Julien Damotte's Trapped is the best independent album released in recent years. I have had this disc for over a year and it has stood the test of time. Because I was so blown away by it right away, I was worried its impact would wear off and I'd tire of it. Not the case at all.
An independent release, Trapped is the solo album of French musician, Julien Damotte. Although Damotte is primarily a guitar player, he is responsible for pretty much everything on this album -- he plays bass, does the drum programming, and also sings on some of the songs. He is supported by several guest musicians, but it is Nach, the keyboard player, who makes the most critical contribution to the songs.
Damotte's guitar tone is unique. From the moment the album kicks off with the powerful instrumental "Opening Chapter," it unfurls with momentous guitar riffs churning out indelible melodies supported by ocean-sized drum and bass attacks. While the drums are programmed, they sound amazing and it is so hard to tell. I have heard many real drums that sound worse and fake -- Damotte's programming is fantastic. There are passages specifically designed for bass solos as well, most notably on "What You've Been Through." This is the kind of song whose main melody will haunt you in your dreams, literally. The way the melodies are sung by Damotte himself are infectious. Yet, the song is not carried by the vocals only. On the contrary, it is a song driven by pulverizing riffs and calculated bass arpeggios counterveiled by symphonic elements.
Former Adagio vocalist Gus Monsanto sings lead on three tracks, of which "The Voice With Your Soul" is hypnotizing. Based on a Meshuggah-like guitar theme, it boasts headbang-inducing staccato riffs merging with synths that are more so informed by Egyptian scales than typical prog metal. The instrumental trade off between guitars and keys is jawdropping. On "Eternal Love," also sung by Monsanto, Damotte's note selection and phrasing is so beautiful that he actually plays the music for eternal love. This is the most fitting song title ever.
"The Inner Struggle" is the heaviest song on the album. Matt Hussy from Damotte's other band, Madonagun, provides throaty vocals akin to Death Machine and mid-period Soilwork while Gus Monsanto holds down the lower register, as they exchange verses until Damotte's brain-melting lead solo takes centre stage. He makes no effort to hide his deep love for Ron Thal and Mattias Eklundh, except that he plays with more melody. Actually, Mattias Eklundh was kind enough to guest on the final song, "Ending Chapter." His solo is so intense that this might just be his best solo yet. The ending of the song is especially moving, as Damotte, despite not being a professional singer, recreates the main melody of the previous songs and sings his heart out.
And then there is the lead solo of "Death." It starts out with three-note piano theme before building into a devastating finale with a searing guitar solo that is so emotionally draining that it leaves you physically exhausted at the end. The way it transitions to the album closer with soft yet powerful female vocals is one of the finest moments ever committed to tape.
The album ends just as it started: with little children playing outside. This is a concept album dealing with death and is entirely autobiographical. It tells the story of Damotte's separation with his long-time girlfriend. That said, the album is organized in such a way one can enjoy each song on its own, but the palpable emotion in the music will eventually deem it necessary to check out the booklet for more information and leave you wondering what may have happened in the end.
The last time I was so blown away by an indie release was when Vangough's debut, Manikin Parade, came out. Trapped has made a similar impact. Can progressive metal be technical and complex and still manage to be deeply affecting? The answer lies in Trapped. Get this disc and support independent artists.
1. Born Dead
2. Opening Chapter
3. The Voice Within Your Soul
4. Eternal Love
5. The Inner Struggle
6. What You've Been Through
9. Ending Chapter