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Metal is a wonderful genre of music, in part because of its expansiveness and versatility. It is possible to experiment within the metal sound to a great extent, to the point that you can have two metal bands from differing subgenres that sound absolutely nothing alike. This is especially evident within the avant-garde section of metal, where you can find such disparate groups as Arcturus, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Mr. Bungle, and Voivod. uneXpect are perhaps lesser known than the aforementioned bands, but their previous album In A Flesh Aquarium certainly established them as a force to be reckoned with, with its combination of harsh vocals, female vocals, violin, electronics, and dexterous basswork. Yet, for all that it did right, it was an extremely inaccessible piece of music, often devolving into extreme weirdness at the cost of the music.
In the five years since In A Flesh Aquarium, uneXpect have apparently been working a great deal on their songwriting, and to great effect. Fables Of The Sleepless Empire is a massive improvement over an already-excellent album in practically every way; no small feat, there. And the songwriting is the primary reason for this. Where previously uneXpect would sometimes seem to lose sight of where a song was going in its meanderings, now they remain razor-sharp without losing any of the experimentation that makes them what they are. Before, they reminded me of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum more than anything else, but on Fables Of The Sleepless Empire there’s a lot more Stolen Babies and Diablo Swing Orchestra present, with the song structures seeming a lot more coherent.
Musically, they seem to have honed their already considerable talents to a fine point, starting with bassist ChaotH, whose 9-string bass plays a key role in the band’s sound. He’s in fine form on Fables Of The Sleepless Empire from the beginning, providing some of the most varied bass sounds this side of Nuclear Rabbit’s Jean Baudin and generally setting the tone. Equally important are the vocals of Leïlindel, who has gone from something of a co-vocalist role on In A Flesh Aquarium to more of a lead role here. She has definitely risen to the challenge, and while she doesn’t have quite the versatility of, say, Pin-Up Went Down’s Asphodel, she more than holds her own, nearly stealing the show in her own right and contributing some harsh vocals to boot.
And let’s not forget the rest of the band. Guitarists/vocalists Syriak and Artagoth combine for some amazingly complex riffs, textures, and leads, with a dash of acoustic here and a pinch of circus-like melody there. Blaise Borboën-Léonard provides violin quite ably, adding yet another layer of complexity to the proceedings and adding a great deal of beauty to the music. Drummer Landryx handles a great number of tempos and paces with ease, seamlessly going from double-bass blasting to more syncopated sections to more relentless pounding. And the album wouldn’t be complete without the electronic contributions of the band’s former keyboardist Exod, who left the band after recording but before the album’s release. The sheer breadth of the range of sounds he adds is staggering.
I could try to really describe the music here, but to be honest, it would be a futile exercise. There is simply so much happening here that it would be like trying to describe a Van Gogh painting to a blind man. You simply cannot do justice to the original. Suffice it to say that the music here is incredible, dense, beautiful, focused, and chaotic, all at once, but there’s so much more to it. I had some high hopes for this album after hearing ‘Orange Vigilantes’ a while back, but this album has exceeded, nay, shattered those expectations. It is an utter masterpiece and if, at year’s end, I were to find it perched atop my list of favorites from the year, I would not find that at all, ahem… unexpected.
Originally posted at The Number Of The Blog