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Rest Among Ruins - Fugue Award winner

Rest Among Ruins
by Daniel Fox at 30 May 2015, 5:51 AM

“If we can’t figure out what to call it… We’ll just go with Progressive Metal.”

That kinda-sorta-not-really-pretty-much sums up the debut album by Baltimore metallers REST AMONG RUINS. Conceived quite some time ago as a studio band, they are comprised of Mike Semesky performing vocals, rhythm guitar and bass, with Ben Schmitz on lead guitars and Geoff Palmer on drums; the same Mike Semesky we should know from RAUNCHY, INTERVALS and THE H.A.A.R.P. MACHINE. This project, however, is a completely different beast, compared to what we’re used to from Mike.

First came the songs. Back in the day, Mike was employed at a psychiatric hospital, during which tenure he met a patient that made quite a significant impact on his life and the music he would make. This patient, diagnosed with an incredibly rare case of ‘disassociative fugue’ (the album title; you’re getting a little warmer), in which his mind created a separate, projected reality. In Mike’s words, the person was experiencing both reality, and fantasy, at the same time, where the lines between reality and dreams become, in a way, blurred. I think I’ve got it down; I could also be completely wrong. I am still  trying to get my head around what I learned, and around the album itself. Essentially, the new album by his new band, aptly-titled “Fugue”, is a 14-track concept album that was inspired by this story, and is written and arranged in a way that alludes to the person’s experiences.

“Fugue” is one of those albums with, essentially, infinite replayability, because it is a piece of music that has been molded around something that cannot even be contained or confined, let alone explained in a linear sequence. As such, the songs can be listened to in order of track listing, or in any order you want; people who buy physical copies will, however, find an order of listening ‘suggested’ by the band. Fans of TOOL’s “Lateralus” era will love this.

Musically speaking… Well, is it a djent album? A lot of ‘Progressive Metal’ that comes out these days is essentially going to either sound like DREAM THEATER or PERIPHERY. The album is packed with heavy sequences, melodic sequences, atmospheric sequences, aggressive sequences and soft sequences and, as Mike puts it, instrumented in a way that adapts to changes that occur throughout the story. The stellar production is there; the quasi-sci-fi guitars are there, the trippy rhythmic sequences are there, but gone are the thick-mixed single-string tremors. Proto-djent? Maybe even just a little? I suppose if a band can’t be readily categorised, and yet sounds nothing like other bands that likewise can’t be categorised, it is at the very least progressive music, and that’s where music, as an artform, really gets to shine and evolve.

Off the bat, the album begins with the technical and heavy, “Beyond The Storm”. Rife with trippy and choppy riffs that are accented with plenty (and I mean a hell of a fuckload of) deedlies (shorthand for masterful lead work). Mike’s trademark mid and raspy high screams are instantly recognisable; his clean vocals, mostly heard on RAUNCHY’s latest album, explore much wider range than before and is thus able to convey whatever the hell he wants. As do many newer ‘Progressive’ Metal bands to have come out of the US, parts of the album would indeed appeal to the nation’s massive following of Metalcore/Metal (does that not sound like an enormous oxymoron?) fusion, particularly one of my favourite tracks on the album, “Before You Speak”. I don’t have to explain to you what a “Metalcore moment” sounds like, but the blend of heavy riffs with painstakingly-emotive melodies and vocals with catchy choruses speaks ‘volumes’. Yeah, I went there.

“Reach The Edge” is a rather special track on the album; exactly half way through, it also features guest vocals from a friend and musical colleague of Mike’s, Aleka Farha. Originally a pop singer, putting her voice on a Metal album was an excellent decision; it always seems to work. Compare a band like AMARANTHE to NIGHTWISH, and you shall hear how a pop-trained vocalist brings a completely different addition to the metal smorgasbord. It doesn’t always have to be for everyone, but what a beautiful niche it is; the fact that many people won’t have heard of this woman in the metal scene makes the song all the more intriguing. Creating a powerful duet with Mike, she also dominates the verses and puts a bevel on the edge (don’t even) of the razor-sharp riffs.

If you’re looking for something a little more mellow by now (it doesn’t worry me, I like metal in my spaghetti), absorb yourself in “Siren City”, where the guitars and vocals take a little step back and take a moment to float in the air, or float in a stream of consciousness. Eventually it breaks out into a slow-moving, but one hell of a big bang, with huge chords and huge belts, and riffs that work to uplift rather than to pummel and deconstruct. Later on (and by that, essentially the rest of the album) we’re presented by new soundscapes of familiar technicality, but each time a different flavour with different chord progressions and different moods, with “Stranded In The Balcony”, at times, coming off as dramatic and lurching, roped back in with infectious choruses, with the grooves taking to more of a liquid state than a staccatted attack present in some of the heavier tracks.

This is probably the best Progressive-Proto-Aluminum-Sheet-Metal album I have ever heard, and you can’t help but to love it at least for one reason or another. If you’re in it for a metal musician’s sake, the riffs, melodies, instrumentation, arrangement and vocals are pretty much anything you could wish for in a Progressive Metal album (no blastbeats; I’m so sorry). From a storytelling point of view, it sounds like how an incredibly, outlook-changing book reads; hard to put down, with repeated experiences that uncover new details. Most of all, it’s something that hasn’t really been done before, nor is it something that can be replicated. This band is the musical definition of an enigma; just buy the album and listen to the story, over and over again, until you start to get it. Then continue listening, because chances are, it’s a journey you can’t step out of and say “I get it now; I’ve heard enough.”

5 Star Rating

1. Beyond The Storm
2. In Another’s Skin
3. Before You Speak
4. Sign To Surrender
5. Bled Letter
6. In Focus
7. Reach The Edge \[feat Aleka Farha]
8. Nothing Else
9. Cleanse The Sky
10. Siren City
11. Everyones Glowing Home
12. Guide My Way
13. Stranded In The Balcony
14. Fugue
Mike Semesky - Vocals, Rhythm Guitars, Bass
Ben Schmitz - Lead Guitar
Goeff Palmer - Drums
Record Label: Independent


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Edited 01 February 2023

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