Since the realm of tech and djent began its significant upward trend in the mid-noughties, and its subsequent interjection into the fore of the modern metal scene, countless bands have emerged and eventually found themselves in the midst of a more popular and well-respected sphere. The likes of PERIPHERY, TESSERACT, and THE CONTORTIONIST are all apt examples of this, but also very much fitting the bill is Chicago-based quartet VEIL OF MAYA, who burst onto the scene in 2006 with their unique brand of deathcore-based djent, and have since been able to develop a strong discography and a dedicated fan-base.
Not only is this outfit’s back-catalogue bordering on being fairly extensive, but it also showcases some poignant changes of direction, the most significant of which stemming from vocalist Brandon Butler‘s post-Eclipse departure, and the arrival of Lukas Maygar in his stead, which acted as the main catalyst for a stylistic change on 2015’s Matriarch. The sonic alteration during this period was vast, but was for the most part received very well by fans of the band and the wider scene in general. As of the present day, the band are preparing for the launch of their sixth album False idol, and (perhaps more importantly) their second attempt under the vocal reign of Maygar; the question that looms is whether this outfit will stick or twist, perhaps making drastic musical progressions once again, or returning to some of their older roots. Let’s take a closer look and find out.
Without even needing to consider the context of the rest of this album, the get-go is thoroughly satisfying, and this should apply in particular to fans of the band’s older style. Following Lull, a short but suspenseful synth-based instrumental intro, we’re mercilessly introduced to opening song Fracture, which showcases some of the band’s heaviest material to date. The introductory section, chaotic and spontaneous, feels as though it was written as a homage to VEIL OF MAYA classic and fan-favourite Unbreakable, and appears to be the perfect rebuttal to the backlash that arose as a result of their recent change of pace. The following section follows suit with absolutely no reservations, diving into a groovy but devastatingly heavy breakdown, accompanied by a healthy portion of the band’s signature off-key, high-pitched notes and math-inspired riffs. Barring a brief chorus section featuring Lukas Maygar‘s excellently delivered clean vocals, this song across the board seems to represent nothing short of sheer heaviness, and this is something that we see time and again throughout False Idol.
Having said this, something else that comes across as particularly noteworthy in this opening track is the drastically increased use of electronic and synth-based elements; we’ve certainly heard this from VEIL OF MAYA before, but from the very off, it seems to be something that has now become a key element of the overall sound. Whilst often adding another dimension and an extra iota of character to certain sections, this is unfortunately an aspect that, due to its artificial nature, contributes significantly to lessening the record’s sense of authenticity and fidelity.
Given VEIL OF MAYA‘s abrupt introduction of clean vocals on the last record, vocals will undoubtedly be a topic at the fore of people’s interest when analysing the new material. As it happens, this is something that feels like one of the strongest aspects of False Idol, with front-man Maygar once again displaying a thoroughly impressive range of screams and clean singing, and providing the bulk of the character for many of the record’s tracks. The harsh vocals are aggressive and well-delivered throughout, contributing to the creation of what is undoubtedly some of VEIL OF MAYA‘s heaviest material to date; equally, the cleans are proficiently written and powerfully executed, bringing passion and sentiment to many of the songs, and making for a handful of considerably memorable hooks. However, the notion of this seems to be somewhat bittersweet; due to the power and prowess in Maygar‘s ability and performances, it feels as though a sizeable chunk of this record has been tailored around him, which leads to the instrumentation taking a notable backseat during many of the choruses and main hook sections, and leading to what end up feeling like vocal ballads. Examples of this arise in tracks such as Manichee, Citadel, and Livestream, and whilst this obviously doesn’t constitute the majority of the record, it certainly provokes a feeling of sincere disappointment in several places.
To take aim at another of this record’s broadest features, the overall mixing and mastering is certainly worth analysing. Whilst this is something that certain listeners will certainly take pleasure in hearing, the production on False Idol seems to come across as grossly over-polished and refined, leaving many sections almost entirely void of any feeling. Perhaps this is the ever-looming influence of Sumerian Records playing its part once again, or perhaps its simply a feature of this band’s evolving sound; regardless, its certainly a shame that many of the songs on this record aren’t able to convey that sense of rawness and grit that albums such as Eclipse were able to. This is something that directly ties in with the aforementioned exaggeration of electronic influences that has manage to seep into the overall sound of this outfit. In a nutshell, the material on this record feels severely over-produced and unfortunately seems to take VEIL OF MAYA one step closer to being yet another Sumerian botch-job.
Speaking more broadly, this is not a bad album. What False Idol is able to accomplish very well is reconciling some of the most significant aspects of this band’s roots, namely the wealth of math-core riffing, and the brutality that was sorely missed on Matriarch. Furthermore, certain individual elements are able to shine in abundance as they have done in the past, including Lukas Maygar‘s impressive vocal range, and Marc Okubo‘s vast array of technical riffing, allowing the songs to remain engaging despite their flaws. Having said this, there are undoubtedly a series a downsides that let the record down on the whole, most notably the drastically over-polished production and over-use of electronic elements, the tendency to isolate Maygar‘s vocals and subsequently allow the instrumentation to take a backseat, and in addition a generally heightened sense of formula that Matriarch was able to evade, even despite its notably melodic change of direction.
To conclude, VEIL OF MAYA have once again created something fun and entertaining, but unfortunately have not been able to avoid meandering down the increasingly generic path paved by Sumerian Records, despite making a clear attempt at revisiting some of the features that earned them the majority of their fan-base.
False Idol is set for release on October 20th via Sumerian Records.
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