Pleasant. Soothing. Refreshing. Invigorating. Hypnotic. Beautiful.
Sounds like a commercial for some kind of shampoo or skin cream or something, doesn’t it? The kind where some nameless underpaid model splashes water in slow motion across her face which has been run through about 18,000 different filters to make her skin appear flawless. But nope, these are all the best adjectives I could think of which accurately describe Lightless, the stellar new album from the international collective of insanely talented musicians that is Vipassi.
Since they are an all-instrumental technical outfit, comparisons to peers like Animals As Leaders, Blotted Science, Sleep Terror, or the criminally short-lived Conquering Dystopia are inevitable- and not entirely inaccurate. There is certainly no shortage of fretboard acrobatics on display here, but overall Lightless is actually significantly more reserved than many of its contemporaries, which I feel works decisively in its favor. We all love a good shred fest, but I’m also a firm believer that less can indeed be more if executed properly and with a little bit of style (eat your heart out Yngwie). As such, one of the things that grabbed my attention right away on this album was how slow, steady, and carefully measured the buildup to the quote-unquote “good stuff” was.
The opening title track is subdued at first, setting the scene with its dulcet melodies and relatively laid-back drums for a full two and a half minutes before finally kicking things up a notch with some blast beats. But even then, the underlying harmonies from the guitars and bass remain relaxed and almost leisurely, creating a lovely juxtaposition which makes the music sound like it’s moving both fast and slow at the same time. From there, the music steadily builds into what seems to be a frenetic crescendo, but at the last moment the rug is pulled out and everything ends abruptly, leaving only a few looping notes from the synthesizer and a smattering of percussion, eventually fading into the ether as if nothing had happened. It is an excellent subversion of expectation, and a great way to start off the album.
Once the overture is complete, that’s when the band really start to hit their stride. The second track “Labyrinthine Hex” contains some of the best fretless bass work I’ve ever heard courtesy of English virtuoso Arran McSporran, and the main melody in the follow-up song “Morningstar” is incredibly infectious, to the point where you won’t want it to leave your head once it gets stuck in there. There is a similar melody in “Ruination Glow” as well, but thankfully it pivots in a totally different direction before too long, wisely opting to expand and build off of the initial idea rather than repeating and exhausting it. There is also some absolutely stellar jazzy drumming from Ne Obliviscaris alumnus (try saying that five times fast) Daniel Presland on the penultimate track “Neon Rain”, quite possibly his most impressive performance on the whole album, and believe me, that’s saying something. Finally, the album concludes with the ten-minute epic “Promethea”, which has an extremely dance-worthy beginning and doesn’t feel nearly as long as it actually is. The whole album is an extremely satisfying experience from start to finish, offering plenty of replay value for those interested in catching its multitude of subtle intricacies.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again- pacing is what ultimately makes or breaks an album, and this is a prime example of how to do it right. At the end of the day though, what makes Lightless truly stand out is its genuine sense of personality. No two songs sound remotely alike, either in pacing or in structure, and yet they all still have an immediately identifiable and familiar feel to them, which is a testament to the band’s songwriting prowess. These are all experienced, disciplined musicians with dozens of albums and EP’s already under their belt across several different projects, and that is a chemistry that cannot be imitated or manufactured. I’ll take that kind of real vision and know-how over a “Hey look at me, look what I can do” noodle salad any day of the week.
Vipassi’s Lightless drops Friday, January 26 via Season of Mist Records. Preorder your copy here.
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