums to not have Arkadiusz Piskorek involved in the writing of either the lyrics or the music. I guess it goes to show how much of a like mind the band have, as it’s actually not that dissimilar. It’s as anthemic as you might expect a title track to be, and packs quite a lot into its short length. Unfortunately, this affects the initial impact (or lack thereof) of the following It’s Not Me. I really quite like this song (in fact, it’s possibly my favourite on the album!), but it is somewhat overshadowed by what came before. Luckily, this feeling doesn’t last much beyond the first verse. I love the rousing chorus, it’s simple and repetitive, but quite effective. And the orchestration of Michał Mierzejewski is beautiful, as is the acoustic guitar of Kuba Kotinya. The three minute instrumental coda is glorious, and a wonderful payoff. Majewski’s scorching guitar solo is a delight.
I Need You is the only song I was familiar with before the release of Under the Empty Sky, as it was released (quite a bit) in advance of the album. (The album was announced three years ago!) It’s nice enough, but it didn’t excite me when I first heard it, and it remains my least favourite song on the album. But what comes next is amazing, and everyone I’ve played this album to has been similarly impressed by the one/two punch of the final two songs. Talk about going out with a bang! Especially the ferocious Kingdom which brings a barrage of sound I would never have expected to hear from the band, sounding almost like a prog Alice In Chains. Actually, they sound an awful lot like Kiwi band Stylus, especially with the almost rapped vocals of Piskorek contrasting with the singing of Majewski, but given that it is unlikely any of Acute Mind have ever heard that band, that is surely just a coincidence. Kingdom may just be the most effective closing number I’ve heard on any album released this year.
The biggest difference between this and the previous album is the musical maturity of the band. Under the Empty Sky is a more interesting, mature and diverse album than the eponymous debut. Although it will probably be described by many as prog metal, it has a charm and atmosphere that separates it from most bands playing in that sphere. The album is chock full of memorable and pleasing melodies, that are catchy, powerful and dynamic. The expansive and organic sound of the album also deserves praise, produced, mixed and mastered by Marek Majewski in his own studio. A great return from Acute Mind, so let’s hope it’s not another ten years before we hear album number three!
01. Shine Of Your Soul (6:54)
02. Clouded Eyes (3:26)
03. Daddy (5:20)
04. Hope From The Heart (5:51)
05. Under The Empty Sky (3:27)
06. It’s Not Me (7:31)
07. I Need You (3:48)
08. The Same Again (5:48)
09. Kingdom (3:45)
Total Time – 45:50
Marek Majewski – Vocals, Guitars
Paweł Ciuraj – Guitars
Arkadiusz Piskorek – Bass, Vocals (track 9)
Piotr Włodarcyzk – Piano, Keys, Synths
Artur Jasiński – Drums
Emilia Siepkowska – Violin (track 4)
Michał Mierzejewski – Orchestration (track 6)
Kuba Kotinya – Acoustic Guitar (tracks 4 & 6)
Record Label: Oskar
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 3rd July 2020