Solstice Coil: The Upward Spiral

Seeing as yesterday’s recommendation was a  little intense, today I’ve decided to go with something a little gentler, but perhaps even more awesome. If we’re going by mood, then today’s band are the Ray Charles to Devouring Star’s Trent Reznor. They have  their heavy moments, but the album is something you could happily use as easy listening at  a cocktail party, focusing on a delicious jazzy coolness, soulful vocal lines and soothing yet intricate keyboard work. Besides providing ideal background music for the event (and ideal foreground music for any time you want to listen to something peaceful with a metal edge), you  get the added bonus  that you get to find the people on your musical wavelength, by watching them perk up around the room whenever the music takes one of its many twists and turn to their neighbor or Shazam to find out just what that music is. This is the odd space that Solstice Coil’s latest album Commute invites us  to visit: a layered odyssey through a landscape of prog rock drifting and catchy but never overtly heavy riffs, erecting their own musical monument somewhere between Genesis and Dream Theater. And it’s purty.

Solstice Coil are on fire here in their own chilled out way. There’s a great mix here, benefiting from the  fact  that there are  no ultra heavy skullcrackers on the album. The result is that the guitars don’t have to be pushed quite as hard as in more aggressive metal, and the keyboards are used as a leading instrument as much as the guitars. Of course, both have fascinating ideas to contribute to the overall sound, through the riffs and subtler elements, and an alert listener will find a wealth of musical treasures lurking just  beneath  the surface of Commute’s lush soundscapes. And above, when the leading instrument is given just a touch of extra pop to give some extra energy  at a key  moment. The mix is well balanced between underwhelming and overpowering, never being in danger of letting the sound be either.

Musically, creativity is evident everywhere on Commute. Even at the most obvious level, the leading lines are designed to defy expectation and intrigue the listener, winding their way to their conclusions through the most interesting of territory. The same urge  to innovate appears in all the progressive rock staples here: the solos and riff-offs are steeped in note density and musical individualism. But it all seems grounded and relatable, partly because they don’t feel like pyrotechnics for the sake of pyrotechnics (even though I love pyrotechnics for their own sake) and partly because of  the personal, emotional slant  to the lyrics. The combination of  these with the gentler production, which seems pulled from lounge music at times, gives Solstice Coil an easier time expressing themselves and connecting to the listener. At all points the songs feel like they’re about something real and touching, whether the vocalist is belting out the highest  notes of the chorus or the keyboards are following one of their complex melodic lines. It’s a real feat of musicality to have songs that are so exploratory and odd be simultaneously intimate and accessible, and Solstice Coil have pulled it off in spectacular style.

Commute may  be the  most useful album of the  year, because now whenever someone asks me for a recommendation, if I don’t  have the time or inclination to find out what  they’re into, I have a ready made answer. With the ability to please the rock junkie and casual listener alike, Solstice Coil’s musical experiment has yielded a thrilling result: a prog rock album with a beating heart. The lyric video for Forget You Ever Saw Us is embedded below, and the album is available in its entirety on Solstice Coil’s Bandcamp.

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