An individual’s musical taste is almost as fluidic as music itself, it’s a constantly growing and changing thing. It adapts to the life of the individual, the soundtrack changing as the movie evolves. But we don’t lose what we had, though we may not listen to it for months or years at a time, and anything that comes to us anew with elements of music of yesteryear will usually appeal to us rather quickly. My own musical taste started with my older brothers cranking Yes when I was exceptionally young, and that set some pretty high standards for anyone who followed. Of course not every band I listen to has to have the exceptional musical talents of the prog giants, but when a band comes along that does have those elements, or that of Rush, IQ, Dream Theater, Marillion, Pink Floyd, or any of my other favorites, they usually will stand a good chance of getting some of my hard earned money. Now when a band list a good four or five of my favorites as influences, they surely will get some cash out of me.
Which brings us to Kentucky based Dream the Electric Sleep. Not only is their name a nod to the great novel that inspired Blade Runner, but they list the likes of Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis, and Peter Gabriel as influences, all of whom hold very valuable shelf space in my collection. Formed in late 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky, Dream the Electric Sleep consists of Matt Page (guitars, vocals, and keyboards), Joey Walters (drums, vocals), Andrew Hibpshman (guitars) and Chris Tackett (bass). The next few years were committed to recording and producing their debut album, Lost and Gone Forever, which went on to get enough acclaim to get them an invite to the Rites of Spring Festival (RoSfest), one of the premiere prog festivals in the USA. Upon returning, they diligently worked to release their second album, Heretics, in the beginning of 2014. I went into this album looking for the influences of bands of my past, and came out with an intimate knowledge of a solid new force in the progressive rock field, Dream the Electric Sleep.
Heretics is a conceptual album, and as is proper form in the prog arena, the band opens with a primarily instrumental number, managing to sneak in some lyrical elements towards the end. Also the title track, Heretics, the opener displays one of the things the band is best at, busting out crunching melodic chords. The sense of epic that is a prerequisite for me in any concept album is immediately noticeable, as the drums crash around the rest of the band dropping the resounding notes, serving notice that we are in for some juicy good music. The song then goes into a soft strumming and the first vocals are distorted, an announcer introducing the theme so to speak. A subtle element of hand claps and dragged out bass notes is built upon by the guitars, keys, and choral vocals, making altogether for a superb opening number, and also setting up the second track, Elizabeth, which is nothing short of stunning. With eleven tracks amassing to over seventy minutes, the band gives themselves a ton of room to play around, and with their skills on their respective instruments and collectively as songwriters, they make the most of every one of them. Elizabeth opens with a structured form, we finally hear the non distorted vocals, and they are solid. No uber ranges are hit here, and when he does stretch it, it’s noticeable, but he is very clean otherwise. The band does a quick slowing down before breaking into a four minute instrumental that lets us know once and for all that we are in for a show. Using all the best tricks in prog, clever time changes and mix-ups, alternating leads, and escalating intensities, they bring the house down, just in time for nine more songs.
Utopic follows, and here they really bring in a dramatic element, showcasing their ability to use the music to create an environment for the listener, with a repeated pounding chorus set to hammering drums and dreary cover tones, they set a rather bleak mood for us to escape from. It only gets more intense as the song just builds and builds to a furious intensity, only to be released in an instant, leaving us hanging and hungry. The next track, To Love is to Leave, opens up right there too, with a simple strumming on the guitar and some dour, pleading vocals. This is the basis for the first half of the song, and though they play with the intensity, they never leave the hole. Using a trick from Pink Floyd, the vocals half way through are amplified a la a megaphone, and the hard chords lumber along as if dragging us further and further down, a brilliantly constructed song overall. The amount of variety they show is just stunning, each song bringing new elements, all the while using the same intensity building techniques to really drive it home. The Name You Fear once again is a pleading song, the anguish transparently clear, and made even more intense with the many elements employed.
The next track, It Must Taste Good, opens with a fairly simple riff and some soaring vocals that actually seem to channel Bono of U2, but this doesn’t last long, as they morph it into something so much more. Though they keep the same pounding base beat, the layers they build onto that are just endless, and by playing with the intensity of this, create a song that really shines. Two shorter tracks, I Know What You Are and Fist to Face lead into a folksy transition number, Lost Our Faith, which settles down into a repeating chord that serves as the base for the first of two finishing epics, How Long We Wait. This track varies pace between furious and sublime, playing with the dramatic levels throughout. A somber guitar and drum section in the middle is brilliantly executed, only to be topped by the slow build up that they are so adept at. They finally let the intensity climb to a breaking point, and drop off to some simple yet effective keys that give the effect of a triumphant finish. A sharply plucked string melody brings in the harsh opening notes of the album’s closer, Ashes Fall. In this final track, Dream the Electric Sleep really pushes out beyond, creating an atmosphere fitting to end this complex and dramatic album on. The crashing notes, the soaring transitions, just about everything is just a step up from the rest of the album, all leading to a closing finish that can only leave the listener breathless and drained, with dreary spoken words that insinuate that things are far from resolved.
So, in the end, Heretics delivers a full frontal attack of solid progressive rock, with all the elements where they should be, and executed wonderfully. If there was any drawback to the album, it’s in the production, as it seems to have a slightly muddled sound to it, but that hardly detracts from what these gentlemen have accomplished here. It’s always comforting to know that good high quality prog rock is still being churned out by new artists; it assures me that I still have many, many years of that distinctive satisfaction that only a solid prog concept album can deliver. And if there’s one thing that Dream the Electric Sleep does on Heretics is deliver.