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Chest Rockwell – The Existentialist

Chest Rockwell
The Existentialist
by Santiago Puyol at 17 May 2021, 4:39 PM

CHEST ROCKWELL is a solo project turned band turned solo project again, formed by multi-instrumentalist Josh Hines in Bowling Green, Kentucky. "The Existentialist" is Hines’ second album as fully undertaking CHEST ROCKWELL’s duties, and the fifth under that moniker. The music here is a mix of Hard Rock with tinges of Prog, Punk and a slight Black Metal influence creeping in on the guitar playing mostly.

The album opens with three straightforward, Hard Rock tunes that sets a pattern the album sometimes gets stuck into. Opener "Horns Of Dilemma" acts as a blueprint, with its Hard Rock-ish vocals lacking in power. Proggy riffing and the slightly Blackened guitar style adds interesting shades of colour to the song, even if the sound is quite clear and not too distorted. Things end abrupty after some tasteful soloing.

"Bystander At The Switch" rides on a nasty bass and a nice driving rhythm. It does little more, feeling a tad repetitive at times. "Veil Of Ignorance" follows, another Hard Rock-tingled track that draws from BLACK SABBATH and RAINBOW in the songwriting department. The instrumental break takes a page or two from Black Metal, repurposing genre idioms into unrelated context. The album's pattern is crystal clear: a similar song structure that always leads to a technically impressive guitar solo.

Thankfully, the Sludgy "Salience Of The Actor" messes with the pace in a good way, as the album started to get stale with repetition. Interesting guitar layering. The bridge is quite anthemic. Production values work against the music and it becomes unbearably clear here, it truly feels like Hines went out of his way to time travel and record in the past as the album cover suggests in cheeky manner.

"Acceptance Of The Absurd" finally shows us the Prog, with its metronomic drumming and playful progginess. It moves around time signatures, brimming with tension. There is a much needed injection of energy, almost Punkish in nature. At times it feels like a lost THE MARS VOLTA instrumental, filled with sudden bursts of fast-paced playing. It also balances repetition and change neatly, never becoming too samey nor lacking cohesion. The best track in the album.

After a dense, bass-heavy intro, "Locus Of Control" moves into a bit of a balladesque feel on the verses, sadly the chorus lacks power to make every piece fits together. The song never gets to truly explodes, either via melodramatic soaring vocals, a whiny falsetto or simply harsh contrast. It stands in direct opposites with "Transference Interference", a Latin-esque, funky, groove-driven Heavy Prog tune. The Thrashier vocal approach here fits better, the effects on the vocals actually help rather than detract from the experience.

The synths on "The Other's Look" make the song stand out for sure but also make for a confusing change. Having more synths previously could have really helped with mood setting and building on previous songs. It also makes the production issues, especially the quality of the vocals, more glaring. It does feature the most memorable solo and instrumental breakdown on the album, though.

Closer "I Was The Traveler", together with the previous track, makes it evident that the album could have benefitted from extended instrumentation. The orchestral synth arrangement is beyond beautiful and creates an amazing mood paired with the guitar layering. Second best track on the album. Not having vocals works better, both from a production and songwriting point of view.

I don’t want to sound overtly critical. There is a lot to like on "The Existentialist", but there are some issues I simply cannot ignore. The most pressing matter is the production. The quality of the vocal recording is the most glaring problem, but the mix is weird in several places, maybe due to EQ-ing issues, considering instruments get too loud or too soft at times they shouldn't. The dynamics are also not properly explored (sections that should be soft are too loud and viceversa), and the quality of the recording varies too much (bass and synths are nice, drums and guitar are okay, vocals are the main problem).

The songwriting is uneven, more interesting when free of the Hard Rock aspirations of the more lyrically-driven tracks. The lack of hooks does not help in that sense. The Prog instrumentals make it quite clear how much CHEST ROCKWELL could benefit from moving completely into that way, as Hines has the skills to pull it off. His voice is also used to good effect when he goes on a more conversational style, more akin to Thrash vocals rather than trying to go the Hard Rock/Blues Rock singer way, something "Transference Interference" makes quite evident. He could explore more of that too.

In the end, "The Existentialist" shows passion and potential, but it feels like it is being underused. The talent is there and the instrumental Prog jams are a truly fun experience. Maybe next time around things will look better. For now, judge for yourself. If you don’t mind the production values, you might find the experience quite enjoyable.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 5
Production: 6

3 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Horns Of Dilemma
2. Bystander At The Switch
3. Veil Of Ignorance
4. Salience Of The Actor
5. Acceptance Of The Absurd
6. Locus Of Control
7. Transference Interference
8. The Other’s Look
9. I Was The Traveler
Lineup:
Josh Hines – Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keyboard, Vocals
Record Label: Independent
     


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