True to what one might expect from a sophomore album, Emperor of Mind’s second release, Resistance, surpasses their debut album in compositional creativity, technical prowess, and quality of production. That being said, Resistance succeeds with the latter in a rather natural way, retaining and refining what could be considered some of the appealing qualities of the band’s first album, Beyond the Exosphere. Emperor of Mind’s sole mastermind, Alexis Christensen, has a consistent approach between both albums that is founded on one of the most common metal staples: riffing over a pedal tone. So, with Resistance, fans of Beyond the Exosphere can appreciate the new harmonic and rhythmic varieties while continuing to enjoy pedal tone riffs (done in more ‘funky’ ways), and both new listeners and those already faithful to Christensen’s progressive metal brainchild can situate it within the context of the greater progressive metal community.
The opening track, “Dance, Dance, it’s a Revolution”, gives no immediate evidence of serious changes wrought since the first album until the gain kicks in. The A-flat pedal note that drives the remainder of the album (heavier than the drop-D from earlier) indicates to the listener that not only has Christensen likely acquired an extended-range guitar, but that she knows how to use it. This track, and many on the album, alternate between dirties and cleans – with more chromatic harmonic colors being explored as riffs over the distorted pedal – though this track does not become uncomfortable in its chromatic use.
What I find lacking in the opening track, as well as many tracks from both of her albums, is variety in their approach to form. Most of the time in Emperor of Mind, one can count on hearing a riff, it being repeated, having a variation of that riff, and returning to the opposite texture and dynamic (i.e. clean vs. dirty). The track “Some Funky Molecules” begins to break from this trope by recontextualizing clean riffs into heavy textures and with a return to a previously introduced theme later in the track. Reincorporation like this happens occasionally throughout the album (see “Human, Do You Have Significance?”), showing Christensen’s growing awareness for formal considerations.
Conceptually, Resistance takes quite a turn from the theme of exploring the physical and spatial. Rather, it is somewhat generically politically charged – containing implicating titles and smatterings of political speeches and social outcries throughout. One could only speculate on how the binding theme (or program, as it is usually called in classical music) affects the perception of the music while listening. Whereas imagery of space and physics might make me think that a heavy, driving riff implies making my way through an asteroid field, the same riff in tracks like “Darwin’s Last Dance” might conjure images of a protest march for science. This type of speculation, subjective as it is, is a point of interest when comparing this album to one that is musically similar, but programmatically different.
Resistance appeals to the progressive metal listener looking for music that explores the outer regions of chromatic riffs over open-string pedal tones. The paroxysmal riffs, reminiscent of Dillinger Escape Plan, keep things rhythmically and texturally interesting as well. However, this album might leave one wanting for more formal considerations, such as uniquely developed and recurring musical themes and prominence of melodic strength. Considering how this record uses both new approaches and refined versions of old ones, it goes without saying that Emperor of Mind is a fine example of what ‘progressive’ metal is.
Notable Tracks: “‘Bout that Solidarity”; “Some Funky Molecules”; “Human, Do You Have Significance?”
FFO: Intervals, The Empire Shall Fall
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