The irony of stagnant progression has been dispelled.
Just as the old saying goes that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there is also more than one way to progress within the confines of the metallic medium. Ironically enough, what is often recognized as either progressive rock or its metal equivalent is defined less so by any radically new territory being discovered, but rather how intricately it approaches things relative to more mundane sub-genres within both realms. One power trio out of the Chicago area known as Aziola Cry has opted for a fairly different path in this regard, as while their instrumental brand of musical expression deals heavily in ideas with some degree of precedence in their adopted style’s history, the abstract character of how they approach structuring their compositions and presenting them as a finalized product stands apart from most that would be understood as the mainstays of progressive metal.
Apart from featuring a different drummer on every album they’ve ever released and having a massive 14 year lull in output since their 2007 sophomore LP “Ghost Conversations”, this band is a fold defined by a stable musical foundation, and their third studio offering “The Ironic Divide” is no exception in that regard. While it’s fairly easy to spot the familiar rhythmic schemes and stylistic quirks here that go with a band that has taken some heavy cues from Rush,DreamTheater, Gordian Knot, Tool and Pain Of Salvation, the expressions on display here rely less upon expressing a feeling or telling a story so much as presenting a general impression and allowing the listener to bring the blurred picture into focus. The musical picture that is painted could be best likened to a series of complex structures that could be construed as a industrialized city or elaborate medieval town, but the occupants of this setting are implied rather than shown.
In contrast to the heavily technical displays often encountered with a typical progressive metal release, this outfit opts to focus less on flashy solo passages and allow the elaborate character of their handiwork to be reflected in the series of gradually evolving offerings where all three instrumentalists act as one. The opening excursion into this otherworldly realm of sound is a 9 minute study in syncopated rhythms and quasi-dissonant tonality dubbed “And Cowards” sets a tone of disquiet and disapproval despite the lack of a lyrical guide for its rationale, occasionally conjuring up comparisons to Rush’s brand of rhythmic idioms, but being notably darker and heavier. The next chapter “Hollow Reflections” takes a looser and more jazzy/ballad-like route, yet ultimately finds itself conveying a similar feeling of cynicism from its clean and improvisatory-like first half to its dark, droning and heavy second half.
Though the aforementioned tracks are fairly long in length and wide in scope, this album doesn’t fully hit its creative stride until further into things. The massive 20 minute title anthem “The Ironic Divide”, which is subdivided into 4 parts, is where this album really begins to sell the latent technical abilities present in these musicians, particularly bassist Jason Blake and newly acquired drummer Tommy Murray (The Cyberiam) rival Myung and Portnoy in how they play off each other, though by the middle of the song cycle guitarist Mike Milaniak begins to steal the show with what can be best described as an emotionally charged and primarily noise-driven lead guitar performance. Just about any song that would follow such a massive offering would normally be rendered an afterthought, but the closing chapter of this album “Scars Now Rest Where Once Bore Wings” is one of the more involved and elaborate denouements to a tale to come down the pike and rivals its immediate predecessor in how elaborate it gets.
If there is any flaw in this titanic creation, it is that it’s just so massive of an album that even the average progressive rock trustee might find it a bit much to take in at first listen. It’s definitely a grower of an record and a commitment for anyone seeking to fully comprehend all of its moving parts. Only three members are billed on this album, but the sheer size of the sound would suggest a lineup of about twice as many members, and the scope of the songwriting on display here definitely gives a hint as to why there was a 14 year gap between this LP and the last one. It’s not quite dark enough to really compare with the type of impact-based progressive metal that Jeff Loomis has dealt in either during or since his tenure with Nevermore, but it’s also a tad darker and more mysterious than the usual prog coming out of either Britain or Sweden. It’s a sort of ironic combination of complex sound groupings being used to convey a very simple message of disquiet, exposing the divided nature of the world it depicts.
Released by: Sensory Records
Released Date: March 26th, 2021
Genre: Instrumental Progressive Metal
- Tommy Murray / Drums
- Mike Milaniak / Guitars
- Jason Blake / Bass
“The Ironic Divide” track listing:
- And Cowards
- Hollow Reflections
- The Ironic Divide
- Scars Now Rest Where Once Bore Wings
After 14 years of hibernation in the recording studio, one of the wildcards in the American progressive metal scene marks its revival with an expansive collection of heavy, rhythmically intricate compositions for the contemplative ear