I’ve found, lately, that it’s been hard for me to do a proper album review. For some reason, I seem to be running out of ways to say just how much I like something. It’s also been more difficult just because I don’t have as much time to listen to an album enough to really get my head around it… we get so many submissions and review requests that it’s nigh impossible to listen to them all. However, Odyssey’s new album, An Abstract Existence, has been waiting for a review since I first heard it. So, in an effort to do something a little different, I’m testing out a new review format: five reasons you should listen to this album.
1 – Jordan Hilker is an extraordinarily talented bassist. This was extremely evident on the Schematics EP, where Jordan’s bass was up front in the mix, with that wonderfully jangly sound. On An Abstract Existence, this has been scaled back a bit, but that’s not to say that his presence is understated; far from it. Jordan’s bass is still an integral part of the band’s sound, and he gets ample opportunity for solos and experimentation. Sometimes he follows and underscores the guitar riffs, adding some extra punch, but the band is at its best when he is playing off the riffs of Jerrick Crites. Speaking of which…
2 – Jerrick Crites and Lukas Hilker are pretty fucking talented, too. Again, this was something that was evident on their previous work, but it needs to be said anyway. Jerrick’s riffs and leads get a bit more attention here, and he does not squander the opportunity. When you’re an instrumental band, and you’re writing songs that are, at their shortest, just a shade under seven minutes (with one song stretching to almost fourteen, and the final track reaching nineteen and a half), you need to have something to keep peoples’ attention in place of vocals, and that job usually falls to the guitars. Jerrick handles this admirably on all counts. And the younger Hilker, Lukas, holds everything together with his drumming, changing tempos at the drop of a hat and varying beats sufficiently to keep things interesting and unpredictable. And that brings me to the third item on the list…
3 – You never really know what’s going to happen next. With instrumental metal, there’s a fine line between repeating motifs to maintain structure and simply being repetitive. This is especially difficult when given the aforementioned song lengths. But Odyssey never run into any sort of problem with this. They repeat and revisit sections of the songs often enough to aid in the memorability of the tunes, but they still vary things greatly, and so there really is a sense of unpredictability and progressiveness. And on the subject of progressiveness…
An Abstract Existence thankfully shies away from reliance on overproduced technical wankery or repetitive djent-chug to justify its abstract existence, and despite the album’s title, you won’t find much in the way of dreamy ambient, atmospheric floating, which carries the day with other instrumental metal bands. What you will find are three very capable musicians just hitting their stride, in control, operating with self-assurance, and producing something very special.
And that brings me full-circle to those musings about the consequences of banishing the human voice. Losing the vocals creates space to be filled and room for the instrumental performances to shine (or melt in embarrassment), without distraction or cover. Odyssey take full advantage of the extra space; they stretch out and fill the room with adventurous, multifaceted jams that don’t wear out their welcome.
Odyssey is unsigned (though surely that can’t last long!). They recorded the album themselves in their practice room from January into May 2011 on essentially no budget and mixed it themselves, with mastering by Bruce Connole at Wild Whirled Music. This is a band that deserves support for such an impressive DIY achievement. If you dig this music, go like them on Facebook and spend some dollars on their music at Bandcamp (here), where all of Odyssey’s recordings are for sale.
By the way, kudos to Kathryne McKinnon for the eye-catching artwork. Now, check out this album’s title track; you can stream the whole thing via that Bandcamp link:
P.S. I exaggerated a bit when I wrote that Odyssey is a no-synths outfit. Jerrick Crites does use them briefly on “Cellular Deconstruction” to mimic the wordless sound of male choral voices soaring above (and contrasting with) the heavy hammering rhythms going on below.
Reviewed by: Islander Posted: Oct 24, 2011
From big, heavy, slamming chords to flights of prog-metal extravagance, from foundation-crushing doom riffs to thrash attacks to mellow jazz-fusion arpeggios, Jerrick Crites is seemingly capable of doing just about everything an electric guitar permits a talented musician to do with it. He makes it ring like chimes, hammer like a nail-gun, and send flashy streamers skyward like an eye-popping fireworks display in a clear night sky. There’s a wide variety of tones in the guitar melodies, and his solos range from soft and deeply soulful to full-on, smokin’ shredfests. Shades of Steve Vai and Alex Skolnick!
Amazingly, bass-player Jordan Hilker is a match for Crites’ guitar wizardry. I suppose it goes without saying, but merely competent bass playing won’t cut it in a stripped-down instrumental metal ensemble. There’s too much space to fill without vocals or keys, and too much need for goodies to hold the listener’s attention. Jordan Hilker’s very natural sounding (and very audible) bass is nimble and creative. One of the true highlights of the album is the interplay between him and Crites, with the bass sometimes matching note-for-note what Crites is doing and sometimes going off on its own in counterpoint. He can be brutal with the low-end hammering, but also almost playful.
