The Pitch: The self-titled debut album from Arkansas progressive metalcore outfit Levels via Famined Records. FFO: Wage War, Volumes, Currents
What I Like: Levels plays with a number of different styles over its tight duration; the primary of which is proggy and djent-heavy as displayed on tracks like "Disorder" and "Alive." Riffs are uncomplicated, but fetching and memorable. Rather than going for speed in their technicality, the band takes the Meshuggah route with slower grooves that still play with your timing expectations. This head-bobbing low end is further complimented by the layering of echoing, earworm leads a la Kardashev that range in tone from spooky ("May Flower") to cathartic ("Cosmic Waves"). The resulting duality is one that really takes these simple compositions to a higher level.
But wait, there's more! While the band incorporates some clean singing to offset the The Plot In You-esque screams, it's used pretty sparingly and doesn't really become a theme until the second half. These stylistic shifts continue with "Bloodstream," a breakdown-heavy deathcore track with little interest in melody, and its polar opposite, "Doppelgänger," which is a drifting post-metal instrumental. But if one track really stands out as the greatest departure, it's "Guilt." Featuring the rhymes of K. Toomer, this is straight-up rap metal; the likes of which I have not heard since Hed(pe) was relevant.
Critiques: All of the above to say that while I appreciate the diversity on display on this album, being a jack of all trades doesn't mean that every project is a success. Regarding "Guilt," it's not an awful track, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I like rap and have a soft spot for nü-metal, but I just don't feel like the styles are able to coalesce here. "Bloodstream" is also a bit of a dud, doing little serve the rest of the album with its generic approach. Finally, on a more general note, the clean vocals are decent, but don't elevate the music in any special way.
The Verdict: Levels strike me as a very talented band still searching for their sound, and this self-titled effort serves as a platform for that exploration. While I dig that these guys are already taking risks, it seems like their strengths are best served on the more progressive end of the spectrum. Keep playing with new ideas, but the next step is honing in on what works and weeding out what doesn't. In any case, solid album. Check it out.
Flight's Fav's: May Flower, Disorder, Alive
- Review by FlightOfIcarus
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