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A Lonely Crowd - User Hostile CD (album) cover

USER HOSTILE

A Lonely Crowd

 

Heavy Prog

3.92 | 27 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars A Lonely Crowd are a Melbourne Heavy Prog band who have just released their 2011 debut album "User Hostile". The packaging of the album is certainly artistic with some innovative and creative imagery in the 12 page booklet, that also has full lyrics. The symbolism of the imagery, by Steven Kuiter, is open to interpretation but includes such things as insect behaviour of the dragonfly, black widow spiders in a web, and a smoking exploded lightbulb.

The band consist of the main trio Luke Ancell on guitars, Scott Ancell on drums, and David Morkunas on bass, and keys. They are joined by vocalists Leah Ceff, also on flute, Xen "Pow" Havales, and guests Tomas Fitzgerald, vocalist on 'Adjustify', Karen Heath, clarinet player on 'Mustard Brush Tango', and Shane Lieber, vocalist on 'Skyscrapers', and 'Tyranny of Dissonance'.

'Blessing in Disguise' is an odd start with vinyl crackles and then a jazz cabaret feel with very nice vocals by Leah. This segues straight into the heavier distorted riffs and unusual time signature of 'Barbed Haywire'. The flute than joins in to lend a very strange atmosphere, as it keeps time with the angular guitars. The instrumental has King Crimson like intricacy and is a signifier of the type of music the band focusses on; an odd blend of metal riffs and ambiance.

The vocals of Xen have a clarity and forced power on 'Tyranny of Dissonance', with more distortion and flute driving it along. It breaks midway and there is a punctuated percussion and blasts of guitar. Leah's vocals have a folk resonance like Pentangle or Renaissance but the heavy guitars always remind us of the heavy aspect of the band, especially at the end of this track when the pace quickens and feels more chaotic.

'Make You Scream' begins with marching timpani drums and fractured signature. Leah's vocals are again well executed and improvised in some places along a vibrant tempo with heavy guitars. 'Tightrope Somnabulists' has a gorgeous flute that floats along the guitar phrases. Even as the tempo gets faster the flute is a beautiful embellishment; a real oddity with all the metal distortion but flute balances it all out nicely. The gentle flute passage with Luke's fingerpicking guitar work is mesmirising. The vocals come in very late but are welcome after a lengthy instrumental section.

The diversity of styles continues on 'Dragonfly' that has a Euro pop feel especially due to the vocal style of Xen and overall musicianship. The riff breaks into a heavy flute and guitar melody. The band are tight and inventive with some moments that are simply inspired; this song is a wonderful example of the dexterity of the band. The lyrics are arresting; "dragonfly, you came upon me in the sun, and in your flight you cast a love spell, a simple heart spell."

'End without End' has some dynamic percussion from Scott and a gentle guitar rhythm. Again the vocals are unusual from Leah, almost identical in tone to Xen which works well for the continuity of the band although they have had two main vocalists for the creation of this album. Xen was the singer who remained with the band in its current state. The lyrics are thought provoking; "retract reset forget, dark around the aperture, light beyond the wall, death mask in silhouette, celebrate the discord, and orchestrate the fall."

'Misunderestimated' is one of the best tracks with a real guttural distorted guitar and some more folkish vocals from Xen. This is a genuine oddity with power riffs and almost a Celtish vocal treatment. The song breaks towards the end into orchestral strings and a cinematic soundscape is generated. This one is well worth checking out and showcases the original approach of the band to their craft.

'Mustard Brush Tango' has a quirky percussive figure and Eastern musical feel. Its idiosyncratic nature is highlighted by the jazzy flute flavours and contagious cha cha cha Latin tango rhythms. The sound is as jazzy as the band will get especially with Karen's gorgeous clarinet. This instrumental is one right out of the box and works well as a piece of inventive and bold diversity.

'Status Anxiety' has an acoustic intro, Leah's sweet vocals, and builds with a strong measured rhythm. It feels accessible as alternative metal in places and breaks into a spacey section with David's swirling keys and pulsating bass. The flute augments the soundscape along with the choppy guitars on an irregular time sig.

'Adjustify' is different with vocals by Tomas and heavy distortion section that trades places with jazzy melodies. Due to the vocals this is a unique track on the album but still feels part of the whole due to the consistent treatment of the musical sporadic approach.

'Bipolar Bear' is another instrumental that focusses on experimental ideas such as a chiming sound, backwards effects, and the swooping flute. Eventually a fast guitar riff breaks through, then stops abruptly as more nursery chimes ring out. This is one odd piece of music with rises and falls of tension and release throughout; one is never sure where the music will take them, like a bipolar disorder, so it keeps the listener on their toes. 'Few and Far Between' is a return of Leah's vocals and feels more like a song after the previous unpredictable experimentation. Her voice, and Xen's, is such a wonderful accompaniment to all the musical mayhem. There are moments of chaos as usual with some grinding power metal riffs that break into quieter passages at will. This is one of the better tracks on the album with excellent vox and guitar artistry. The lyrics are inspirational; "it's your life, it's the part you play, performance over for another day, but in the mirror who do you portray, the final curtain's just a breath away."

'De Vito' is a short transition of music with Xen's voice mixed to the front. The heavy time shifts are sporadic and progressive. 'Glass Eyes' open with chiming atmospherics and swell in volume with guitar feedback and a heavy riff. The flute somehow keeps up with all the riffing with elegant quality. The vocals are handled by Leah who is also magnificent on flute. The lyrics are quite potent; "corporations rise and fall, the masses pinned against the wall, slow the rat race to a crawl, life goes on and on."

'Skyscraper' closes the album with another fish out of water featuring the raspy vocals of Shane, sounding like Alt Metal. Shane screams his throat raw but is also able to provide some cool vocals on sections such as the melodic line "hopefully you will be assured my intentions are pure." The lyrics are mostly delivered with forced aggression and some expletives thrown in; it even looks as though it was censored as some extreme lyrics in the booklet are not delivered. It is an interesting way to close the album with a slab of Screamo but for some reason it ends it on an appropriate note, as there were so many diverse styles previous.

In conclusion, the album "User Hostile" is one of the most diverse albums I have heard in a long time. The varied vocals are one reason but it is mainly due to the fact that the band desire to inject a variety of influences and musical methods to hammer home their thematic content. It should appeal to those who like metal but not too heavy, and it will certainly appeal to those who desire to hear something different. A Lonely Crowd know how to balance out ambiance and heavy music with precision and this album captures this unusual style with innovation and adroitness. The band are very skillful musicians and hopefully will be able to continue to produce excellent albums like this in the near future.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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