Pantommind – Lunasense
Though answering an unusual query, my three favorite products of the Balkan Peninsula could be named in one second: ajvar, ćevapčići and Pantommind. While these two local culinary delicacies are sparsely known elsewhere, it is ostensibly cruel that the Bulgarian progressive metal masters Pantommind are even more obscure. Whether the consequence is their backwoods residence on the progressive map, the anonymity of Spectastral Records, or both, something needs to change. Pantommind’s music merits the privilege to break down cultural, musical and all-around artistic barriers; its integrity, originality and artistry is world-class and appreciable by an ampler preponderance of the world musical audience.
Though a progressive metal band, Pantommind is entirely not inaccessible or oppressive and dedicates both centralities of their style to dynamic demonstrations of catholic musicality. The metal portions of Lunasense, the band’s second and heaviest full-length, carry the same polished, spacey sheen as the technical instrumental inserts and contrapuntal contrasts between multicolored brushes. The enigmatic, surrealist “lunar” album art follows suit; in fact, keyboardist Sunny X and drummer Drago (oddly enough, all members have taken aliases) are as equally talented at surrealist painting as musical instruments. Though lead guitarist Pete Christ writes most of the music, this air of disembodiment pervades the overall band performance: Tony Ivan’s distinctive tenor, a cross between John Arch and Tony Martin, soars higher and is pushed further behind the mix than on Shade Of Fate (2005); Christ and ex-second guitarist Peter Vichew combine concrete riffage with abstract lead guitar work, alternately shredding, articulate and soaringly emotional, with inventive, even ethnically influenced scales and modes; the bass, currently provided by Christ, thumps away underneath and has occasional lead roles, such as the alluring arpeggio which opens the Psychotic Waltz-ish earthquaker “Erasable Tears,” but is largely content to blur the soundscape with its muted tone; Sunny X’s dramatic flourishes are less prominent than on “Shade of Fate,” but are appropriate, tasteful and rather texturally abstract, supplemented by Christ’s piano; Drago’s drumming prowess is utterly phenomenal, pounding away on the snare, kick and toms like they owe him years of back alimony and readily building mazes of accents and fills in the grand tradition of Mark Zonder. Lunasense is an album which, as Beyond Daylight (Vanden Plas) has been eloquently summarized, sounds and feels beamed from space; it feels detached from reality, yet lyrically handles realistic human issues such as lost love, death, grief, and searching for meaning, with a glimpse of hope on the horizon. This residence between reality and dream is what Pantommind’s artistic background can best depict musically, and the quality that makes Lunasense so deviant and thus enormously effective.
While the album reaches for the stars from whence it came, the common earthling will find this cislunar voyage difficult to disembark from after liftoff. The four-minute magic spell entitled “Transmission Part I” premieres the album with a wispy keyboard melody, soon doubled by bass and then developed by staccato guitar and Drago’s weighty yet melodic stickmanship. Christ and Vichew trade guitar and piano passages, sustaining phrasings into melodic progressions assisted by the entire drum kit, until the music stops and processed female vocals declare Transmission complete. Unfettered, Pantommind roar back into a blazing guitar solo, overdose on polyrhythms and settle into a moody Arabian-influenced symphonic groove, then finish the piece with crunching riffery and frantic ride cymbals from Drago. Though there is no set structure, the musicians display professional synergy and confidence in erecting tense yet wholly aesthetic atmospheres. Decoding the remainder of this celestial message is identically gripping.
“Sandglass” seduces its audience with crystalline guitar picking and mysterious half-falsetto singing from Ivan which climaxes in anticipation of the upcoming heaviness, locked into a 4/4 groove with an unforgettable riff and chorus line, which stops as abruptly as it started to leave contrast between clean guitar and Christ’s sparkling lead. The music continues its dynamic bottlenecking, joining together a languid Petrucci-type lead with a throbbing bass descent and resurrecting the chorus, during which Drago’s basic groove is deconstructed and supplemented with contrapuntal cymbal crashes, then supercharged with double kick and terminated in perfect time, once again leaving silence. The song finishes with a pastoral acoustic Balkan folk nugget, wrapping up this fascinating tale. In its subtly dark drama, displayed throughout Lunasense, and strong presence of biblical imagery and thematic including the parables of Jesus, “Sandglass” displays an atypical (for prog) Black Sabbath influence, deservingly placing Pantommind in elite company.
