Progressive music has always been about pushing boundaries, but those boundaries don’t usually move past the music. However, Parisian progressive metal act The Dali Thundering Concept are seeking to do just that, desiring to ‘…overpass the scale of “album”, gather other artists, creators and thinkers and create a galaxy of art orbiting around a single concept.’
But what is the concept? ‘Savages is a dystopian fiction. Through this concept album, we offer a credible scenario of mankind’s future if its current behaviour goes on…What comes after global warming, division and politics of nostalgia?’ The Dali Thundering Concept clearly have vision. Does the music live up to it?
The cinematic scope of TDTC’s concept is reflected in Savages’ three-act structure. Act one, ‘Abundance’, establishes a status quo endemic of TDTC’s vision of today’s society. The three tracks within this act show a society that is apathetic and hopeless, seeking meaning in technology and materialism because they feel powerless to affect the world around them.
The mechanical soundscapes that open “Ostrich Dynasty” convey this industrious and industrial monotony, whereas the subsequent “The Myth of Happiness” samples Alice In Wonderland to great effect – the White Rabbit’s obsession with time shows him running to no real destination, much in the way this society is. Against a backdrop of downtuned breakdowns and dissonant chords, TDTC lean on a raging hardcore edge within their fairly standard djent aesthetic.
“Blessed With Boredom” breaks this trend with a more energetic, optimistic vibe – think the unpredictable, upbeat chording of Periphery’s “Scarlet”. This hope is contrasted by the lyrics, which explore how the pursuit of the American Dream has destroyed the Earth while promising providence. ‘Abundance’ closes with a poignant query: ‘Is the puppet guilty of the actions of its master?’ “Cassandra”, the following eerie electronic interlude, allows us to reflect on this question and the concept of power.
Second act ’Collapse’ does not hint subtly at the destruction contained within. “There is No Calm Before the Storm” is a slow burn of unpredictable grooves and ominous lead guitars, with apocalyptic lyrics directed at our inability to properly address today’s climate: ‘People are scared, they’re fucking wiggling, crawling like insects/They think planting three trees will avoid the tempest/They’re trying so hard it’s laughable, hoping for a miracle.’
Most of the preceding songs offer little you haven’t heard from acts like Periphery, After the Burial, Veil of Maya, and Ever Forthright. However, the stark “Ink” incorporates some interesting textures to show humanity’s continued desire to cling to hegemonic ideas and profit-driven leaders, not recognizing that their reliance on them has placed humanity in this situation in the first place. A slam-like introduction is contrasted by a very Muse-inspired middle section. When Oceano vocalist Adam Warren’s feature arrives, his subterranean vocals convey exactly how bleak the situation is.
“Flying With Shepherds” occupies similarly despondent territory, before “Demeter” ushers us into the final act. Though progressive metal in this vein often incorporates jazzy pauses, “Demeter” is fleshed out into a full track that builds from soft dissonance to saxophone/guitar lead lines and an effective vocal feature, promising the potential of knowledge to save humanity.
The final act’s title brought me back to my junior sociology class: French sociologist Emile Durkheim talks about the idea of anomie, which is when society provides minimal moral instruction to the individuals within it. So what does this idea have to do with the music?
“Empty The Void” uses some minimalist industrial influences to match the barren future that TDTC predict for humanity, referencing nomadic groups roaming an infertile world. However, a promise of growth exists: ‘Is this the end or the genesis?’ “Utopia” answers this question by showing us a world recovering despite our treatment of it, allowing us to repeat our mistakes. The song features some excellent clean vocals courtesy of Kadinja‘s Phillipe Charney, and a welcome saxophone performance.
“We Build The Past” is the longest track on here, and also the album’s closer. Strings and chiming guitars slowly build in intensity. The accompanying gang vocals feel a little cheesy, but the ideas they explore become more potent as the music reaches a climax. This peak pairs unexpected symphonic elements with dissonant guitar lines that sound like what would happen if Devin Townsend tried to be SikTh. This section is quite unique, and makes the album’s end all the more memorable while also providing a fitting way for The Dali Thundering Concept to deliver Savages’ central thesis: ‘History is a fucking circle/From day one we’ve been savages/They’re all fucking savages/I’ll always be a savage.’ As the music fades, the theme from the album’s opener is revisited, musically conveying the cyclical nature of humanity’s behavior.
The Cycle Repeats
I can easily list off a number of concept albums that tell of humanity destroying itself and the planet before rebuilding, only to destroy it all again; however, few are as politically resonant or angry and engaged as Savages is. The band’s commitment to actually funding organizations seeking to prevent this change within the album campaign shows what The Dali Thundering Concept are asking us to do: learn and act.
The music found on here is heavy and enjoyable, but it only occasional breaks out of tried tropes. When this happens on songs like “Ink”, “Demeter” and “We Build The Past”, though, it does so to impressive effect. I had hoped that the music would match the ambitiousness of the concept more generally, but the instrumentation is used in a more focused way: to match the ebbs and flows of the music over the album’s three acts. I strongly encourage you to review the lyric sheet as I did, and consider the music in this context. It greatly heightened my opinion of the record.
This commitment to the concept shows that Savages is not just a musical statement . it is an ethical one. If we do not learn from our mistakes and do something to correct them, we are bound to repeat them.
Notable Tracks: “Ink”; “Demeter”; “We Build The Past”
FFO: Periphery, Ever Forthright, After The Burial, Oceano