Expectation is a funny thing. It can multiply ones appreciation of something but with the same brash influence, it can taint or diminish the enjoyment that the consumer derives from a work of art.
Ever since I took the quasi-altruistic leap from fan to hobbyist appraiser, I have striven to lessen this anticipatory fizz, to give every record that I review a fair crack of the whip.
With Subversion, however, I must admit that I found myself in the unusual state of ambivalent-expectation. Not that I thought them a bad band, (I enjoyed their last EP) but I'd seen them play last year and the experience had left me under-whelmed. On further reflection I remembered that this was their first show with their new vocalist Jay Shields. Context is vital.
The point I am labouring to make, is that Animi, Subversion's 2nd full length, is one of the most enjoyable records to come my way in the last 6 months. It is an effervescent and brooding beast, and has left me with egg all over my ambivalent face. I'm a big man, I'll own up to my mistakes.
Subversion's stock in trade is a low slung and abrasive Tech-Metal, infused with adept and lilting anthemic sections. They channel this overall sound into highly textured yet focused songs, imbued with impressively prescient sense of sonic self. A sense so attuned that the 10 tracks on Animi come across as both cryptically angular and enticingly smooth at the same time.
To do this in a consistently persuasive manner is a feat worthy of extensive praise. Since fiery eclecticism seems to fuel a significant percentage of contemporary progressive metal bands, yet hardly any manage it with this much graceful success.
Do not let my lubricated adjectives fool you into thinking that Animi does not possess considerable testicular substance. It swings with a heaviness redolent of Gnosis-era Monuments but with a less bullish approach to melodic structure and inter-play.
However if I am to be frank, this is a challenging record. It shifts style, focus, syncopation, timbre, and tone numerous times. This is not done in a haphazard fashion but it requires the listener to be both concious and engaged. But like most art which is resistant to immediate and simplistic comprehension, it rewards any effort put into communion with a ten-fold remittance of luxury sound-scapes and muscular imagery.
Responsibility for the progression of the music is attributed evenly across all instruments. This is vital for any band coming across as a unified team of equals. I know this isn't a essential component of an album review but I'm a sportsman at heart and well balanced sides will always find success in the long run.
The riffing is varied in how it establishes and propels the songs. Shifting from staccato Tech syncopation to less binary methods with a constant and dedicated commitment to the song at hand. This is vital because no matter how hypnotic the riff, it is ultimately a building block within a larger construction, whose needs it must be subservient to. All semantic gymnastics aside, there is a lot of audaciously salacious riffery on this record.
The drums are compelling and appropriate. I believe they are a mixture of samples and a genuine kit but the veracity with which they ring is impressive.
The vocals from Jay Shields (growled) and Kai Giritli (cleans) are impressive in their phrasing and tone. Both voices play a significant part in the emotively atmospheric nature of the music; perching atop swelling synths or punching sinuous holes in the wall of phrase. Shields manages to combine the physique of a big guy with the technique of much physically smaller vocalists, presenting a menacing high tone that is intimidating and effective. While, Giritli has a delicate almost febrile tone to his voice, which summoned and conjured with emotions rolling deep within me. Obviously the appreciation of clean vocals is an immensely subjective past-time, But, they really worked for me.
But everything is subjective, especially expectation.
Subversion have presented me with an inverted form of my subverted norm and reminded me that no matter how hard I try I will never escape the nest of tangled confluences that terminate in me.
So by its very existence, this album has granted me a deeper and more complete understanding of myself.
So much for ambivalence.
So much for expectation.
– John Whitmore