AISLES – Beyond Drama (Album Review)

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It’s been roughly seven years since Chilean progressive rock sextet Aisles released their highly acclaimed fourth LP: 2016’s expansive and conceptual “Hawaii.In that time, they’ve put out a handful of live material and even changed singers (swapping Sebastián Vergara with the equally capable, if notably different, Israel Gil). Thus, “Beyond Drama” arrives with plenty of anticipation and high expectations. Luckily, it satisfies them all, offering an intentionally more straightforward and hefty listening experience influenced by artists such as Rush and Porcupine Tree. What it lacks in diversity and epic scope (compared to its predecessor) it makes up for with increased immediacy and economical pacing, making it a distinctive yet fitting and rewarding entry into Aisles’ already commendable arsenal.

In the official press release, guitarist Germán Vergara calls the record “a brutal turning point,” explaining: “We went through this huge restructuring and the loss of some historical members. I would define it as a record of crisis, but also of inspiring moments. Crisis for the whole social and personal context – not that we had been in crisis during the process – but that we were interpreting a crisis of polarization, of a pandemic, of a certain desolation due to the confinement. And of course, we had to move on from the departure of my brother [Sebastián] from the band.”

Stylistically, he also clarifies that their “new creative direction” is about “trying to connect more with the public. . . . We wanted to pay a lot of attention to the melodies something that has been a signature of Aisles’ sound from the beginning of the band.” Produced and mixed by Vergara and Angelo Marini—with mastering by engineer Randy Merrill (Muse, Beck, Paul McCartney)—“Beyond Drama” manages to be more welcoming and catchy than the ensemble’s past works without sacrificing much, if any, of their characteristic complexity and charm.

Opener “Fast” establishes that style well, with hyperactive guitar riffs, feisty percussion, and futuristic effects evoking the cosmic intricacies of Animals as Leaders. At the same time, it’s quite accessible and decorative due to how its hooky verses and choruses (punctuated by emotionally resonant lyricism) coincide with delicate piano notes. In total, then, “Fast” works wonders as both an album kickstarter and an introduction to Aisles’ revised personnel and purpose.   

That straightforward sophistication carries over to several other tracks, including the hauntingly intense “Disobedience,” the symphonically yearning “Needsun, and the playfully urgent “The Plague.Elsewhere, “Megalomania” (“an ode to darkness and . . . nostalgia,” according to Vergara) is beautifully grief-stricken yet spiritedly arranged and cleverly nuanced, with glimpses of powerful resolve complementing fragile realizations and instrumentation. Then, “Time (A Conversation with My Therapist)” transitions from a steadfast and empowering ode to a full-on celebration of counterpoints and quirky timbres in the vein of Gentle Giant and Beardfish. There’s also the delicately regal and morose ballad “Surrender,” as well as wild, Dream Theater-esque finale “Game Over,” to round things out.

“Beyond Drama” Artwork

Although every piece on the LP is at least very good, “Thanks to Kafka” is easily the weakest entry because it’s not particularly compelling musically or melodically. There’s not much to it (compared to everything else here), and honestly, the overtly rushed vocal phrasing during the chorus is awkward. That said, its “completely introspective” examination of “the idea of people who did not find answers to their existential problems or who lost the battle of life”—as Vergara puts it—is compelling lyrically. 

That small gripe aside, “Beyond Drama” was undoubtedly worth the lengthy wait, as it finds the band in top form in just about every way. Plus, it’s a superb showcase for newcomer Gil, whose voice is bolder and less wispy than Vergara’s; as such, he’s not necessarily better or worse than his technically, but he’s likely the better fit for this material, at least. Either way, “Beyond Drama” proves that neither a prolonged hiatus nor a significant line-up change has diminished Aisles’ artistry. On the contrary, it’s easily among their most consistent and enticing LPs to date, so there’s no reason why fans shouldn’t appreciate nearly every minute of it.

Release Date: April 5, 2023
Record Label: Presagio Records
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Israel Gil / Lead vocals
  • Germán Vergara / Guitars
  • Daniel Concha / Bass
  • Felipe Candia / Drums
  • Juan Pablo Gaete / Keyboards
  • Rodrigo Sepúlveda / Guitars

“Beyond Drama” Track-list:

1. Fast
2. Megalomania
3. Thanks to Kafka
4. Disobedience
5. Time (A Conversation with My Therapist)
6. The Plague
7. Surrender
8. Needsun
9. Game Over

Order “Beyond Drama” HERE

8.9 Excellent

“Beyond Drama” proves that neither a prolonged hiatus nor a significant line-up change has diminished Aisles’ artistry. On the contrary, it’s easily among their most consistent and enticing LPs to date, so there’s no reason why fans shouldn’t adore nearly every minute of it

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9.5
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