Divided Sky is a great band that was formed in 1999, releasing their debut Spectral three years later. I have never heard that disc, but The Subtle Art of Failure, their new album, is simply astonishing. It should be pointed out right away, however, that it, like so many other underrated prog bands, takes a good many listens to fully impact the listener.
The Subtle Art of Failure is a great study in fusing all kinds of genres effortlessly in order to create a unique sound. Initial set of plays suggest Divided Sky are a band building their songs on a good dose of improvised jazz licks blended with highly aggressive metal riffage, pounding bass and drum awareness, and occasional atmospheric synth elements. The music is strong on melody and groove, but it is also filled with sudden shifts of dynamics, moving from fierce double bass drums and stomping guitars to slower, Tool-like arrangements. Vocalist Sean Crisden, who also shares the guitar duties with the talented Rick Banister, has a voice that may take some time getting used to, not because he is overtly weird sounding, but his enunciation and approach to melody is rather unconventional. The style of singing could be likened to that of the great Maynard Keenan, but even some die-hard Tool fans might disagree. I am also reminded of the NovAct vocalist, who was criticised by some for not sounding metal enough but actually has a very expressive and powerful singing style. Sean Crisden is also capable of injecting various styles into his singing, from very calm, clean sections to more aggressive, pain-ridden high registers, which match the flow of the songs perfectly.
Their music is rewarding both musically and instrumentally. Like a dangerous hybrid of jazz-inflected eclectism and crushing heaviness, "Impermanence" puts forth a thick guitar sound that immediately has me thinking of A Perfect Circle and balances the crunchy mix out with subtle acoustic excursions, spattering jazz cymbals, and off-meter grooves. The second track "Father" is both bigger in size and has a more prominent jazz backdrop to it. Blending synths and acoustic guitars in its intro, it is defined by weird shifts of dynamics and more slow parts that allow the vocalist's melodic wealth to shine atop neat acoustic segments. Towards the end, however, lots of jazzy guitar passages abound, combing bipolar tones, and even some drone-like soundscapess.
There is more to absorb on the album. The almost poppy vocals sung over humourous country music on "Sheep and Kings" brings to mind Faith No More's ever-changing musical nature. In the blink of an eye, the song slips into an freestyle fusion improvisation which was actually present in the mix since its start. It is just that the cheesy country guitars cut out and are replaced by a mix of piano, solo guitar and percussion. The band is unafraid to use acoustic guitars; they even have a cool instrumental interlude on the aptly titled "Bridge", which bleeds into the King's X funk of "Tremors" except that it is another instrumental. "Memory and Desire", a bit like the aforementioned "Sheep and Kings", also marries impossible sonics, but it is much heavier with its maniacal drum syncopation and demonic fretwork.
Following two midtempo songs, the band dives headlong into the punishing "Failure", a song that nearly sees the ten-minute mark. Blurry effects, bone-crushing metal riffs, addictive grooves and some industrial tones eerily evoke a combination of Tool and Meshuggah, as if they've secretly formed a new project and have also brought in some members from The Mars Volta to abuse their instruments. Scott Radway's tribal drumming and rhythmic development allows bassist Art Franklin to lay down a sturdy funk bass lick as sparse keyboards begin to swell simultaneously with Crisden's now nasally vocals. The experiment builds up to a tense breaking point, finally unleashing a drony guitar solo backed up by growling bass and pummeling drums. When the fury is over, everything retreats to its initial calmness and lets a spatial ambiance take the lead, with just single strokes of notes ringing every couple of seconds. This band writes their songs with immense control and definition, and "Failure" is one of the best songs I've heard all year.
From here on, it is all controlled chaos. The band's five-piece "Kaironomaea" masterwork is even more daring and progressive. From the industrial charge of "The Welking Eye"; to the wildly improvised funk of "Patterns"; to the more soothing jazz traces of "All We're Made of" (complete with cinematic effects); to the superb instrumental workout of "Cycles", their most technical and intense number; the band close the piece up with the vocal-based "Figure 8" in a sea of weird sounds and heavy drones.
Strange as it may seem, the last song "Coda" is evocative of the messages left on God's machine on Pain of Salvation's BE. Lots of spoken parts, static drum beats, floating synth effects, and so on.
Not not quite like any of them, this disc is highly recommended to fans of Tool, A Perfect Circle, Meshuggah, The Mars Volta, Faith No More, Mr Bungle, King's X, and any band that values experimentation and innovation.
- Sheep and Kings
- No Earthquakes, No Displacements
- Memory and Desire
- Kaironomaea: The Welking Eye
- Kaironomaea: Patterns
- Kaironomaea: All We're Made of
- Kaironomaea: Cycles
- Kaironomaea: Figure 8