Steamforged – The Endless
Steamforged – The Endless (2014)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
I primarily review power metal, and put a whole lot of time into staying on top of what is new, writing down my thoughts about it, and generally being extremely involved in the scene. However, I have a number of musical loves that, while secondary, grip me every bit as firmly at times. There are a large number of instrumental ambient, rock, and metal projects that do exactly this for me (readers might recall reviews of material like Astraeus, Stéphan Forté’s The Shadows Compendium, and Abolish The Echelon). In recent weeks, I’ve stumbled upon one-man studio project Steamforged, the brainchild of one Tyler Sherrill out of Kentucky, who was so generous as to offer me his upcoming latest work for evaluation.
I’m comfortable with classifying Steamforged as electronic progressive metal, even though its nature is often repetitious and soundtrack-like. Clearly composed by a keyboard player, the guitar riffs are often a baseline for the keywork to play over. Though there’s no shortage of riffing, it’s often ostinato-like and rarely meant to be the musical focus. Finally, the percussion is used solely as a framework, with little to no embellishment, though it sounds substantially more active and varied than on earlier recordings, and is one of the areas where I find The Endless to be most improved.
Past Steamforged albums seem to have all had a theme to them, and I am told that The Endless is but the first of a conceptual trilogy based upon “The Endless”, a cosmic being which is essentially a “tyrant of mythology” – stealing pieces of Earth until places like Atlantis, Avalon, and Valhalla faded into the legends that they are today. Any instrumental concept album needs a whole lot of well-developed ambience in order to firmly ground itself in the mind of a listener – especially one that forsakes more accessible function and form (like the general rondo form of a popular music song) – and this is where The Endless truly excels. While it’s not the sort of album that I’d often want to listen dedicatedly to, it’s a superb backdrop for any number of light activities (in my case, writing this review), and has more than a few songs which work their magic and leave a surprisingly memorable impression.
Sherrill uses a wealth of key samples to make The Endless an absolute synthetic delight. The production value has improved substantially, and consequently, this new work sounds both heavier and more lush (aiding the tone of the guitars and keys, respectively). My favorite tracks here are those which epitomize the variety and balance between rhythmic guitar drive and the fascinating, dream-building nature of the keys. “Mu – Three Lives Myriad” was the first tune to really knock my socks off, with its oscillating synth tracks and dogged rhythm guitar punch. Each of the three mythological lands that The Endless visits (Atlantis, Valhalla, and Avalon) have distinctly different soundscapes – “Atlantis” is fast and shimmering; “Valhalla” dissonant, complex, and punishing; and “Avalon” drifting and almost trance-like. The sheer identity of each track – once again so essential – is so well realized that it reminds me of one of my favorite instrumental artists: Joe Satriani, and his consummate knack for intuitively naming compositions and delivering uncannily appropriate music to match. Other favorites include “Empyrean Heaven – Celestial Downfall” (in which, I think, The Endless is literally supposed to be battling gods) and the completely breathtaking “Columna Cerului – Journey Divine”, which hurls the listener through a musical kaleidoscope toward a distant destination, racing at breakneck speed through a coruscating tube of brilliance.
While I have enjoyed all of Sherrill’s prior Steamforged releases, The Endless takes the cake with relative ease, being the most mature, best-produced, and most ambitious recording to date. Despite lacking words, it provides a strong flourish of notes and emotions that leave every bit as deep an imprint as the other metal I enjoy. Fans of instrumental metal, electronic ambient, or rock/metal soundtrack-style music should aim to scope this out on Steamforged’s bandcamp page. The story aspect is indicated reasonably well by track titles, but I’m dying for a read-along guide (or perhaps an insert, if this album ever makes it to CD) to further narrate the sequence of events. In my eyes, this is a clear winner: a memorable and original experience that I’ll be spinning for a long time to come. The only shame is that there’s not more instrumental metal out there like this.
4.0 // 5