Having been a writer for Lady Obscure for the last couple of years I have my album review routine down to a science. First, I give the album I’m currently reviewing an initial spin just to get a first impression, then several more repeated listens to let it soak in. Some albums require more listening and notes than others until I feel that I am ready to start the writing process. During that time frame, I try to refrain from listening to other music, as I want to keep my focus on the task at hand. Every now and then though an album comes along that is so technically brilliant, sonically perfect, so unique, and so unbelievably, instantly catchy, that it grabs a hold of you and refuses to let go, so much so that I decided to scrap my plan to review another album that was next up in my review queue and decided instead to focus my attention on the debut album The World We Used To Know by Irish/U.K. prog metal band Shattered Skies. Formed in early 2011 the band (Sean Murphy – Vocals, Jim Hughes – Bass Guitar, Ross McMahon – Drums/Mixing, Ian Rockett – Guitars/Keyboards) released the critically acclaimed Reanimation EP and followed it up with the Pianomation EP in 2012.
It’s extremely rare for a debut album from a virtually unknown, unsigned band to grab a hold of me to the point that it requires multiple plays a day. For a band so young the songwriting shows maturity beyond their years. The main songwriter Ian Rockett wrote all eleven tracks (McMahon co-wrote three songs with Rockett). The last album that had this effect on me was The Old Man and the Spirit from Beyond the Bridge, an album I hold in the highest regard.
The album begins innocently enough with a tender piano instrumental titled Collapse of Man. The band then launch into the prog-djenty groove of The End And The Rebirth. Jim Hughes’s bass is way up in the mix and adds a thick sound to the already heavy guitar riffs. Sean Murphy’s vocals are smooth, melodic and fit the song perfectly. As with any prog metal band worth its salt there is plenty of guitar wankery but the song never suffers for it.
The next track Haunted is another song with a wicked heavy guitar groove and some polished harmony vocals to start off. At times Murphy’s vocal tone reminds me of Tommy Karevik’s vocals with Seventh Wonder. His vocal melodies just flow and keep the listeners attention, which is what a great singer/frontman should do.
The next song titled 15 Minutes has a massive guitar riff and the rhythm section of McMahon and Hughes provide a monster groove that feels like Godzilla was stomping his way through Tokyo. There is a very jazzy piano breakdown mid-song to change things up and then the groove comes back with a vengeance. Rockett and Hughes trade off guitar and bass solos display the technical mastery on their individual instruments.
On the perfectly titled Elegance and Grace, Shattered Skies shows that they not only know how to write groove heavy prog metal, but they can also write a beautiful song with epic sweeping guitar melodies and soaring vocals full of emotion. Show’s Over brings back the monster stomp groove metal the band does so well and combines it with some bright keyboards (performed by Rockett) and powerful lead and harmony vocals which are reminiscent of Michael Eriksen of Circus Maximus.
As The Sea Divides ( the original version appears on the Pianomation EP) begins with Rockett’s impressive piano work and then a wall of slamming guitar riffs hits the listener like a ton of bricks. Murphy’s vocals break through the cacophony of riffs with melodic passages before the djent-style guitars take over again. Ian Rockett’s guitar solos are a highlight here. His guitar tone and technical proficiency are jaw dropping to say the least.
The next track Flipside is a prog-funk fusion with bright vocal melodies and a driving rhythm. The chorus is uplifting and catchy as hell in a Seventh Wonder meets Dream Theater kind of way. It’s probably as “commercial” sounding as a band playing technical prog metal is going to get, and it works perfectly!
Things slow down on Aesthetics, a piano/keys driven quasi-ballad with powerful heartfelt vocals and an uplifting spirit that has a Circus Maximus style to the orchestration and vocal melodies. The guitars on Saviours are edgy, menacing and agro while the vocals provide the hook with Murphy showing his range and vocal dexterity. The solo breakdown by Rockett once again shows his ability to shred and create a memorable guitar solo at the same time, which is no easy feat!
The title track, which is also albums closing song is also its most ambitious, creating an epic sonic landscape of highs and lows to bring it all together. An 11 minute tour de force of beautiful and majestic orchestrations, massive riffs, stop on a dime time changes, keyboard wizardry, technical drums and soaring vocals all add up to a progressive metal masterpiece.
I’m no expert on the djent genre, mainly because I feel that most bands in that style are one dimensional in their approach, especially with the screamo style vocals. Shattered Skies take the djent approach, add a healthy dose of prog and funk, with melodic clean vocals to create a stunning cross-genre of progressive metal that will appeal to fans of Symphony X, Circus Maximus, Periphery, Dream Theater, and Seventh Wonder. I know it’s early in the year and we still have new albums from heavyweights like Symphony X, Nightwish, and Kamelot to name a few, but I am predicting that The World We Used To Know have cemented their place at the top of my list for album of 2015.
Check them out on Bandcamp.