When Day Descends is a one-man project by Dave Caswell from Tasmania, Australia. Three years in the making, Transcend is his first musical statement, and a very impressive album for a debut. Described as "music which fills the narrowing gap between progressive metal and rock", which is a fairly good description, there is still a lot more to When Day Descends.
First thing to note about Transcend is that it has no vocals. The album is entirely instrumental and a very distinct work compared to most other instrumental projects. Although heavily progressive, Caswell's approach to songwriting is different. His music emphasizes songwriting, not dexterity. The instrumentation, though quite complex when the songs call for it, serves more as a medium to complement the compositions, rather than trying to impress with technically demanding riffs and solos. Given the exceptional musicality and songmanship, it would be unfair to compare When Day Descends to other bands. However, I feel a lot of Opeth in the music. There are so many people out there who have always argued that the death vocals on Opeth albums are a turn-off for them, which is sad, because they all love the music. Well, here is their chance to hear some songs that are filled with excellent Opethian riffs, acoustic passages, and dynamics, that Transcend may even become the reason for them to actually get into Opeth. The second track "Infinite" has an unmistakable Opeth riff happening right in the intro, but the song dives into a more original avenue with the introduction of the nice clean acoustic passage. This melody is played for a while to sink in, before an arpeggiated counterpoint harmony is layered on top of it. I am lost for words to describe the brilliant production of this disc. The acoustic guitar production is outstanding, given this is merely a self-released one-man disc. The mastering is crisp and very fresh, courtesy of Peter In De Betou (Dark Tranquillity). However, the high point of Dave Caswell's work is his understanding of song arrangement and layered production work that is so necessary for this type of instrumental albums. Towards the end of the tune, the drums take the lead role, but are immediately subdued when Caswell plays a passionate solo that is simply beautiful.
"Resolution" is another track that evokes Opeth circa Still Life. Even its 13-minute running time confirms the similarity. The song is rich in content. It overflows with progressive elements, fluctuating riffs and melodies, and pastoral acoustic guitars. Worth mentioning is its ending where the atmosphere becomes dense and suffocating. The acoustic intro on "Suppression" conjures up images of Ulver during their Kveldssanger album recordings. The atmosphere is huge and there is a thick wall of sound all over the piece. I love how the music transforms into a modern day Porcupine Tree track when heavily distorted guitar chords are put into the body in the song with vague Gregorian-like chants far back in the mix (though this may just be an illusion created by the Ulverian atmosphere). Once again, Caswell exercises a layered acoustic and electric guitar melody to complement the piece. The experimental "Softly" marries avant garde with prog rock and ambient music. There is a Kayo Dot and Maudlin of the Well prevalant on this one, but the guitar playing denies the similarity. Caswell plays a textural solo, holding each note as long as possible for more aural effect. He succeeds. The yearning for an unknown Middle Eastern scale seems to disappear before I can put my finger on it (hence the mention of Maudlin of the Well). Most of the songs kick in with acoustic guitars to generate a vibe of loneliness. This vibe is further developed as washes of synths are woven into the mix, usually taking a back seat when a more rough guitar line is wrapping itself around atmopsheric post-rock themes or even classical guitar pieces, as exemplifed on "Enlighten". Finally I'll have to say a word about "The Path", a militaristic song in attitude while remaining very minimal musically.
The artwork reminds me of something Travis Smith would create, for its power to evoke his work with the first Dead Soul Tribe album, or even Devin Townsend's Terria. All in all, this is one of those albums, provided it reaches the right people, that will have tremendous impact on its audience. With some luck on Caswell's side, a good label should pick this disc up and distribute it around the globe.
- The Path