Tempest by TelepathyRelease date: March 31, 2017
Label: Golden Antenna Records
Telepathy are a band that have managed the unusual feat of appealing to most of my music taste at one point or another. On their previous album 12 Areas, the Colchester band traded in an unusually technical post-metal – instrumental, but with an attention span roughly equivalent to that of a five year old in a supermarket – as such the big riffs and monotony that can mar all but the best post-metal albums was gloriously absent and the album fairly zipped by on a sea of invention and clever technical arrangements. To their credit, the lack of a vocalist was never really felt, and they backed up the record with some blistering live performances. Skip on three years, and we have a new album, a definitive line-up with a new (ish) bass player, and a new, more evolved sound. So, how does the appropriately named Tempest stack up, and does it live up to my high hopes?
The first thing that hits the listener is the change in tone from prior records – noticeably darker and more melancholic in feel, the overall sound has matured significantly, moving away from the endearingly schizophrenic sounds of their last record and focusing on building progressive soundscapes on the backbone of monolithic riffs, taking in flavours of Neurosis, Mastodon, Red Sparowes and Light Bearer along the way. The more eccentric edges have, for the most part, been trimmed away, with what feels like a genuine tonal narrative for each of the tracks, and a dynamic, emotive range that 12 Areas hinted at, but never really managed to actually achieve. In this way, Tempest is a real evolution for Telepathy.
This is a far more measured beast than anything that Telepathy have put their name to before. The band have learned how to take their foot off the gas and let structures breathe in a way that they haven’t before; ‘Echo of Souls’ is a spectacular example of this, demonstrating a wonderful sense of restraint in building the riffs and rhythms, using clever percussion to build the intensity to a peak, before releasing the first major surprise of the record – an impassioned screamed vocal nestled deep in the mix. It’s a perfect moment, but the band then wisely dial back and allow the song to ease down into a beautiful post-rock ending. ‘Apparition’ starts brutally heavy, more reminiscent of a black metal band than anything that could remotely be considered post-metal, and riffs fly left and right, into a wonderful melancholic refrain, before dropping into a gloriously delicate mid-section; dropping to almost nothing and building a quiet guitar part gently before breaking into one of the more intense moments of the album to finish the song.
‘Water Divides the Tide’ begins on a gentle refrain that evokes Pink Floyd, before adding a shambling slow rhythm that gradually increases in intensity; this song actually brings in a number of the tricks that ‘old’ Telepathy did in that it jumps about through a number of riffs and rhythms across the piece, but does so in a manner that feels more fluid and structured, demonstrating a maturity that three years of touring and making music together has clearly brought. This is aided by the more muted production provided by Jaime Gomez Arellano, who has created a thicker, more monolithic sound, particularly in the dense guitars, and pounding drums, whilst still allowing the airier guitar tones the space to shine and enabling the inherent dynamism to come clearly to the fore.
As I’ve already stated, this record represents significant evolution in the sound and approach for Telepathy; Tempest is a snapshot of that evolution in progress. The risk with capturing a snapshot at a point in time is that you’ll end up with a blurred picture, an image between two states – which is what happens on a small number of jarring instances on Tempest. A good example is on ‘Smoke From Distant Fires’; the song initially capitalises on a subtle building introduction track ‘First Light’ with a lurching, powerful doom riff. The first minute is glorious, building the riff and layering on post-rock vibes to create something hugely emotive. Then, at about the 1.20 ish mark a short period of blast beats and black metal picking, which lasts all of 4 seconds, comes absolutely out of nowhere; it is jarring and pulls the listener out of the experience, something that Telepathy then have to work hard to correct. On 12 Areas, this would have been absolutely in keeping, on Tempest it doesn’t fit. To be fair, they bring the listener back with a quiet post-rock section, but the whole issue could easily have been avoided; although the band have moved forward in so many ways, they’ve not been able to completely let go of their wilful tendencies – in this case this is frustrating as the record as a whole is a hugely immersive experience and these little moments mar that. Let’s not get too hung up on this though; this is a minor niggle in what is otherwise a very, very good album.
I’m trying to be as objective as I can with this release; the reality is that I think this record is a great piece of art from end to end. I have listened to the MP3s almost constantly since I was sent them and have not once gotten bored; in fact I continue to hear new ideas every time I listen to it. Reviewing the album has been a frustrating experience, if only because examining individual songs doesn’t feel like the right way to do it; it feels like a complete narrative arc realises across the album and to pick apart elements of the record does not do the whole justice.
Overall Tempest is an emotive experience that aims to connect with the listener at a far more visceral level than prior efforts, and for the most part it absolutely hits the mark, creating a true journey, from the quiet build of ‘First Light’, to the squalling, droning sludge of ‘Metanoia’s closing bars. Minor niggles aside, this record is beautiful, at times chaotic, immersive, crushing, utterly engaging and fans of intelligent, emotional music should seek this record out as soon as they can.