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Dream The Electric Sleep - Heretics CD (album) cover


Dream The Electric Sleep


Crossover Prog

3.86 | 226 ratings

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5 stars Oh, how I've missed this.

2013 was hardly a stellar year in my ears. I honestly consider 2013 in music to be one of the biggest statistical anomalies, because given that I heard over 300 albums, there should be a high chance that there would be plenty of classic records. But alas, the only album to gain a high rating from me was The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) (8.7), whereas there were eight albums and two EPs from 2012 that gained higher than that merit. As a person who bases everything I do on statistics, and gets very frustrated when they don't fit perfect curves or trajectories, this was truly frustrating indeed. So, I'm glad to announce that not only has the first month of 2014 brought me the best album of the year so far, but it's also the best album of last year as well (if that makes sense (it probably doesn't)).

Dream The Electric Sleep are an American band who have been around since 2010, and this is their second album. I have their first album as well, but I have honestly been too immersed in this to pay attention to much else. Heretics is a long album ' over 70 minutes, and is a concept album regarding something about women and oppression in the early 20th century. For those who are interested in lyrics (not me, honestly, although there are some great bits of sibilance scattered throughout), vocalist Matt Page has done a write-up on the concept here. I was first drawn to this album from here on RYM of all places (not usually my first stop for progressive rock), when I noticed an abnormally high 4.15 rating from 15 users. Even though many users are notable for rating albums too highly, five of the ratings were from my 'trusted' group of users here, people who give high ratings sparingly, so this 4.15 really meant something, especially to my statistically inclined mind. I have been meaning to phase out my constant listening to new music recently (although I'm kinda failing), but there was no way I could skip over this. A quick google later, and I found that this was in fact released on bandcamp's fantastic name-your-price platform, which has heralded some true gems over the years (including four of the ten releases from 2012 that I mentioned).

At the core of its sound, Heretics is hard on the progressive end of the alternative-progressive rock fusion genre that I (and a handful of other people) are calling post-prog. The immediate comparisons to bands like Muse and The Dear Hunter stem from Matt Page's indie and alternative influenced croon, which soars over the atmospheric and epic instrumentation in a variety of ways. On the ballad track 'To Love Is To Leave', the rather beautiful hook line is delivered in a way that definitely calls to mind Children of Nova's Teo, with the indie-style vocals that adorned tracks like 'It's Just A Ride'. Dream The Electric Sleep are in no means an indie band, but like an lot of these post-prog bands, they feel like a band firmly rooted in alternative rock that takes the genre to the extremes with its structuring and instrumentation, hence the progressive rock genre tag.

Imagine if Thirty Seconds to Mars had continued along the progressive stylings that they have hinted at on a couple of records, add in some of Anathema's skill at crescendos and epic builds, and Matthew Bellamy's theatricality and over-the-top vocals, and you might have an idea of what Heretics sounds like. Or, at least, an idea of what a track like 'Elizabeth' sounds like, easily my favourite one on here. Many might take my comparisons to Thirty Seconds To Mars as an insult, but I mean them in the greatest way possible, and to claim that the glorious and intense chorus of 'should you find the sun, will you let us know?' is not reminiscent of some of the melodies atop This Is War is ridiculous. And I honestly believe that this album, in many ways, is the album that I've always wanted Thirty Seconds To Mars or Muse to make, but their mainstream inclinations and the fact that Jared Leto is a superstar in two realms of art (and Matt Bellamy is married to Kate Hudson) have kept them from making it.

But what makes Heretics brilliant, and above a lot of today's straight progressive rock, is the same sort of elements that keep me coming back to the bands I loved when I was younger. Sure, Muse and My Chemical Romance may not have the most interesting or complex arrangements, song structures or instrumentation, but they always had those spinechilling melodies, the ones that are so simple yet so beautiful that you forget everything you've learnt about appreciating odd time signatures and long tracks and just be immersed in the melody. When I hear the chorus of 'Elizabeth', I feel these same feelings. There's something so utterly enthralling about the melody, it's crushing, it's euphoric (as much as I hate that word now), it really transcends music and becomes something beyond that.

But it's not as if Dream The Electric Sleep are just this. The bands I mentioned, especially Thirty Seconds To Mars, rely solely on these devices, on making their music emotional and epic, but Dream The Electric Sleep do actually have complex instrumentals, they do actually have longer tracks, and they are much more than just simple alternative rock. We have five songs here that push past eight minutes, and if you count the double-hit of 'Lost Our Faith' and 'How Long We Wait' as one entity (the seamless transition does suggest that), then it has a 12-minute run time. But instead of taking the prog clich' of filling the record with meaningless solos and instrumental jams in 13/8, they focus more on atmosphere and song development. The longer tracks here have excellent pacing and structure, never feeling their length at all. The opening cuts of the title track and 'Elizabeth' have a brilliant energy that runs through them, mostly due to the tight rhythm section, particularly the pounding and intense drumming. The aforementioned pair of 'Lost Our Faith' and 'How Long We Wait' have a similar energy, never once dying down, even between the tracks.

