I first became aware of Mexican band, Alplha Lighting System, via Serj Tankian’s 7 Notes challenge, and their winning entry life.exe which encapsulates beautifully the band’s sounds and philosophies in one compact package. That track now takes pride of place as the penultimate passage of the 25 minute, five part H+ suite on the this year’s album of the same name. So, let’s start with life.exe as I’m guessing it is possibly the oldest piece of music to have made it to this new album.
The piece (credited as being co-written with Serj Tankian, though I presume this alludes only to those initial seven notes), which appears to address the way technology both changes and connects our society and civilisation. Especially now, with the advent and ubiquity of social media, where our lives are subject to more scrutiny than ever before, and where some people modify their lives – either entirely, or superficially – to meet expectations that have never previously existed, or at least been so exacerbated. It is sometimes hard to know, from looking at someone’s social media profile and posts whether you are looking at their life, or at their ‘life.exe’ (that is, it is a reflection of reality, or merely a reflection of the reality they wish to portray). This idea of what it is to be human is explored in greater depth throughout H+, and the musical ideas of life.exe are similarly expounded upon, making it a great introduction to the music of Alpha Lighting System, if it were (as it was for me) the first thing you heard from the band.
However, for many people, the first thing they will hear from the band will be the opening track, and lead single, from H+, Allison, and it sets out the stall very nicely. Alpha Lighting System are clearly very talented individuals, who could so easily have followed the Dream Theater sound that so many prog metal bands do – and I’m so glad they have not, as that tends to bore me very quickly. Instead H+ is a very balanced work that while it may draw mainly from symphonic and metal tropes of the progressive scene, also has a very light and at times jazzy touch. There are songs with a lot of movement and complexity, that show the virtuosity of the musicians, but at the same time that sense of balance always remains. For example, Joshua San Martín provides some delicate attacks and dizzying acrobatics on the guitar, but at all times this is at the service of the composition, and the band as a whole. The arrangements and timing are intricate and technical – and yet always organic. The music, like the concept of the album, marries technology with being human.
The high quality of the music is matched by the high quality mastering by Bruce Soord, who presumably became aware of the band when they supported The Pineapple Thief in Mexico City. The sound of this album is wonderful, from the quietest moments to the loudest. Every instrument shines, and has its own space. It’s that sense of balance again, and it’s an absolute joy to listen to. I love the way that sometimes the music and lyrics are almost in opposition. So, Allison (yes, I’m still only on the opening track), generally has a quite bouncy and upbeat feel to the music, while the lyrics are quite melancholic, and almost tragic. But is this not again merely a reflection of life, which is a series of contradictions, and appearances that do not always reveal inner turmoil.
Mirage is a more contemplative piece, but what it does for me is really point out how wonderful the rhythm section of Alpha Lighting System is. I was already wowed by the drums of Juan Gabriel Hernández and bass of Jaco Jácome on the opening number, but they really propel along this quieter song. And Mirage also gives what I feel is Alam Hernández‘s best vocal performance on the album. I absolutely love his vocals on this track. All in all, this is probably surprising for a lot of people who know my musical tastes, for this song would not normally fit within them – but that just emphasises, for me, how impressive this band is. To make a song not only interesting but enjoyable for someone who would normally otherwise not find it to their taste is quite a feat.
The violin from guest musician, Alena Stryuchkova on 2872 is a really nice touch, and once again this is a quieter piece that really allows the talent of the rhythm section to shine again, and they are possibly more prominent in this song than any other, playing some very nifty chops and changes, and definitely leading the song. Alam Hernández impresses again, too, but this time for his jazzy piano playing. (Not to detract from his vocals, which are as gorgeous and smooth as ever – but the piano on this track is a real joy to listen to.) From this point, we begin the H+ suite…
Against the Tyranny of Our Genes starts the journey, with a short and spacey introductory track leading into Δ, which is the heaviest on the album so far. But in terms of prog metal, this reminds me more of Osada Vida than anything else – as that jazzy vibe still pervades, regardless of how heavy the music might become. Again, it’s Alam Hernández who provides a lot of the groove, with some mighty synth work. This is possibly my favourite song on the album as in its nine minutes it has so many changes in mood and atmosphere. And if it’s not my favourite, then the following virtual.death definitely is. But honestly it’s hard not to elevate any part of the H+ Suite above the rest of the album. The band really come into their own with these tracks.
The suite ends with the two instrumentals life.exe and EV01VE which are both great, and obviously I already knew and liked the former. But, wow, what a dramatic way to end the suite EV01VE is. And after a maelstrom of chaos, the H+ Suite is over, and is perfectly followed by Gone. Although the longest individual track on the album, it is the most calm and gentle composition. Even when there are changes, they too are gentle. This is a long, and at times almost ambient, introspective reflection on all that has come before. It’s a magnificent, if somewhat unexpected, way to end the album. And every time I reach this point in the album, I remember that it is not Δ or virtual.death that is my favourite track on H+. It is Gone. Beautiful, beautiful, Gone.
Alpha Lighting System is absolutely a band to listen out for, and H+ is definitely an album to listen to. Even if you’re not normally a prog metal fan. Even if you’re put off by my use of the word jazz to describe their sound. H+ is an ever changing kaleidoscope of colours, moods and tones, perfectly sequenced, and sumptuously played. Each of the tracks is quite different from the other, yet recognisably the product of the same musicians. It impresses more on each subsequent listen, and I can tell those subsequent listens are in no danger yet of stopping. Quite simply, H+ is a pleasure to listen to.
01. Allison (5:46)
02. Mirage (5:34)
03. 2872 (7:05)
~ H+ Suite
04. Against The Tyranny Of Our Genes (0:59)
05. Δ (9:18)
06. virtual.death (5:16)
07. life.exe (3:33)
08. EV01VE (4:22)
09. Gone (10:38)
Total Time – 54:31
Alam Hernández – Lead Vocals, Piano, Synthesisers
Joshua San Martín – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Jaco Jácome – Bass, Bass Pedals, Backing Vocals
Juan Gabriel Hernández – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Mexico
Dates of Release: Digital – 10th July 2020 | Physical – 4th December 2020