Beyond Drama is the fifth album by Chilean band Aisles, and comes after a seven-year hiatus following 2016’s acclaimed concept album Hawaii. Aisles have been tagged very much in the melodic neo-prog genre and the development from their first album in 2005 to Hawaii is clear to see, and hear, and so this new release, after such a long wait, is highly anticipated. A lot has happened in the last seven years and for Aisles it has meant not one major re-shuffle of personnel but two. The disruption to the creative cycle has seen a series of singles being released in 2021, but a delay to the completion of the full album, which is due out on 5th April.
Smile of Tears was the first single from the band’s new line-up and there was no particular hint of any major change to the sound at this point, but the release of Fast in 2021 was definitely a signpost. This track is now the album opener and is as close to musical onomatopoeia as you could ask for. Where previously in Aisles’ music there was more often calm, space and musical exploration, Fast is driven ferociously by relentless drum beats. The lyrics explain the frantic nature of the music and also hint at some of the coping mechanisms that may have been used to get through turbulent days.
Faster, stronger than we were before
We’re so lost, so proud
Addicted to this drug we chose
We’re going, faster, stronger than we were before
While life kills, days hurt
Speed will somehow cure our pain.”
As a one-off this would have been a sign of exploration, even ‘progression’. There is a tradition of even the progiest of prog bands creating this kind of high energy singles-length track, but it is not often that this kind of indulgence actually signals a pivot to a completely new sound. However, in Aisles’ case, the second single of 2021, and now the fourth track on the album, continues in the same vein. Disobedience combines a fusion-style verse construction with a more prog-metal sounding chorus, both sections again being underpinned with drum and bass high in the mix.
Tracks two and three were also part of the series of singles released in 2021. Megalomania, after another rush of energy, settles down to a more even pace. Incessant drum patterns are never far away but the lyrics are a lot less wordy and this helps with the balance between the vocals and the rhythm section. It is apparent now that guitar and keyboards are being used in the mix to provide more impetus to the melody and the underlying sound than to provide light and shade or to fulfil soloing opportunities. To re-enforce the message of this change in the balance, it is a drum solo that provides the highlight that brings the track to a close.
Thanks to Kafka is quite disorientating. Musically it fits in well as a transition between the old and the new styles and lyrically there is a powerful story told in the verses. Unfortunately, for me, the four-times repeated chorus is jarringly over-written. Israel Gil does his best to cram the words in and maintain a semblance of melody, but I would much rather be listening to a sparser arrangement that could do more justice to the song.
Up to now, Beyond Drama is a very different sounding album, and as such it may take a while for these tracks to bed-in with longer-standing fans. What follows is a trio of more recognisably Aisles-y tracks. Speaking about Time (A Conversation with My Therapist), the band says, “musically, compared to the rest of the album, it’s much more melodic, simpler, more direct”. Well-chosen words, as it happens. The Plague has plenty of interesting ideas throughout its 11 minutes, but it hasn’t quite come together to deliver on its epic, centrepiece status for me just yet, and up next, Surrender, which is my favourite because the lyrical flow and vocal performance seems to be much more balanced and in tune with the structure of the song.
Surrender segues into the brief interlude that is Needsun, and this takes us on to the true beating heart of the album, the instrumental Game Over. This track bookends nicely with the opener Fast, this time with fluid guitar and keyboard sections that sweep over the tide of rhythmic drum and bass. It’s a fascinating and distinctive piece of music and is the undisputed highlight of the album for me.
To sum it up, there is a degree of inconsistency in both the quality of the songs and in the transitions between the big beat fusion to the neo-prog, but if they get the balance right next time we could be in for a much more substantial treat. Beyond Drama accurately describes the situation the band finds itself in and now the three remaining band members Germán Vergara, Juan Pablo Gaete and Daniel Baird-Kerr have to ‘re-group’, again.
Overall, it’s a transitional album being released after a period in which they have had to keep adapting in exceptional times, but it heralds new and exciting possibilities. After quite a few spins I am still sitting on the fence with this one, but certainly recommend that you search out Game Over, if this is the future then it is surely bright.
01. Fast (4:38)
02. Megalomania (6:25)
03. Thanks to Kafka (4:18)
04. Disobedience (7:18)
05. Time (A Conversation with My Therapist) (6:40)
06. The Plague (11:07)
07. Surrender (6:45)
08. Needsun (2:10)
09. Game Over (6:27)
Total Time 55:48
Israel Gil – Lead Vocals
Germán Vergara – Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
Felipe Candia – Drums & Percussion
Rodrigo Sepúlveda – Guitars, Vocals
Juan Pablo Gaete – Keyboards
Daniel Baird-Kerr – Bass
Record Label: Presagio Records
Country of Origin: Chile
Date of Release: 5th April 2023