A sequestered treasure now revealed.
Like a fine wine, some projects just take time to reach their ultimate potential, and the case of one of Norway’s more unique contributions to the progressive metal scene proves to be no exception. Often compared to the now defunct power thrashing turned progressive groove pioneers Nevermore, Communic has actually treaded a fairly different path to the one originally walked by Warrel Dane, Jeff Loomis and the rest. Formed after the demise of a project dubbed Ingermanland, which was front man Oddleif Stensland’s brainchild and longstanding project dating back to 1994. They proved to be something of a wildcard in the changing metal landscape of the mid-2000s where power metal was moving away from its vintage Helloween roots and embracing a groovier and more rocking demeanor, unleashing a riveting debut in 2005’s “Conspiracy Of Mind” that featured an expansive approach to songwriting and lyrical introspection that was also accessible to the hook-driven anthems of acts like Pagan’s Mind and Manticora, though communicated through a more somber lens.
The past 15 years have seen a fairly prolific and consistent studio output from this fold, to speak nothing for their ability to maintain their original lineup for so long, paving the way for their 6th LP “Hiding From The World”. As with their prior output, most of the focus rests upon the highly inventive songwriting of Stensland, which effectively blends elements of the more melodic character of 80s heavy metal and USPM with the bleaker and heavier character of the darker side of 90s progressive metal, culminating in a formula that is epic in scope yet also reasonably accessible to those not wholly inclined to the technical noodling that tends to come along with the latter style. His vocal work has consistently proven to be the chief point of contrast between this band’s handiwork and that of Nevermore, as the melodramatic operatic baritone bellow quality of Dane is used sparingly, and the bulk of Stensland’s singing has more of a soaring tenor quality. Likewise, the guitar work comes across more like a traditional metal approach that has been adapted to a more expansive template, often avoiding any overtly dissonant note combinations and using mixed rhythmic devices and dank timbres a bit more sparingly.
Though this is not conceptual work in the literal sense, there is a unifying theme of self-reflection and a contemplation of mortality that permeates every verse and corresponding riff of this album, with the final impression being one of regret. To this end, the music cycles through a number of contrasting levels of auditory tranquility and rage, though in a very methodical fashion that avoids some of the abrupt shifts in feel that are common to the progressive metal formula. There is also a great deal of time taken to dwell upon each idea strand, resulting in a number of powerful themes being allowed to linger for maximum impact, all the while each song seems shorter than its actual duration. Whether one focuses upon the pounding rhythms and chunky tone of “Scavengers Await”, the kinetic and animated power of “Face In The Crowd”, or the old school melodic trappings with a side order of power balladry that is “My Temple Of Pride”, the effectiveness of the primary vocal and guitar hooks are so concentrated that these songs function as bangers despite all of them clocking in at roughly seven minutes in length.
Perhaps the only thing about this anthology of philosophical ponders set to metal that seems a bit typical is that the longer the duration, the better the song. The opening foray into riff-happy contemplation “Plunder Of Thoughts” mixes the impact factor of the band’s power metal leanings with some mystical underpinnings that effectively portray the abstract nature of a troubled meditation session. The somber balladry and musings that haunt the verses of title song “Hiding From The World” effectively paint a picture of self-isolation and draws the most obvious parallels with Nevermore’s more consequential works, and the faster and more metallic moments serve to further accentuate the lyrical message of agonizing social alienation. But the pinnacle moments on this album’s extensive duration are the twin epic, 10 minute long excursions into bi-polar expressionism “Born Without A Heart” and “Forgotten”, each one bringing Stensland’s creative arsenal full circle and featuring melodies infectious enough to stick in any long-term memory, though the former has a slight edge in terms of how it seamlessly transitions through a series of brilliant variations on the same basic harmonic progression.
One could possibly chalk up this impressive showing to the wellspring of inspiration that the tumultuous year of 2020 has been for those who seek deeper meaning in their musical pursuits, but whatever the catalyst might have been, Communic has crafted a modern metallic masterpiece here with a truckload of staying power. It’s the sort of album that manages to keep things fresh despite its relative simplicity, at least when compared to other bands that dabble in the progressive musical field. In contrast to their frequent object of comparison, namely Nevermore, there is a greater degree of old school metal traditionalism at play here that appeal a bit more to fans of mainline progressive acts like Dream Theater and Pain Of Salvation, along with those who enjoy the more stripped down and heavy-ended power metal out of the likes of Brainstorm and Mystic Prophecy. In many ways this is a complex musical exploration penned by a single author, but one would be remiss to discount the rhythm section provided by bassist and long time fellow traveler Erik Mortensen and drummer Tor Atle Andersen, culminating in one of the most impressive power trios to enter the studio since Rush.
Released by: AFM Records
Released Date: November 20th, 2020.
Genre: Power Metal
- Oddleif Stensland / Vocals, Guitars
- Erik Mortensen / Bass
- Tor Atle Andersen / Drums
“Hiding From The World” Track-listing:
1. Plunder Of Thoughts
2. Hiding From The World
3. My Temple Of Pride
4. Face In The Crowd
5. Born Without A Heart
6. Scavengers Await
7. Soon To Be
A dark horse from the mid-2000s Scandinavian power/prog wave continues to redefine the concept of the power trio, while unleashing a barrage of forbidding, elaborate and nuanced compositional flair to rival the masterworks of Nevermore