Dissona – Paleopneumatic

I’m a little late to the party in reviewing Dissona‘s brilliant new album. Back in 2013 we highly praised their self-titled first full release, highlighting its classy experimentation as a particular source of excitement. The album was undoubtedly a hugely promising breakthrough.

With their new album, Paleopneumatic, the Chicago prog metal outfit have refined their approach and created something that is stronger, more assured, more coherent, and yet if anything more experimental again. This is, by any measure, no mean feat.

Why is it so good, I hear you ask? Well, a number of features elevate it beyond the self-titled. For a start, the album’s genre-bending is more overt than before. Particularly evident is a thrilling infusion of electronic and industrial sounds and styles. The music is dark and often intense, but sonically there is a great variety of styles from black metal through industrial rock to baroque-esque choral chants. There is also an enhanced richness to the album’s harmonic approach. In a number of places throughout the album, the huge vocal harmonies are completely immersive and wonderful.

What really strengthens the album, though, is that experimentation is rarely, if ever, at the expense of song-writing. The band is arguably more ambitious than ever in trying different things, but the songs work, both on their own and in the context of the album. I’ll talk about a few of the album’s highlights.

Opener Another Sky is a brilliant prog metal tune. The song’s first half doesn’t stray too far from their influences, but there is a freshness here too. It is epic, and a brilliant showcase for the talents of singer David Dubenic and lead guitarist Matt Motto. After a brief mid-song respite, it branches out into other styles, including harsh vocals and electronic sounds and all sorts of other things. The song as a whole brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The next standout is Outside the Skin, a short and atmospheric tune dripping with emotion, and featuring some gorgeous vocal harmonies and surprisingly complex rhythms that never detract from the song’s ambience.

Totality is another epic tune and, perhaps, the best song on the album. Clocking in at 9 minutes, it covers a lot of ground. Similar to the opener, this song shifts between sounds and styles. This one, though, has an emotional intensity to it beyond anything else on the album. Especially praiseworthy is the way Dissona wonderfully and seamlessly incorporate baroque chants into a dark and dense metal song to create something immensely powerful.

Lysis, and its piano introduction Anastomosis, is another great song. It’s shorter and a bit more straightforward than much of the album, with some strong influences from bands like Pain of Salvation and others, but it rips by with energy and charisma.

And finally, closer Sunderance is a beautiful way to end the album. It is the most ambient piece on the album, but another superb example of wonderful vocal harmonies, and an infusion of traditional acoustic instruments. After such an intense album, the folk stylings here close things off perfectly.

Not every song is killer, but there’s so much wonderful stuff and a real coherence to the album that you will easily forgive and ultimately still enjoy any minor weaknesses. The production is a step up from the last album, and helps to highlight the top notch performances from everyone in the band. All in all, what a brilliant album this is.

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