Progressive rock/metal can be a tricky genre to do well. Combining pseudo-classical composition, ethereality and experimentation with riff-filled ferocity runs a considerable risk of turning pretentious and self-indulgent. But done well, it can create an otherworldly experience. And this is an ability DISPERSE have in spades, creating music that, as the cover of their new album Foreword reflects perfectly, feels like being bathed in golden light. Which makes it unfortunate when elements of their sound begin to get away from them as the album progresses.
What sets DISPERSE apart from the masses of other progressive rock and metal bands is that they place a lot more emphasis on the ambient and ethereal aspects of their music, including their use of audio samples. Initially the ambient aspects are wonderful. The chorus of children on album opener Stay enhances the beauty and atmosphere brilliantly and helps make the song immediately arresting and hypnotic. However, despite this very promising start, the ambience, particularly the audio samples, slowly become more predominant and try to take over, and then it’s only the excellent riffs throughout that stop this whole enterprise from turning into full on dream pop.
Apparently guitarist Jakub Zytecki was also responsible for the samples, which is unusual since it’s not often that one member is responsible for both the best and worst part of a bands sound. A lot of the samples are just irritating and superfluous, and are flat out detrimental to a couple of the songs. For example, one sample that sounds like someone on helium making stupid noises, only mildly present on Bubbles, reappears with a vengeance on Sleeping Ivy and single-handedly stops this otherwise gorgeous song from being one of the album highlights, because it’s used so repetitively and sounds so out of place with the rest of the music that you end up anticipating it in irritation. It feels more like someone poking you whilst you’re trying to enjoy the song rather than part of the song itself.
Another problem is Rafal Biernacki’s vocals, which are technically good, but lack any real character or individuality. It’s just fairly typical and generic progressive singing: melodic and fluid and slightly laced with effects. If you’ve heard either of TESSERACT’s singers, Daniel Tompkins or Ashe O’Hara, then you’ve heard the same style done a lot better (particularly Ashe, whose voice would have suited this music brilliantly). Furthermore, the discernible lyrics are pretty forgettable and, in the case of Stay, rather cheesy.
However, whilst DISPERSE certainly have their flaws, when they manage to balance the dynamics and elements of their sound, the results are undeniably wonderful. This is most apparent on the last three tracks Neon, album standout Gabriel, and Kites, which features a really nice atmospheric opening courtesy of rhythm section Mike Malyan and Bartosz Wilk and touches on ALCEST towards the end. It is during these three songs that their undeniably strongest element, Zytecki’s guitar work, is given more room to breathe. However the listener might receive DISPERSE’s music, it is impossible to deny that Zytecki knows his way around a fretboard. His work throughout the album is staggering as he moves between spacy, trippy riffs, deep, rumbling ethereality and polyrhythmic jolts of energy flawlessly and with technical expertise, providing just enough surges to keep the listener invested for the duration of the whole album. Just listen to the gorgeous lightening-speed riff he lays down at the end of Tomorrow, and his interplay with the other instruments, particularly Wilk’s bass and Biernacki’s keyboards, is consistently wonderful.
In summary, DISPERSE are certainly accomplished technically and more then capable of crafting a hypnotic soundscape (largely thanks to Zytecki), but miscalculated use the ambience that sets their sound apart quickly becomes a hindrance as the album progresses. If you want better versions of what this band does, there are quite a lot of them, such as Ashe O’Hara’s current band VOICES FROM THE FUSELAGE.
Foreword is out now via Season of Mist.
Like DISPERSE on Facebook.