The absolutely stunning “Blank” exemplifies Pantommind’s finesse and balance between contrasting extremes. Its eerie clean guitar picking is joined by Christ’s bleeding guitar lead, Vichew’s chromatic riffing and Drago’s robotically steady shifting between snare and toms, which suddenly echoes away until the main groove kicks in, a straightforward chugger whose rising and falling accents are doubled by an unstoppable kick drum. Vichew and Drago switch patterns as Ivan’s voice enters the room, feeling corporeal but delivering the words of a friend departed too soon. As the riff gains energy, Drago changes approaches, the picking quickens and brief guitar leads are layered over Ivan’s sustained notes. In this main, Pantommind are akin to Polish prog icons Riverside (whom they have shared a stage with) in their propensity for stashing guitar licks into empty spaces, but the Bulgarians are more distinctly metallic. Ivan displays aptitude at soaring, deep, aggressive and falsetto styles as the verses thunder towards the chorus at 4:00, when Sunny X finally enters to accent anguished vocal melodies and lyrics stressing the song title. The droning strings blanket the funereal chord diminishments and guitar solo nuggets, and Pantommind progress through a glassy piano/guitar duel and slightly dissonant guitar solos before the chorus recurs, perhaps even more draining than before; the manner in which Ivan jumps several tones above the main melody at 5:22, partially losing breath and nearly crying as he forces out the words, is utterly wrecking. Thankfully, hopeful moments surface afterwards; the second “Transmission” instrumental is solely piano and synth, with the hypnotic 11/8 piano line occasionally changing smoothly into 9/8 and displaying Sunny X’s talent for creating soothing abstract art. The heavily symphonic “My Home (Into Infinity)” feels foreign while approaching familiar territory, complementing the lyrics telling of lifelong personal struggle and discovery of pure peace in an anticipated paradise; Ivan’s final vocal passage layered under Christ’s ascending lead scale is the album’s obvious climax, a dramatic, uplifting release of tension that always manages to leave me moved and comforted. Pantommind leaves the room with the macabre six-minute postlude entitled “I’ll Never Be The Same,” perhaps the aftermath of the crossover; it combines the haunted magic of Shade Of Fate and funereal pacing towards a loosing climax where Ivan shows expressionistic genius, half-screaming, half-singing in a higher register underneath a suddenly much heavier riff as emptiness sinks in. Life goes on, but in the interim, the survivors reside between a now diminished reality and dreams of what could have been.
Only two complaints about Lunasense surface after the album recedes into emptiness; the production is perfect for the music’s mood, with an even balance between high/low-end on the guitars, polished keyboard tones, clear but appropriately distant vocals, resonating drums, and best of all, almost no dynamic range clipping to interfere (special thanks to Spectastral owner Kris Lazarov for taking a stand), but the bass is underutilized for such a musically and technically creative band. In addition, the exchange of guitars for keyboards as the leading instrument, although it has allowed for a greater range of balance, detracts from the dreamy, rainy-day atmosphere that has always attracted me about Shade Of Fate; this still exists, but in a slightly decreased and altered form. Both albums are their own distinct paintings, engaging in their own rights, and the sought-after ability to master various coloring palettes distinguishes each painting, and each painter, from the last. While certain band comparisons can be drawn, it is ultimately futile to claim Pantommind sounds like any other band alive. The presence of such a talented act in prog-starved Bulgaria ensures that, if justice is done on this side of the horizon, Pantommind will lure hearts and minds, domestic and abroad, into their dreamworld.
“All the years, the truth I’ve searched for has eluded me
I tried to see beyond the future and the past
Here I am, at last, I’m finally home into infinity
Somehow I’ve reached eternal peace of mind…”
Andrew’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5