Four years on from their sixth full-length album Test of Submission, the Philadelphia instrumental progressive metal group Dysrhythmia are treating us to another head-spinning journey of an album in the form of The Veil of Control. Though the album has a brisk 35 minute runtime over six songs, this disguises an album of stunning depth and complexity. The musicianship on display on this entirely instrumental album is simply awe-inspiring, but their prodigious talent has been honed and directed over time resulting in an album that feels lean and full of purpose.
First, a bit of background. Guitarist Kevin Hufnagel and bassist Colin Marston both play in Canada’s premiere metal band Gorguts, widely considered one of the most daring and consistently excellent progressive death metal bands in the genre. Marston also plays in a range of other groups including the boundary-pushing New York progressive black metal band Krallice and the amusingly titled instrumental group Behold… The Arctopus! Jeff Eber is known as a talented drummer in his own right. So it’s fair to say that there’s some real pedigree here.
But Dysrhythmia are far more difficult to categorise than any of the aforementioned bands. Their sound is rooted in progressive metal but draws on much more: the head-spinning time-signature changes of math-rock; the dark atmosphere of black metal; as well as the heavy percussion of death metal and the tendency towards grandeur of post-rock. By this point in their career the band are a well-oiled machine, with Marston and Eber forming the backbone of the band’s rhythm sections, while Hufnagel’s consistently astonishing guitarwork frequently carry the more dramatic melodies.
Opening track ‘The Veil of Control’ stuns at first listen: the vast atmosphere created by Marston and Hufnagel feels as if one is drifting in space alone. Eerie riffs reverberate, disparaging into the void, backed up by thunderous percussion: This song is as terrifying as it is beautiful. The following track ‘Internal / Eternal’ is another highlight, particularly for the utterly stunning fretwork.
Later on the penultimate track ‘Severed and Whole’ dissonant guitar chords howl above the churning low-end created by Marston and Eber as the band lurch to and fro in a tortured dance. Hufnagel makes full use of the 12-string guitar he’s playing, using angular, off-kilter rhythms to pushing the music forwards.
Frequently shifting in and out of counter-point, the level of interplay between the guitar and bass in particular keeps things consistently exciting. The song’s frequent shifts in mood – at times subdued and melancholy, at others chaotic and abrasive feel neither contrived nor sloppily executed.
Songs like ‘Selective Abstraction’ and closing track ‘When When’s End’ prove to be the more challenging, abrasive songs on this album. Echoing some of Hufnagel and Marston’s work with Gorguts, the dizzying changes in time signatures as well as the unsettling, dissonant guitarwork provide some great variety, plunging the listener head-first into this raging maelstrom.
The concise nature of the album works in its favour, helping avoid a sense that the album might be overstaying its welcome. And with an album as musically dense and abrasive as well as so complex from a theoretical perspective, much longer than 35 might prove too much for many listeners. There is so much going on at every level on every song from all three members of Dysrhythmia that at times it can almost be too much to take in; but persevere and you’ll experience one of the richest, most rewarding albums of the year.
The Veil of Control is out September 23rd.