A Perfect Life with a View of the Swamp

  • Miocene
  • Corporate Risk
  • 2005-05-30

Miocene’s debut album was exciting, but had little to mark it out from other British metal bands like Vacant Stare and Mahumodo. But in their following release, Cellular Memory, they made a startling departure, unleashing a forest of interweaving synthesiser loops and intricate drum patterns, with clarinet and horn harmonies phasing in and out. It had more in common with DJ Shadow remixing John Adams than it did with most metal bands. With such a big leap in maturity and creativity between their first and second albums, I couldn’t wait to see what their third offering would have in store.

During the opening track I started to worry. It wasn’t bad; it just sounded like they’d reverted to doing generic metal — One Minute Silence sprang to mind, with the distorted, breathily aggressive vocal line, and driving bass and drums. The second track was a bit of a relief, with different keyboard loops swelling in and out, over the constantly changing drumbeat that has become Miocene’s trademark. They drop comfortably into a downbeat rhythm, with a meditative Rhodes melody picking out the tranquil harmonies below.

…what sounds like a fruit machine that’s been converted to play gabber

It’s back to metal after that, in a style that they maintain throughout the album. Menacing guitar undertones complement an angry vocal line, with melodic shouting and strong similarities to Maynard James Keenan. The drumming alternates between a forceful but creative thumping, and ever—changing fast tapping sounds. They switch between different ideas and time signatures at will, with a complexity that means you can’t stop listening for a minute in case you miss something. Other highlights include what sounds like a fruit machine that’s been converted to play gabber, a trip hop song with rapped vocals that sound like Tricky, and a sample of someone explaining the problems facing the creation of art under a capitalist hegemony.

One problem is that the lyrics sound interesting, but are very hard to make out over the vocal distortion. This is most noticeable on track three — it sounds like a polemic on US foreign policy, but it’s hard to be sure; the musical aesthetic (of the overdriven voice) obscures the content of the message they’re trying to convey. It seems to me that if they’ve decided to make this compromise, they should consider separately publishing their writing on their website as well.

…nothing seems out of place at any given point

If each track were listened to independently, this could sound like a compilation album, as some of the material is so disparate. It’s to Miocene’s credit that everything flows completely naturally. Seamless production sees consecutive tracks merge from Tool-esque math-riffing, to ugly, hardcore jungle, (sometimes with a readily discernible time signature, sometimes not) using crashing, squelching drum samples overlaid with Alec Empire white noise and electro-screeching. Nothing seems out of place at any given point, with the exception of the last track, which is a jingly country song — apart from when it’s rudely interrupted halfway through, by a five second burst of gabber.

The only disappointing thing about this album is that it doesn’t feel like a progression from their previous album — it sounds more like the missing link that shows how they got from the first to the second. A regression then. And although A Perfect Life… incorporates a greater breadth of ideas than Cellular Memory, few of them are developed with as much care and attention, so that this album lacks the intense beauty and superior orchestration of its predecessor.

But if this album is to be judged on its own merits, then it has to be said that there are more ideas in these sixty minutes than many other bands could muster in an entire lifetime. For this reason it’s impossible to complain about a band with such a zest for experimenting with diverse sounds, and with such a talent for splicing them together.

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