STEELSWARM – Aspects of Dissonance
Released: August 6, 2020
Dane Simms – Guitar & Vocals
Jamie Simms – Bass
Zac Stewart – Drums & Keys
Sydney metal merchants SteelSwarm released their debut album Aspects of Dissonance smack in the middle of the 2020 pandemic. Whilst their first EP, The Ultimate Offering, was largely a thrash affair their first LP transitions to prog metal that combines traditional progressive keys and soaring vocals with djent riffs and death metal growls. While Death Prog (or ProgDeath?) has become a subgenre of its own in Europe, the Sydney siders have enough of their own touch to stand out amongst similar bands.
‘Begin Simulation’ breaks out the staccato riffs with a noticeable finger picked bassline that is placed nicely in the mix. The track is an introduction to the growl and clean vocal style employed by Dane Simms, with an instrumental breakdown reminiscent of bands like Tool, a trio of musicians locked into creating an atmosphere with the instruments at their disposal. ‘River of Sky’ commences with classical piano and keyboard drone, again the focus is on atmosphere, that is pierced by a great lead riff and thunderous drums. The layers sound great through headphones, they’ve really nailed the mix. Dane unleashes his howl, calling out to “Reach for the depths, Course of the transient emptiness”, which is as prog lyric as I can remember hearing for sometime. The bass solo is fantastic, Jamie Simms really has some skills that he gets ample opportunity to show off, with Dane taking a more melodic low key approach to this guitar playing, his lead motif coming back later as the outro solo. Zac Stewart really hammers his drums too, there’s double kick for the more hardcore listener.
Album highlight ‘Future Gods’ really slams from the start, much more in the djent prog form here. The chorus is heavy with Dane’s screams hitting a new level of anguish, before the now familiar melodic breakdown ascends time and space. You could almost meditate to it, but they drop the hammer again. It appropriately reflects the environmental concern of the lyrics.
First single ‘Everything Lasts Forever’ is just gorgeous. With a largely clean vocal style, invoking Ian Kenny (Birds of Tokyo/Karnivool), Dane really nails the lyrical concept of redemption and reincarnation. The comparison to Karnivool is pretty obvious but also misguided. SteelSwarm have their own thing going on, especially in regards to the bass and drums. It is the least heavy track on the album, growls are reduced to the background, though it has an emotional weight to it that not all the subsequent tracks have. It was wise to follow it with the synth, guitar effects and percussive instrumental ‘Life Obsolete’ as a palate cleanser.
‘Phthalo’ has an acoustic intro, and continues the more melodic approach of ‘Everything…’ but also gets weird with the riff and hella heavy on the chorus vocals. Jamie’s bass really carries the middle section before Dane solos alongside it. ‘Wasted Signals’ is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, three minutes of straight to the point riffs and thumping rhythms before fading out with a jam. Closing track ‘Twilight Harbour’ allows the band to get a bit more epic and combine a lot of what they can do. The tempo is faster on the verses while the lyrics go heavy on the imagery to the point you can close your eyes with headphones on and imagine the “Vermillion horizon, shines on what remains”. The percussion is drool worthy for air drummers, with all sorts of stuff happening lower in the mix. As a finale it really soars despite the lack of hope, and it would be a cool track to see live.
The song writing really does serve a breadth of audience, and may even convert a few traditionalists to the prog cause. Even though the songs have space to improvise and seem to drift off into a melodic excursion, the track lengths rarely break five minutes. Their maturity from EP to LP is a great sign for where SteelSwarm could go with further studio time and tours to come. One could argue their instrumental sections need more variety, but experience will shape their sound into a better rounded beast. They have the musical chops to stand alongside their European peers and are well worth getting behind when they come to town.
SteelSwarm – Aspects of Dissonance EP tracklisting:
- Begin Simulation
- River Of Sky
- Future Gods
- Everything Lasts Forever
- Life Obsolete
- Wasted Signals
- Twilight Harbour