With those two being such riveting performers, it would be tough for most drummers to stand much chance of making an impression, but Lukas Hilker makes one nonetheless. Sometimes all he needs to do is roll out simple rock rhythms, but he can turn on a dime into elaborate progressions or pounding jackhammer strikes. While not blazingly fast or technically flashy for its own sake, his choice of rhythms and techniques to suit the music always seems to be spot on. I also have to make note of the fact that the drum tones sound completely natural.
And speaking of turning on a dime, the one additional aspect of the music that maintains interest and respect is the facility with which Odyssey move among varying tempos and time signatures without losing a step and without jarring the listener by sounding abrupt. Sometimes the changes are so subtle that in hindsight they seem like exactly what you were expecting — even though they weren’t.
The human voice is a powerful musical instrument. In fact, as an instrument for conveying emotion, it’s unmatched by any human-made device, because it’s the sound of . . . us. By definition, if you take it away from an ensemble of instruments, the music loses something irreplaceable.
This is true even in the case of extreme metal. In extreme music with harsh vocals, the capacity of a voice to express human emotion is constricted by comparison to music with clean vocals. Nuance and range are greatly reduced, and in most instances the emotion-triggering effect of the lyrics themselves is lost because the words are unintelligible. On the other hand, harsh vocals are very effective (more so than clean vocals) as instruments for expressing certain emotions — such as rage, frustration, and anguish — and for producing in the listener a sense of danger and dread. Take them away, and once again you lose something irreplaceable.
Orchestral music compensates for the lack of voices with an extensive array of human-made instruments, affording a lush palette of tones that can be combined in a multitude of ways. That may be one reason why many instrumental metal bands use synthesizers to reproduce the sonic variety and power of a symphony orchestra. But you take away the synths as well as the voices, and strip the instrumentation down to guitars, drums, and a bass, and you’re then placing considerable demands on the songwriting skill and performance chops of a band.
I suppose, for these reasons, I rarely find instrumental metal that jumps up and grabs my interest. But An Abstract Existence, the new album from a three-piece, no-vocals, no-synth band called Odyssey, has done that. I haven’t been this captivated by an instrumental album since 2009, when Animals As Leaders debuted and Scale the Summit released Carving Desert Canyons.
This isn’t our first exposure to Odyssey. A bit more than a year ago, we reviewed a four-song Odyssey EP called Schematics, which was mighty impressive. We wondered aloud what it would take for Odyssey to become more widely known. That has already happened since our last review, and An Abstract Existence ought to carry them dramatically further indeed.
The album consists of six tracks, four of them hovering around 7 minutes, one clocking in at nearly 14, and the album closer “Quantum Symbiotic Inception” reaching nearly 20 minutes. But in that hour-long offering of purely instrumental music, my attention never wandered (and of course it’s widely known that I have the attention span of a hummingbird). That’s a testament not only to the band’s top-shelf performance skill, but also to their talent for delivering considerable musical variety without ever seeming to force it.
Taking things up a notch even from the already-impressive “Schematics” EP, Spokane’s purposefully instrumental act Odyssey has struck gold on sophomore full-length “An Abstract Existence.” This release is the sort of thing that should get the tech and prog fanatics properly salivating, which is all the more impressive considering it comes from a band very firmly in the underground.
Anyone seeing the word “instrumental” and thinking that means “boring” has got it all wrong, as Odyssey crafts the songs so they are consistently attention grabbing without any screams or singing. Transitions are the name of the game, with each song shifting and flowing in and out of styles in a way that will please the prog crowd, but without losing sight of the heaviness. There are definitely jazzy segments and mellow areas, but the whole package is unmistakably more death metal influenced than progressive rock influenced. In ways the album has a bit of a To-Mera feel, except that Odyssey tends to stick in each new style change a bit longer than that prog metal act.
Technicality is another major feature of the album, and although this isn’t quite Obscura or The Faceless we’re talking about, it’s still very impressive and scratches the tech death itch admirably. You’d think with songs ranging from seven to 19 (!!) minutes that the formula wouldn’t hold up, but there’s no lag time on the whole album. Impressively, nothing ever gets boring or goes in the other direction and lands in the dreaded territory of “annoying show off wankery.”
Although very different bands, fans of Opeth will also likely enjoy what “An Abstract Existence” has to offer. The way Opeth structures its guitar parts and has smooth transitions from mellow to heavy can be heard in plenty of tracks on the album. As a band that mixes the technical with the progressive and only has three members, the bass is also always running front and center along with the guitar and makes some interesting melodies not heard in most metal albums.
