Sumerian Records has been a central part in the development of what I think most people conceptualize as modern progressive metal since 2006, bringing acts as diverse as The Faceless, Born of Osiris, Erra, After The Burial, Animals As Leaders, Periphery and Veil of Maya to the forefront of the genre. Veil of Maya have been an active part of their roster since their second album, The Common Man’s Collapse, in 2008. Their growth and development over the past decade parallels the increasing polish that we see coming from Sumerian outputs, and the poppy production and clean vocals we first encountered on 2015’s Matriarch with the addition of vocalist Lukas Magyar continues on False Idol, which was released on October 20. False Idol is, however, a darker and more disjointed take on the formula established with Matriarch.
The album starts out with “Lull” – a thirty-seven-second mash-up of synths, whispers and reverse swells. Though not a particularly grabbing start to a record, it nonetheless flows nicely into “Fracture”. Perhaps a bit on the nose, this track introduces us to the somewhat fractured songwriting approach that I encountered through much of the album’s following eleven songs. Despite this critique, it is still one of my favorites here; a quintessentially mathy, glitchy VoM riff begins the song, before Magyar launches into one of the more gripping hooks on False Idols, first in singing and then screaming ‘We smile at the dead’. While full of great riffs, a powerful vocal performance and some awesome old-school horror synths, the song feels weirdly arranged – a singular clean chorus breaks up the techy onslaught in a way that feels somewhat disjointed, and we never hear the chorus again. This arrangement left me wanting more, but not in the way an album opener typically should.
From there, we encounter the two lead singles for the album: “Doublespeak” and “Overthrow”; I can’t say that either track left me particularly intrigued for the new album. Even though both are decently well-constructed, the former sticks perhaps a little too closely to Matriarch material to pique my interest, and the latter is almost alarmingly familiar for fans of Periphery’s Juggernaut: Omega. “Overthrow” features a soft interlude that pairs Magyar’s soft vocals with some understated keys in a way that I enjoyed, however.
Although many of the songs on the record would merit similar critique as the above three in my eyes, there are also some exceptionally strong moments. “Whistleblower” has a wordless hook that absolutely captivates me, and “Pool Spray” has the best chorus that I’ve heard in a metal song in a while, despite neither song compelling me very much musically. This is more than made up for by “Follow Me”, a tech-death-tinged number that is easily the group’s heaviest song in two albums. “Manichee” is a bold foray for VoM, featuring the band’s first song that is completely devoid of screaming; “Citadel” opens with a wash of vocal layers and strings. Both of the aforementioned tracks hint at string arrangements that I would have been curious to hear become more fully developed. The record then ends on a somewhat anthemic note with “Livestream”.
Veil of Maya’s False Idol seeks to merge the increasingly disparate elements of catchiness and heaviness, to somewhat inconsistent results. There are a lot of great Marc Okubo riffs on the record, and Lukas Magyar establishes himself as an increasingly agile vocalist and melody composer. Unfortunately, in what feels like an attempt to satiate both old and new fans, much of the album feels fractured in its arrangements. Regardless, there are more than enough moments here to appeal to fans of the band, and I am curious to hear where Veil of Maya goes from here, especially with their hints at continued experimentation.
Notable Tracks: “Fracture”; the chorus on “Pool Spray”; “Follow Me”
FFO: Periphery, Circle of Contempt, I Am Abomination, Issues