By: Gaz Cloud

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Released on April 2, 2015 via Independent

Dublin six-piece The Dystopian Project embody the current progressive rock and metal crossover better than many bands. Formed in 2013, it would be easy to cite the group as having cynically jumped on the current prog bandwagon. Whether this is the case or not, the stylistic traits associated with the genre are proudly on display here. This is a crowded musical crossroads, and as such The Dystopian Project, like their many contemporaries, must be judged on the quality of their output, rather than its aesthetic position in the cannon.

There’s brevity to this, their début EP, consisting of a meagre 5 songs. Sure, four of these efforts weigh in over the five-minute mark, but the approach is at odds with a genre that favours the epic. In reality, the success or failure of this record could determine whether the band go on to release something whose length is befitting of the style they’ve adopted.

‘Broken Reality’ provides a promising opening, its introduction and coda playing up the group’s Celtic roots. The gentle beginning soon gives way to forceful rhythms, with drummer Darin Bell and bassist Ivan O’Sullivan stealing most of the plaudits for their tight, technical playing. This is far from your typical tech metal, however: the song structures and melodies are decidedly spacious in nature, and more likely to appeal to fans of Riverside than Revocation. ‘Delirium’, unfortunately, has too similar a sound-sphere to the opener to really stand out, in spite of its sing-along vocal refrains, catchy melodies and a radio-friendly runtime.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with these two tracks. Maybe it’s the production, which seemingly purposefully fails to place the vocals centre stage, and leaves the guitars sounding trebly; maybe it’s the absence of a key song to tie the project together. Either way, it’s hard to escape the feeling that something is missing. Perhaps these tracks are simply too enamoured with a classic rock and metal sound that’s been done so many times before there’s a tendency for it to sound tired before it’s begun.

‘Dystopian’ is far better. Having set the scene and established themselves in an acceptable fashion, the centrepiece sees the band take flight. Alongside a gentle piano introduction, ‘Dystopian’ sounds as much like the group’s calling card as its title would suggest. This more ambitious piece of song writing sees vocals from Antonia Close and intriguing harmonies lie next to dextrous soloing. Whether the fingers flying over the frets belong to Phil Dolan or Hytham Martin is unclear, but there’s no denying the skill of the playing, even if it’s a little bombastic at times – one should never forget the unfortunate influence Dream Theatre have over this style and sound. Bruno Do Micco’s keyboard solos fare better, demonstrating taste alongside talent.

Just as the album opened with a pair of songs, so it closes with two bedfellows – the gentle, but ultimately bleak lyric of ‘Last Innocent Man’ sitting neatly alongside ‘Winter’s Hall’. ‘Last Innocent Man’ is far from bombast, and is the album’s one genuinely moving moment. This segues into ‘Winter’s Hall’, which shares a pleading, confessional tone with the song that precedes it. Unlike ‘Last Innocent Man’, there’s an epic grandeur to the piece, which makes it a good fit for a closing number. The guitars are cranked up for a final solo and now the playing is understated and classy.

Death Leaves An Echo is far from perfect. There’s a lot of room for The Dystopian Project to grow – it’s hard to avoid the sense that in spite of the commendably excellent musicianship on display, the band are still finding their collective voice. On the basis of this promising, polished release, the group deserve an opportunity to pursue this project and deliver an album that expands on the themes explored herein.

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