Constantly evolving from segment to segment and song to song, Odyssey’s latest release shifts across anything and everything that makes metal worth hearing: dark and brooding atmospheres, brutal heaviness, melancholy arrangements, guitar shredding, and even some upbeat stuff. Besides a slightly muffled and flat production, there isn’t much wrong with “An Abstract Existence,” but there is a whole lot done right.
Highs: Mixes the progressive with the technical and never gets boring even without vocals.
Lows: The production is a bit muffled, and the "Peripheral Aspects" song may sound familiar for technical metal fans.
Bottom line: An impressive blend of technical and progressive elements.
Score: 4 out of 5 Skulls Reviewed by: xFiruath Posted: Sept 30, 2011
Despite some rock-solid contributions to the genre, instrumental metal is an oft-overlooked idiom. Odyssey’s new record An Abstract Existence stands as a triumph in the genre, blending a love of thrash, death metal, fusion jazz and prog rock. Forget neoclassical metal and mathcore. Odyssey are what happens when a tech death band ingests too much classic Yes and fires their vocalist. In case you’re wondering that’s a very, very good thing.
I accidentally listened to the wrong record about four times before I realized I’d made a mistake. (Long story short: Check out Odyssey by Dimensions if you like technical death metal with intelligent lyrics about mysticism.) But this error actually prepared me to review Odyssey. The vocals on the Dimensions record weren’t sub par by any means, but I sometimes found them intrusive. I wondered to myself what the record would sound like without vocals.
An Abstract Existence blends the melodic and the brutal with surprising ease. The band displays a technical prowess that might literally be unmatched in contemporary metal. They don’t just know every mode of Phrygian dominant and harmonic minor scales backwards and forwards. They’ve also got legit jazz chops — especially drummer Lukas Hilker, who easily shifts from a basic meat-and-potatoes rock rhythms to exotic time signatures I can’t even begin to hazard a guess at without batting an eyelash.
When you don’t have a vocalist to rely on, it’s a lot harder to make your songs stand out. But stand out these songs do. The record proves on thing once and for all: You don’t need death growls to be brutal.
Bottom Line: Odyssey combine the best of Yes and The Faceless, while tending toward the former.
4 out of 5 Horns!
This time on Hits From The Inbox, we see a progressive instrumental band from Spokane, WA by the name of Odyssey. Their four track/26-minute EP Schematics was released for free last year, and if you’re looking for something that just so happened to be played by a trio of musicians instead of just one guy, then it looks like today is your lucky day; not that one-man bands aren’t great, but you can kinda get a group-vibe from something played by separate musicians, and Odyssey has it. Each instrument is vital, including moments where the bass takes the forefront, which doesn’t happen often enough in projects ran by guitarists. This isn’t your run of the mill djent band either; this has shades of classic tech and prog metal all over it.
Check out the EP below and download it by clicking through to bandcamp! It’s really quite fantastic, and you can’t beat the price tag (or lack thereof).
-Jimmy Alan Rowe @ Heavy Blog is Heavy April 22, 2011
To believe that the U.S. is still a land so fertile to get us out of instrumental groups in the type of Odyssey. The quality groups are legion, especially in a movement technique / math with young people with long teeth as SCALE THE SUMMIT, ANIMALS AS LEADER, LYE BY MISTAKE, CHON or older who have opened doors like Ron Jarzombek and its various projects, PLANET X, CANVAS SOLARIS, Dysrhythmia and Behold the ARCTOPUS the UFO in the most extreme cases. So yes you have to like what some people cite the "tricks prog thing, handjob technique to handle," but if your niche is the EP released in 2010 by a young American band should totally please you.
Despite the few years on the clock, the trio displays mastery is beautiful through its four new songs very swift, which continue to return the listener with its many changes. From the opening track "Schematics" which starts with a bang, we know what we will do: a kind of mix between Blotted Science, but much less complex, and Dysrhythmia and more nervous and muscular. In other words, it sends severe, it is searched, the breaks are numerous and that the guitar is of course the centerpiece of a sudden the most enjoyable technical riffs, but the bass is very present also my greatest pleasure . The next song "Fractured Dimension" is just as frenetic slap bass riffs behind very incisive. Central work of the EP with these 11 minutes, it also shows a more sedate side with one side rather pronounced jazz fusion on the parts of lead guitarist and bassist (the large central solo is a treat), which contrasts sharply with the crushing riffs MESHUGGAH way. Lot of work arrangements, it is fluid when it is still choppy and not so much to digest it, yet incredibly effective style. Little lull with "Requiem" interlude in the guitar-hero cool as not unpleasant at all before going on a flying monster with "Peripheral Aspect." Real piece breaks neck with the heavy riffs and mechanical side (pair guitar / drums is square and formidable as possible), which floats in the middle of a great solo piece fusion. Piece quite dark and fit inside perfectly defines what ODYSSEY. No time to get bored with them in any case, the group varies enough about it to keep the listener awake, there's always the little thing that makes each interesting passage as a subtle bass notes or variations of the drummer, who plays correctly.