The rhythm section of drummer Joey Waters and bassist Chris Tackett dominate a lot of this record, creating some excellent jams in the album. The opening title track is a mostly instrumental affair, aside from a couple of verses sung through a megaphone, and the grooves that they get into with the instrumentals remind me quite a bit of Russian Circles' heavier moments, particularly the drumming style and the fact that the majority of the bass on the record is played with a pick. The picked bass also gets some quite Muse-sounding parts coming through in the instrumental sections, particularly the explosive finale of the ballad 'To Love is to Leave', which sees them leave behind all 'ballad' connotations of the track, with some more epic vocals coming through a megaphone, and a driving bass riff in 7/4 that dominates the last few minutes, one of the few moments in the album when an odd signature is used.

Aside from controlling the music through his excellent vocals (and great work on layering said vocals), frontman Matt Page also dominates the music through his guitar work, regularly combining multiple layers of guitar to create a fantastic atmosphere. Page's guitar style has been regularly compared to David Gilmour in terms of his drawn-out and atmospheric soloing, but there is certainly some modern influence to his playing, most notably the influence from shoegaze and use of tremolo-picking in his solos, as well as in the layering under the verses. To continue to praise it, 'Elizabeth' has some excellent tremolo in the intro, adding to the great tension created by the rhythm section. Utopic's final solo also has some great use of it, and combined with the rumbling basslines, begins to sound a bit like something that Matthew Bellamy would do in a solo. But although Page is certainly a talented guitarist, often reminding me of Circus Maximus' Mats Haugen in his grasp of melody and motifs, a few of the solos here do tend to drag or feel a bit forced and unnecessary. Possibly my only critique of 'Elizabeth' is how the second solo comes in, feeling rather jarring and killing the mood of the chorus a bit. It later develops into a rather fantastic instrumental jam, but a few of these solos could benefit from being cut in half. Similarly, a few of the longer tracks begin to drag on a bit, although I've praised the pacing in 'Elizabeth' and 'How Long We Wait' a track like 'It Must Taste Good', while it holds an excellent melody and great driving riff, after about 5 minutes it begins to get a bit samey and feel tired. 'The Name You Fear' is probably the weakest track on here as well, so it does feel like the album has a bit of a dip in the middle, until the final section of 'I Know What You Are' comes flying in.

But if the middle of the album has any sort of dip in quality, from the ending of 'I Know What You Are' out, the band firmly cements that they haven't run out of steam at all, with four great tracks coming after. The crescendo finish leading into 'Fist to Face' reminds me a lot of Anathema in its chord progressions, especially 'The Lost Child' from Weather Systems. 'Fist to Face' is the shortest full track here, but contains one of the best choruses the band have made, strong and memorable. But the real star of this second half is the 9-and-a-half-minute epic 'How Long We Wait', as well as its tense two-minute introductory track 'Lost Our Faith', and I feel the songs would never work separately. Opening with a deliciously melodic riff on top of paced drumming, I'm thrown back to the glory of 'Elizabeth', but with far more of a positive vibe, and happier emotions. Like 'Elizabeth', the energy in this track is phenomenal, and during the first two minutes the band run through a montage of the best vocal hooks they could come up with, never once dying down, until a Floydian atmospheric break comes in, followed by an absolutely spinechilling scream. At this point, the track feels straight out of a Muse record, but we all know that they would never have the ambition or self-belief to do something this epic. If I have one nitpick with this track, it's that I kind of wish the lead riff from the intro came back in and they drilled out another chorus (basically just because it's too good to only have two repeats), since the ending ambience feels a bit empty after such an epic, although it makes an excellent transition into 'Ashes Fall'.

Heretics isn't just the best post-prog album of the last few years, or even the best progressive rock album of the last few years. In my ears, this is the best album since July of 2012, full stop. And on top of that, I feel this may be the greatest album in the post-prog genre to date in my ears. Or at least up there with Rhythm, Chord & Melody and Sound Awake. Any real problems I have with this album are pretty minimal and easy to look past. I think the number of solos on the album could have been split at half at least, and the ones included could be a bit more focused, and as I mentioned before, the middle of the album starts to drag a bit, and I'm sure the album would benefit from being a bit shorter and more focused. It may not be perfect, and it is in no sense set in stone as my album of the year spoiler: click to read, but it's certainly the best I've heard in a while, and a stellar addition to any collection. Don't miss this.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Gallifrey | 5/5 |


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