Jan-Mikael’s EARS: Review: LinearSphere: ‘Reality Dysfunction’
What is it?
The band’s website touts the arrival of ‘a group of open-minded musicians and music-lovers’…who purport to demonstrate influences including ‘metal, jazz, fusion and funk…progressive music in the true sense of the word.’
‘Dark lyrical themes…supported by…an unorthodox approach to harmony… and ever shifting rhythms and time signatures…’ synopsizes their compositional intent.
Stark, morose artwork, conceptually arcane lyrics, and a bleak world-view round out the package.
What it is:
Why am I reviewing a progressive-metal band on a jazz/fusion oriented website?
I use the term progressive-metal only to describe the sound of the guitars and the aggression factor present in parts of the music…LinearSphere is ‘metal’ as much as Kenny G is jazz…
I can only imagine that reviewers of ‘Birds of Fire’ felt the same way on their initial listen to the genre-defying antics of McLaughlin and Co. as I felt when I heard ‘Reality Dysfunction’.
LinearSphere combine the rhythmic aggression, compositional intelligence and technical prowess of the Mahavishnu Orchestra with the harmonic fury of Tribal Tech, spanning the chasm between the finesse of fusion and the ferocity of progressive-metal, simultaneously carving out a niche…no, a canyon, for themselves.
There are bands that call themselves progressive and then provide an almost apologetic list of comparative clarifications.
This is often the result of a fear of stereotyping (pun intended), or a lack of confidence in the music on its own merits. Rarely, as with LinearSphere, the progressive tag suits, because the music truly transcends (but doesn’t entirely avoid) comparisons.
The artwork and lyrics are Spartan and moribund, providing yet-another acerbic socio-political viewpoint, along with the usual diatribes against corporate greed, and as plaintive and harrowing a description of addiction as I’ve ever heard (‘Life of Gear’).
Striated muscular linear harmonic progressions with Lydian-chromatic intent (George Russell devotees will find much of interest in the arrangements here, particularly in the almost 20 minute suite ‘From Space to Time’); solos that flirt with the changes but never consummate, vocals that provide caustic counterpoint to the underlying swath cut by the bass and rhythm guitars, and drumming as coercive as it is propulsive……these are a few of my favorite things…..
The production on this disc is artful, with superbly recorded drums that allow subtle ghost-strokes and ultra-melodic cymbal-work to add ethereal presence without masking the deft double-pedal work that propels the rhythm section. Six-string bass features prominently throughout the disc, adding depth to the bottom-end and harmonic counterpoint to the rhythm guitars, although the mid-range presence is lacking somewhat, at times requiring active listening to follow its harmonic thread…Guitars, vocals and effects are mixed for maximum clarity, without sacrificing impact…according to the band’s website, this was largely recorded in their own pre-production studio…
Guitars: Post-shred (Scott Henderson meets Jason Becker) seven (and six) string work delivered with admirable restraint, superbly executed solos roll out like a lexicon of sweep arpeggios, tapping and alternate picked scales, and add a histrionic edge without sacrificing the underlying harmony for mere flagellation’s sake.
The rhythm-guitar work is adventurous and cliché free, and the sanguine layering of distorted and ultra-clean guitars(particularly the X-files meets 60’s B movie sounds on ‘Father Pyramid’) is effective, reminding me of Cynic’s ‘Focus’ (a little known but highly regarded fusion/metal crossover album) and Andy Summer’s post-Police work with Robert Fripp. The guitar arrangements on ‘Reality…’ are outstanding, showcasing both guitarists knowledge of (and appreciation for) Ted Greene-inspired chord-voicings and their expert placement.
Dave Marks’ six string is ubiquitous yet understated, but not as well defined as I would like to hear (particularly at around 240 and 800-900 hz)….the parallel harmony and counterpoint his expansive, orchestral playing provides would have lent greater support to the vocals in the higher of the two frequency ranges mentioned….impeccable technique and excellent melodic choices are hallmarks…
The voice lends an aggressive, sneering, sinister edge, functioning as another instrument, forcing the listener to accept the lyrics through sheer force of delivery, like a vile but necessary medicine. I was reminded of Alan Tecchio’s efforts in Watchtower….perfectly appropriate and necessary to the music, but certain to be a watershed for some listeners…
That said, the melodies are as well crafted as any of the instrumental parts, and the delivery is powerful and unique…imagine a higher register Gus Chambers (Grip Inc)…..perhaps this approach, combined with conventionally sung parts to reinforce could provide dynamic contrast and some respite…..
Drums: Definite shades of Sean Reinert (Cynic) and Rick Colaluca (Watchtower) here, along with numerous fusion influences; the snare work reminds me of Vinnie Colaiuta, and the kick and tom-work combines the rapid-fire bombast of Dennis Chambers and Billy Cobham with the meticulously applied rhythmic displacement of Jack DeJohnette.
The ‘chiaroscuro’ that Lowczowski’s textural drumming provides elevates the music further than the sheer force of his weighty technique could…
Superb: ’unique concept married expertly with high level of musicianship and lyrical skill; encourages adherence to their viewpoint/philosophy; demands attention and or repeated listens to appreciate fully’
This is fusion. Seemingly incongruous elements, incidental on first impression, became more meaningful as I allowed the music to permeate. I ran with it, worked at my computer with it playing at low volumes, and listened to it in headphones at intense levels in a relaxed state, and found the music to be at once stimulating to thought, inspiring musically, and harmonically engaging. I confess that I very nearly dismissed the vocals, but after several listens I discovered that my viewpoint changed; there is a poignancy and urgency present that is too easily missed due to the initial impact the unique vocal’s proffer.The delivery will cause agita for some, but repeated listens reveals the fact that a primary cohesive element in the music is in fact the singer…..remember the visceral reaction you had on first listen to Ornette…!!
Technically, compositionally, but most importantly, thematically, LinearSphere have obliterated the wall that exists between progressive-metal and fusion…..this is a stunning combination of the incongruous, deserving of the same kind of adulation bestowed upon earlier innovators initially lambasted but revered in retrospect…now, about those vocals…..