Sound — 9
Ever since Mudvayne broke on the scene with their joke "it's math metal, bring your abacus," bands the world over have spent a lot of time and effort making good on bringing that idea to reality. Perhaps one of the best examples of this came in the form of the UK band SikTh, whose first two albums are pretty much required listening for modern metalheads. And while their influence has been shown in many forms from djent pioneers like Periphery, the punk-meets-metal approach of Protest the Hero, and proggy alt-rock like Dorje, one band that's been clearly continuing SikTh's style in a faithful way is Milan-based progressive metal band Destrage. Featuring vocalist Paolo Colavolpe, guitarists Matteo Di Gioia and Ralph Guido Salati, bassist Gabriel Pignata, and drummer Federico Paulovich, Destrage's fourth album, "A Means to No End," is a high-energy barrage of intense musicianship, catchy melodies, and all-around awesome moments.
Following up their amazing 2014 album "Are You Kidding Me? No.," the band continues their no-compromise approach to music, starting things off with an atmospheric opener, the album's title track, which builds up in intensity in its three minute length, with swelling guitar bends and pulsating hand percussion giving way to a direct segue into the album's first taste of metal riffage, the crushing "Don't Stare at the Edge," which balances its hard-hitting riffage with a deliciously catchy chorus. The track features some incredibly technical playing and passages in 7/8 time, but it never feels like the technicality infringes on the band's ability to write a good song. "Symphony of the Ego" mixes this technicality with punk rock intensity, and also has a wonderful chorus. This is a track that's pretty much guaranteed to get you chair-moshing. "Silent Consent"'s shuffle rhythms give it a bit of a Protest the Hero feel, and the melodic vocals are great. The bridge riffs are incredible, as well. "The Flight" is a bit more proggy, going through many moods and tempos, and featuring an absolutely tremendous guitar solo.
"Dreamers" brings in a bit of classic thrash-metal attitude in the intro, before becoming a really beautiful, melodic song in the chorus. It's probably on this track that the band's SikTh influence shows most prominently, with its distinct abrupt switches between intense metal riffs and screamed vocals to gorgeous, major-key melodic choruses, complete with tapping flourishes in the guitar riffs. "Ending To A Means" is a more melodic, nearly psychedelic instrumental with slide guitars and a pulsing 6/8 rhythm that shifts gears halfway through to something a bit more ambient with just guitars swelling in and out with feedback and strummed chords. It almost feels like a bit of a bookend to the first half of the album, in title and in tone, and almost gives the album a distinct "side A/side B" feel. This track segues into the proggy "Peacefully Lost," which has many wonderful chord progressions and melodies. It's a very triumphant-sounding song, and it's one of my favourites on the album, as a lot of the ingredients that make up this band's sound are put to the most effective use on this song, from the odd meters to the incredible guitar playing and the amazing vocals.
"Not Everything Is Said" starts with a beautiful introduction, before going into a more SikTh-esque territory, and even features some deeper guttural death metal vocals. The song's ending riff, while simpler than a lot of the other riffs on here, is a favourite of mine. "To Be Tolerated" brings a more typical metal sound to the album, with more melodic vocals, and a really great guitar solo. "Blah Blah's" intro riff might be the quirkiest and "math-iest" on the record, but there's still a really good song in there, with great melodies and awesome playing. The album closes with two great numbers, the largely-acoustic "A Promise, a Debt" that builds up with slide guitar harmonies to the epic "Abandon to Random," which feels like a bit of a musical and lyrical summary of the entire album. It's a very proggy way to end the album, with some great atmospheres and riffs.
The production on this record is spot-on, nothing sounds overdone or too loud, and the dynamics feel like they were quite well-done for a metal album. It's not a difficult album to listen to in its entirety, either. The playing on this record is world-class, and there isn't a track that doesn't feel like the band came up short in that regard.
Lyrics — 9
On "A Means to No End," Destrage find room to talk in their lyrics about philosophy, ethics, and have been described by the band as being "quite agnostic." Guitarist Matteo Di Gioia explains on the band's website that their lyrics "deal with the wonderful bliss and the terrible curse of the question, the doubt, knowing and not knowing, understanding and not even noticing." The band also mixes this with more political and ethical concerns, such as in the song "Symphony of the Ego": "Sweet symphony of the ego/Come sing, I permit/I write and publish/I own all the rights/Under the spotlight/I play and conduct/Yeah/Starving for attention/Starving for glances/We feast on a consent-flavored surface/Devour thin air and dust/We end up eaten alive/By the concern of eating too much."
Paolo Colavolpe's vocals are incredible throughout the album, with his harsh vocals contrasting his clean vocals quite well. His clean vocals range from gentle to powerful, and he has a rather impressive range and tone with them. His harsh vocals are, of course, reminiscent of those from the band SikTh, but the band also does manage to differentiate themselves by occasionally using more guttural death metal-style vocals, albeit quite sparingly. There are also a lot of great harmony parts throughout the record, and Destrage shows itself to be quite capable of writing very excellent vocal harmonies.
Overall Impression — 9
While I was only introduced to this band on their last album, 2014's "Are You Kidding Me? No.," this album feels like it comes from some place or some band with a long pedigree, and while I hate to use the term "modern classic," this is an album that feels about as close to that paradigm as I can think of this year. With a truly wonderful band that mixes technical brutality with gentle melodicism and progressive atmospheres, and a vocalist whose shapeshifting voice takes that music to some truly wonderful places, this is an album that feels like a surprise masterpiece of 2016. The growth of the band since "Kidding" has been amazing, and hearing this wonderfully constructed album has me already excited to hear their next release. As well, this album has a strange thing that seems to be missing from a lot of similar-sounding bands that mix quirkiness and technicality, and that's a sort of cohesive album structure that makes the album feel like a complete work. From the sort of separating tracks that split the album in half to the properly-segue'd "siamese twin" songs, it's an album that actually flows properly. It's gotten better every time I've listened to it so far, and if you're into adventurous progressive metal, you're going to love this release and I can't recommend it enough. While I won't give it a straight 10/10 rating, consider this 9 a very, very strong one, and this album to be a very strong contender for Album Of The Year in my books.