Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Conquering Dystopia - Conquering Dystopia Review

Conquering Dystopia - Conquering Dystopia [Instrumental Metal]

Adding to the veritable list of musical super-groups to release material within the last year or so is Conquering Dystopia, featuring Alex Webster (bass), Jeff Loomis (guitar), Alex Rudinger (drums) and Keith Merrow (guitar). 

Being an unabashed fan of the instrumental work of Loomis and Webster, like so many others in the metal world are, I was gleefully anticipating heavy riffing, blistering leads, interesting bass work and ...

... more heavy riffing. 

Keith Merrow has been one of the few YouTube musicians that I've followed for a good few years. Of course, that means that I've heard his previous collaborations with Loomis. Still, the prospect of getting to listen to a full album featuring two of modern metal's most tasteful and creative riffers was enough for me to put my work aside and plug in.

Singling out a particular track or two to feature here (and then verifying its availability on YouTube) was no easy task. This album is as tightly-written as they come, chock full of interesting riff lines and adorned nicely by Alex Rudinger's solid drumming. Each track has its own 'feature': check out, for example, Rudinger's subdivisions of the main motif in the first 30 or so seconds of "Inexhaustible Savagery" (clip above). This is undoubtedly straight-up metal drumming, blast beats, double-pedaling and all, but it is presented in a way that appeals as much to the music geek as to the headbanger. 

A similar concept can be heard in the opening riff of "Autarch", only that here, the band is working around a triplet feel (as compared to the straight 4/4 in "Inexhaustible Savagery"). Often, guitarists working with more than six strings fall too deeply in love with the extended range and end up producing muddy, unimaginative chugs as excuses for riffing ideas. This is, thankfully, never the case here - Loomis and Merrow, perhaps unsurprisingly, make good use of the full range of their instruments in creating highly listenable hooks and riffs.

The lead work, as has come to be expected from Loomis, is edgy and blazing quick. What is surprising about it, however, is that it takes up a significantly smaller proportion of the total airtime than Loomis has always had with his solo work. I was still iffy about this state of affairs after the first couple of listens, but have slowly come to appreciate how this affords space for Merrow's own melodic passages and Rudinger's frenetic drumbeats without taking away from the fact that Loomis is the de facto lead player.

My only definite gripe with this album is that Webster's insane bass-playing isn't featured as much as I would have liked it to be. Perhaps that was not what the band had set out to do, but ... it's Alex Webster! Imagine buying a Ferrari and only ever using it to perform the mundane task of driving to work! Having said that, though, this is ultimately only a minor issue in light of all the other excellent things the band does in this work. Production is good, songs are captivating, the band sounds like an actual unit instead of a hastily-assembled bunch of musos and Keith Merrow finally gets his due time playing for a wider audience. 

Here's hoping Conquering Dystopia produce more stuff.


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