Friday, September 19, 2008

Heir to Madness - The Citadel

In recent months, heck for the better part of 2008, Racer and I have noticed a bevy of individuals who have released full length albums under a band heading. Earlier in the year, we focused on Jeff Sanders and Mountain Mirrors. Just last month, we touched on Dave Lanciani and Dimaension X. And today, we have, yet another, one man project headed by Jay (just Jay), and as I’m sure you guessed, he heads thing up with Heir to Madness. What all three of these musicians have in common is that they are uber-creative, uber-ambitious, and uber-talented. It’s one thing to write a song. It’s something all together different to write one that sounds good. Now, take that idea of writing one good song and repeat the feat seven times, then eight, then nine. Holy crap . . . that’s enough material for an album! That’s basically what we have here with The Citadel. It’s one man’s burning ambition and ceaseless creative drive to express himself through sound. Song after song, refined until a consistent sound was developed to create an albums worth of music.

Take a piece of Deadwing era Porcupine Tree and you have the makings of the lead track, “Citadel of Self.” Sprawling in its complexity, but rooted in the simplicity of heavy rock, the song takes the listener on a journey. The tune opens with the wah’ed out sound of a distorted guitar throbbing away with the rest of the instruments, intermingled keyboards providing texture and nuance. The vocals, low in the mix, narrate the tune until it comes to the chorus where Jay opens up the wind pipes and his voice becomes readily apparent to all. The voice has a bit of a Maynard Keenan quality to it, maybe not as soaring with range, but the tone is there . . . especially in later tunes. “Citadel of Self” is the most consistent in heaviness, in that the verses hit you with a muted riff throughout and then erupts with opened distortion through the choruses. Even the tone of the solo has a distinct heaviness to it. Note the acoustic guitars laying down a succulent passage in the background. Sweet work!

On “Wondrous Wrath,” Jay builds the guitars, layer after layer, on top of each other until the speakers vibrate from the monstrous wall of sound. Check out the clean, jazzy tone that Jay utilizes around the 4:30 mark. Nice lilting touches that perk my ears every time I hear it. I love the transition from the mellowed portion of the tune and into the more distorted, chaotic guitar solo and subsequent heavy riff. On top of the amazing guitar work littering this tune, Jay works the vocal harmonies real well. This is a truly prog moment. Over eight minutes of swirling and shifting moods, time changes, and tones create an epic tale for the listeners to lose themselves in. This is the kind of stuff that I marvel at, as it’s only one guy sitting back and putting this together. There’s that ambition I mentioned! I’m just sitting here shaking my head in awe.

“Arbiter of Somnolence” features some more of that nifty guitar work. Acoustic guitars accompany a pulsing bass line, all the while, guitar and keyboard flourishes explode in brilliance around the passage. In his typical dynamic fashion, Jay opens the volume at the chorus and feeds us a meaty triple layered sandwich of distorted guitars. The crunch of the guitars are made all that much heavier by the barrage of drum work, which acts like some incendiary devise going off all around the riff. Jay brings the punishment with a healthy dose of riff happy aggression at the 4:40 mark and effortlessly blends back into the chorus. “Arbiter of Somnolence” perfectly displays Jay’s aggressive and passive tones within one tune. The momentary aggressive intro, the beautiful ambient acoustic passages, the melodic chorus, and the aggressive instrumental portion, all weaving together like the yarn of my crocheted afghan (the blanket, not the person . . . coz’ that would simply be weird.) This tune, like my blanket, is an artistic display of different times and different places, and the loving work of the artist’s hands. It may even keep you warm on the odd winter nights.

The Citadel is a well put together collection of eight songs that encompass all that is prog. Dramatic shifts in mood mixed with complex time changes fill the fifty-two plus minutes of music on this disc. Though it’s filled to the brim with instrumental and musical chaos, The Citadel also breathes and gives us the space we need to complete our thoughts. There isn’t any of that nonsensical noodling that drives me crazy, rather dynamic ambience that lifts the spirits and give me pause for reflection. It’s a self produced, picturesque album that inspires me to pick up my guitar again. I’ve found that the best way to listen to this bad boy is through headphones. This way, you can hear every nuance with so much more clarity. Those subtle musical textures shouldn’t be ignored. They help add color to the story. They help give the story life. They give the life purpose.

You’ve gone and done yerself some solid work here, Jay. You should pat yourself on the back. We certainly are. - Pope JTE

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