In The Presence Of Wolves – Thalassas
Reviewed by Mark Nagy
New Jersey’s rather potent progressive rock climate has really come into focus for me in 2014. In addition to progressive metal veterans Suspyre, there have been new entries from some of my past favorites, including Jolly and Thank You Scientist. But past that, there is an even more vibrant community of progressive music in the area, drawing on pop-punk-meets-art-rock sorts of quirkiness. There’s variation from band to band: Jolly’s tremendous charisma and soothing atmosphere, Thank You Scientist’s multi-instrumental flourishes and incomprehensibly fast shredding, and in the case of In The Presence of Wolves: a sort of highly technical riffing that I haven’t heard this clearly since Caligula’s Horse’s sophomore album in late 2013.
The vocalist is, like the region’s stamp, pop-punk influenced, and very expressive at that. The way the keyboard and guitar divide their melodies might remind you of some of Dream Theater’s better moments with Jordan Rudess. However, the band takes a more focused approach to songwriting, and even the (excellent) 15 minute closing track is broken up into three reasonably digestible separate parts.
Another key difference from Dream Theater (Who really aren’t all that similar, it was just a convenient comparison for one aspect of the sound) and even Caligula’s Horse for that matter, is how infectiously energetic the music is. Thallasas I: The Careless Abandon is so frantic in its pace that you’re apt to miss some of it the first time around, and really want to come around for seconds. Guitars tend to push the compositions forward, but are more refined than a typical speed metal buffet, “The Careless Abandon” blazes past with delectably intricate keyboard, bass, and drum patterns.
Progressive metal on the whole seems to be maturing more toward accessibility and leaning on catchy hooks. In The Presence Of Wolves has a pretty hefty head start in this department, as even amongst the genre’s best, it’s not every day that one hears hooks as memorable as those in tracks like “Storm In A Red Dress”, “Hypoxia”, or “Palladium.” I think at times though, the band could be accused of reducing the scale too far.
There are a lot of elements of metal present here. In terms of structure and even songwriting, In The Presence Of Wolves could be considered progressive metal. Still, the recording, mixing, and overall sound often undercut the performance of the band’s guitarist. For the majority of the album, the vocals are mixed well above the guitar. I hesitate to call that a mistake, because the vocals are tremendous themselves. Still, for an album with a lot of metal thrills, this sort of imbalance is risky.
I think the Dream Theater comparison needs to be made one more time, in that this band has created a really interesting intersection of a few genres, but, at least for this album, doesn’t change much from song to song. I wouldn’t count this against the album, but it deserves mention nonetheless. I’m a bit of a creative hedonist: I don’t like to see a band do the same trick twice, and I always need more novelty. Some of you are a bit more forgiving, and some of you are downright unrelenting in this same behavior. Still, do your best to check this album out. It’s downright outstanding for a debut, and feels like something being made by seasoned veterans. Whatever it lacks in versatility, it makes up for in sheer quality and accessibility.
4.0 // 5