Disperse: Living Mirrors
Unlike others who had gained a familiarity with 'djent' music and its corresponding underground scene before me, I only really became familiar with Jakub Żytecki's stellar guitar work from his solos on both of David Maxim Micic's EPs and a particular Youtube video of his, highlighting the immense talent and skill that this young guitarist possesses. Both prompted me to listen to his demos which while often raw, showed great potential in what Jakub could have made of going solo like several other guitarists come producers within the scene, leaving me a little surprised when I found that he devoted most of his effort within a band context. At the time of writing, I still haven't heard Disperse's first release so while it could be said that I'm lacking some crucial context, I am going to go along with the argument that going in with fresh ears and few real expectations, apart from the solo work I've heard from Żytecki, can provide a different viewpoint with regards to this release.
It was that lack of expectation that left me rather surprised at several points in the album, the first of which being the introductory track where it sounded almost downright poppy which for me is always a good thing since I've always had a soft spot for more mellow and melodic moments in what is generally quite a heavy genre. A willingness to mix things up and experiment is one of the main ingredients in a good progressive metal release and Living Mirrors has this in droves, especially when it comes to jazzy influences. Another experiment is the inclusion of not one but a fair few instrumental tracks breaking up the vocal tracks in the album. Again, I would have expected these to be used as a way for the instrumentalists to show off their abilities as is often the case in progressive metal instrumentals but while there is a little bit of cheeky shredding here and there, these tracks mostly serve to create a sense of ambience as well as to link and segue into the next track, mostly prominently from 'Be Afraid of Nothing' in the the album's stand out track for me, 'Unbroken Shiver'. Consequently, the album flows very well which can often be difficult when each track can sound quite a bit different from the previous one.
Having mentioned the more melodic vibe that this album gives off, I can only think that it is a result of the vocal style of Rafał Biernacki, whose clean vocals really find their place within the music. A lot of vocalists within the genre will be expected to provide both cleans and growls and while there are those of us who have had many a gripe with particular singers with regard to either of these, I think the exclusive use of clean vocals helps to provide the album with a positive sense of direction in that the music will composed to work with Rafał's strengths. He never sounds out of his element, even with the rather busy backdrops that Jakub and co. can provide meaning that this is one of the few albums that I've not a single quibble with the vocals at all. Some may take issue with the use of autotune on the album but it's rather selective and used for effect more than anything else so I find no problem in it, especially considering my emphasis on the merits of experimentation.
The production on the album is stellar as we've come to expect of most releases these days (those of us who listen to this particular vein of progressive music are very much spoiled in that regard!). Saying that, there is a particular level of polish with Living Mirrors. The atmospheric synth parts blend seamlessly with both the ambient and rhythm guitars. Jakub's lead and clean tones are both excellent and really enable him to expressive himself to the fullest, while in the rhythm section the drums sound great and the bass tone is very juicy indeed, standing out especially in a few of the ambient sections. Finally, the vocals also have their sweet spot in the mix as well, combining with all the other elements for a very pleasant listening experience indeed. You could even make an argument that Living Mirrors could be used as an example of how a progressive album should sound when you get everything right.
So with me not really knowing how Disperse would sound like as a band, I found myself listening to a very melodic yet fluently progressive release in Living Mirrors. You can stick it on in the background and not find it overbearing in the very slightest or sit and pick apart the various layers that build up each and every track. I guess given that Jakub's solo work would be my sole context, my only expectation was that the album had a chance of descending into the 'Jakub Żytecki show' with the young guitarist showing off at every opportunity which turned out to be completely unfounded. While as expected, he has moments leaving you wondering how any normal person could even begin to do that with an electric guitar, he shows considerable restraint in composition, opting instead to build up a platform for the vocals with the rest of the band with clever use of instrumental layering, ambience and a maturity not often found in barely 20 year old guitar prodigies. In that way, Rafał Biernacki is allowed to shine, possibly even more than Jakub himself, as he is more often than not the one carrying the main melody of each vocal track. In Living Mirrors, I think you will find yourself listening to an early contender for one of the top albums of the year, made particularly enjoyable for me by the more melodic focus it presents. It will not be an obvious choice of listening for those of you who prefer your music uncompromisingly heavy but for anyone looking for a great progressive record to set the standard so early into the year, you need not look further.
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