We may regret the lack of personality of the trio, but who cares, this EP is really succeeded with a style more muscular than usual. Now to see if they can keep the attention and quality along an album, which will be more difficult. Promising.
I’ve been meaning to post about Odyssey for a while, but I keep getting sidetracked, and it’s rare these days to actually have the time. Odyssey is a three-piece instrumental tech-metal outfit from Spokane, WA; their bassist, Jordan Hilker, approached me to mention them on here. It’s taken me a bit (my apologies!), but I’m finally getting around to it! Now, when I say that Odyssey are a tech-metal band, I’m not saying they’re exactly a tech-death band… it’s an important distinction. Odyssey are much more progressive, and of course, there are no vocals. However, it’s the bass that truly sets Odyssey apart from other bands… It’s rare to hear this sort of bass-work in metal, to be honest, and the nearest comparison I can actually draw isn’t metal at all. Bear in mind, now, that this is not a comparison I take lightly, but I’m actually reminded of Primus.
Now, Odyssey don’t have the weirdness inherent in Primus’ music, and while Hilker is an extraordinarily gifted bassist, I wouldn’t quite put him on Claypool’s level. The reason I draw the comparison is more because of the role the bass plays in the music, sharing equal time with the guitars of Jerrick Crites. The whole thing is underscored by some exceptionally versatile drumming by Lukas Hilker (who, it can be assumed, is likely Jordan’s brother, or is at least related to him in some manner). Musically, I’d more compare them to Spastic Ink, Exivious, and most anything Sean Malone is involved in. That said, Schematics is flat-out fucking fantastic. It’s refreshing to hear this sort of creativity from a band so young, needless to say, and while the EP is only four tracks, it is a nice 26 minutes long, enough to really draw you in and satisfy you while still leaving you wanting more. You can stream the EP via their Bandcamp page or the widget embedded here, and you can purchase it for only $5, which is a pretty damn good deal. Check it out!
-Dan Grover @ The Number of the Blog
Unless you are from the area, chances are Spokane, Washington is probably not on your metal radar, but that has not stopped three-piece instrumental outfit Odyssey from putting together Schematics, their second release, which is, by the way, available for free download at their bandcamp site (odysseyspokane.bandcamp.com). And is it worth the download? I say yes. Reviewing a band such as Odyssey is challenging for a few reasons. It would not be fair to judge them in the same genre as bands that write songs around vocal patterns, with variations on the chorus-verse-chorus structure, but at the same time Odyssey’s sound as I hear it is an amalgam of riffs drawn from a multitude of progressive bands, from Rush and Dream Theater to Cynic, Meshuggah, and, in the instrumental category, Blotted Science, who are probably the most accurate comparison I can make sound-wise. I would be very surprised if the three guys behind Odyssey have not spent some time with The Machinations of Dementia, and if they have not, then they really must. Odyssey does not display the same caliber chops as Blotted Science – I can’t think of more than one or two bands that do – but the gentlemen from Washington are certainly no slouches. Opening track "Schematics" quickly establishes the guitars as the leading element driving the songs, with riffs that introduce themes and then proceed to dance around them with a good amount of technical prowess. Beneath the guitars, the bass flourishes appropriately and balances the heavier moments with rhythmic cadences echoed by the drummer, though as flashy bassists are wont to do in progressive death metal, sliding and slapping moments are periodically encountered and do not add much to the music. Of the three performances, the drums are the least impressive of the triumvirate, but this is due more to the drums’ flat production and less to the performance itself, which adequately roots the often busy riffing. Second track ‘Fractured Dimensions’ clocks in at over eleven minutes making it by far the longest track, but the band manages to keep it together by complimenting the barrage of riffs with softer, ambient interludes enriched by subtle layers of synthesized harmonies. Third track ‘Requiem’ is a short, odd track that, guitar solos aside, sounds like it could be the soundtrack to an 80s family sitcom. Final track ‘Peripheral Aspects’ returns to the heavy jamming for six minutes thereby rounding out a collection of songs that will appeal most to guitar enthusiasts and to that curious group of listeners, of which I am part, seeking new instrumental metal. Schematics makes for an enjoyable twenty-six minutes, but after four or five listens, I do not see myself regularly revisiting the album. Ultimately,Odyssey at this point seems to be lacking the sort of energy and unpredictability that makes bands such as Blotted Science or Dysrhythmia so exciting, and as I mentioned above, a stronger production would have contributed to the overall success of the endeavor. With that being said, Odyssey has tackled the uniquely challenging genre (which I just made up) of ‘intellectual-instrumental’ metal and has done so with a good deal of talent and gusto. If you like riffs, give it a listen.
-Justin Bean @ metalreview.com