Even without prior knowledge of the plethora of progressive metal A-listers that make appearances on this record, one need only listen to a given track to recognize the beautifully crafted homage to past and present progressive metal that is Chris Schiermann’s self-titled album Schiermann. Schiermann manages to deliver tasteful solos à la Steve Vai, groove-driven song forms that would make Dream Theater proud, and a modern approach to ambient texture and rhythmic/metric structures contemporary with Animals as Leaders or TesseracT. Although I give some praise and critique here, the only way to truly appreciate Schiermann is to consume it as a whole through detailed listening.
As mentioned above, Schiermann features guest appearances by renowned artists from various groups in the progressive scene throughout the record. Below is a bass playthrough of “Technical Disabilities”, the sixth track on Schiermann, performed by Amos Williams of TesseracT. This track, and all of the other lengthy tracks for that matter, handle their elongated runtime masterfully, with just enough repetition, variation, and development to keep my interest and avoid becoming monotonous. The first variation I noticed is the shifting meter. The opening riffs begin with alternation between 7/8 and 6/8, with accents on the first and fourth eighth notes, as one might expect. In contrast, the metrical change to the conventional 4/4 that takes place prior to the solo utilizes syncopation and harmonic stasis to create a canvas for the lead guitar. Further evidence of Schiermann‘s grasp of metric structure as a formal device is heard at the end of “Technical Disabilities” when the final riff returns to 4/4 again. This familiar meter acts as a stabilizer on which a recap of some of the song’s previous harmonic progressions serves to tie everything together.
Meter is never ‘boring’ on this record. It is always in transit and texturally interesting on the surface. But meter is only one appeal of which Schiermann takes advantage; to explore his affinity for shred, I start from the beginning with the track “Weniger Zeit”. My prescription for a well-crafted solo is one that, while not entirely subject with the underlying textures and progressions in the rhythm section, continually acknowledges their presence. For example, the rapid quintal/quartal figures (0:27 and 0:31 in the video below) coordinate with textural changes by drum fills. Intermittent coordination like that in this solo serves to set up and satisfy expectations, which in turn keep listeners such as myself engaged over the course of long passages.
One of very few critiques I have wherein I feel the music was not as carefully crafted actually provides insight into how the creative process might have worked in the writing of Schiermann. In the song “Flexuous”, there is a delay-driven riff under which the bass moves from C# to B to D# to D and back to C# to repeat the cycle. When the bass plays D, the guitar plays an F#-based riff and includes the note A# as part of a descending line. There is a bit of a conflict of interest here: F# would normally sound like the major 3rd over the D, but the A# gives the F# the quality of being a chordal root simultaneously. Augmented triads (such as one composed of D, F#, and A#) are not uncommon in metal, but the F# is reinforced as a root by the arpeggiation of the notes A and C#. This conflict seems to imply that the linearity of the guitar riff and the bass riff were conceived separately and can even be two separate but simultaneous focal points in this passage. Some listeners might enjoy tensions like this. At minimum, this riff is evidence that Schiermann is not timid about exploring new harmonic territory.
I will forego further detailed analysis of song form, melody, and groove in order to let you, the listener, make judgements about Schiermann. I hope to have whetted your appetite with what I consider to be a wonderful culmination of some of my favorite musical techniques in progressive metal. So go and acquire Schiermann, and enjoy it in all its technical and aesthetic glory.
Notable Tracks: “Weniger Zeit”; “Flexuous”; “Technical Disabilities”
FFO: Dream Theater, Animals as Leaders, TesseracT, Steve Vai
Check out Schiermann on Bandcamp for access to his debut album Schiermann.