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Mendel - Subliminal Colors CD (album) cover

SUBLIMINAL COLORS

Mendel

 

Progressive Metal

3.71 | 12 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Gallifrey
4 stars A New Dynamic

I can remember the first day I stumbled on Subliminal Colors. May 26th, 2012. I know this, because it's also the day I signed up for Reddit, and Reddit lets you know damn well what day you signed up on. Although I can't remember the exact series of events that lead to Reddit and therefore /r/progmetal and therefore Mendel, but for some reason I can remember staying at home all day, so I think it may have been one of my 'sick' days. 2012 wasn't a good year for me at school, so sick days were great, this one even more so.

I remember being so thoroughly impressed by Subliminal Colors. Although I had long known about some underground artists, my primary form of music supply was through torrenting, which is hardly good for extremely underground artists. Subliminal Colors was my first experience with Bandcamp. It may actually not have been, but I remember it quite well, because I was positively baffled at how good music could come out of something that no one knew about. This really confused me, and I really thought I had hit something absolutely incredible.

Not that this album isn't great, but I feel my initial 5-star review was part of the bewilderment I felt in finding this album ALL BY MYSELF. The rest of the year, through bandcamp and beyond, brought up far superior free download releases via Lithium Dawn, Slyde, Iamthemorning etc., but Subliminal Colors will always be there as the first. The one that started it all.

Subliminal Colors is the debut album from Dutch guitarist Mendel Bij de Leij, who has played for a number of bands, currently working with System Divide and Aborted, but this album is far from both of those styles. Mendel here develops some very interesting instrumental progressive metal, often bordering on neo-classical and even djent.

The problem I usually have with instrumental albums is here also on Subliminal Colors, and the primary reason I don't normally rank them in the same list, which is the ability to keep me interested without vocals. Although I consider myself to be reasonably open about music, at least more so than most people, I still can't really call an instrumental album my favourite. You will probably note that I have zero albums above 4 stars that are instrumental, and I don't actually put them in my lists, instead ordering them separately, usually with much lower ratings.

It's not that I hate instrumental music, I just love singing. I fucking love singing. Hell, even this morning I got told off on the bus for mouthing the words to "All I Know" by Karnivool too loudly. I just love singing, and vocals in that sense are a sense of cohesion that keeps my attention on the music. Not that there aren't instrumental bands that don't do that. Scale The Summit and Russian Circles do it pretty damn well, keeping their music filled with catchy riffs and interesting textures and soundscapes. And even Sigur Růs, whose vocals I don't really count as traditional vocals, keep me interested with their music alone.

And there are definitely moments on Subliminal Colors that do this. Take the opening track, "Shores". The first riff, which is first blared on a pipe organ before the characteristic electric guitar takes over, is absolutely fantastic. It's a ripping, brilliantly catchy riff, and exactly the sort of one you'd expect to open an album with. But although there are parts in the song where Mendel loses himself in mindless masturbatory shredding, that riff keeps cropping up, bringing me back to the melodic beginning. There's one thing to be a good guitar player, there's another to know when to stop bloody shredding and actually play some music. Something John Petrucci should learn if he ever wants to make a Dream Theater album I enjoy.

There are other songs on here with decent riffs as backbones, "Fall" and "Absolution" in particular, but most of the songs seem to be epic shred riffs of fury and never really show any sense of musicality until one of Mendel's neo-classical breaks come in. And oh, those breaks. From the moment the pipe organ in "Shores" came in, I knew this was above most bandcampcore djent bands, but the real star here is the piano. I believe Mendel plays all the instruments here aside from some programming and guest solos, and the piano doesn't sound programmed, so I say to Mendel PUT DOWN THAT GUITAR AND BECOME A PIANIST.

This is seriously some of the best piano work I've heard in a while. The fact that I even gave Mendel my award for best keyboard/piano performance in 2012 really shows how great it is. And of course, piano being my favourite instrument means I'm insanely biased, but the duo of "Reprise" and the 25-minute "Absolution" on the end contain some of the best melodic piano work since fucking Beethoven. Of course, a lot of this is pure Beethoven worship, even in the guitar arpeggios, but Beethoven is one of my favourite composers, so I have no distaste there.

My other real nitpick with this release is obviously the production. Although I quite like the sound of programmed drums, when you have a program that doesn't have limits, people seem to want to have them blasting 8 beats per second on the kicks at all times, which never really sounds good. It's not as bad as those bloody teenagers who make "progressive metal" (aka chugging) in their bedrooms and hThe bass, too, is the other problem. When it finally comes to view in songs like "Fall", you can clearly hear the mediocrity of the patch, but luckily that isn't a big deal for most of the album. The guitar tone for the most part is pretty good, if generic. Even I, who has a raging hatred for that tone, don't mind the parts where it goes a bit djenty, because it is done in moderation.

Mendel is most certainly a fantastic guitarist and composer, and the fact that this is a 72 minute instrumental metal album means the sheer quantity of riffs and solos in this beast is immense, but I think that it also its downfall. Just because you can write 72 minutes of guitar riffs, doesn't mean you should. This album would benefit greatly from having the best riffs and ideas from each song and being condensed into a proper-sized 40 minute album, and I might even consider it great. I know for certain there's enough awesome material in here for it, I just can't justify sitting through all of it searching for those moments.

Subliminal Colors is a good instrumental album. It could be a great one, but it chose not to be. Mendel has created a debut like a debut should be, with ideas in need of refinement. Hopefully for his next album he can take into account some of these shortcomings, and realise that piano>guitar. Hopefully.

7.4

Gallifrey | 4/5 |

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