Back in 1996, the debut CD of the band Somnambulist burst forth on the music scene. To say that the bands music, combining complex keyboard arrangements, heavy metal guitars, and aggressive vocals, was impossible to describe is an understatement. With the recent release of the follow-up, “The Paranormal Humidor”, the band has changed a few members, changed its sound a bit, but still remains one of those bands that you can’t describe in a few words.
New to the band is guitarist Charlie Shelton, drummer Jo Whitaker, and lead singer Peter Cornell, brother of former Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell. Original members Terry Clouse on bass and Jody Park on keyboards join these new folks and make a formidable line-up. From the opening riffs of “In the Mindwarp Pavillion”, it is obvious that this is no normal progressive rock band. Shuffling keyboard and bass lines pound into the mix, while Cornell whispers layers of angst- ridden vocals. This furious exchange gives way to a lovely piano driven interlude supported by strong, melodic vocals. The listener doesn’t get much chance to relax, as the main them comes crashing back in, and bursts of synthesizer, Mellotron, and guitar stab to the forefront. The song comes to a furious climax with Cornell’s almost death metal shrieks and unison keyboard and bass runs. A killer opening track to say the least!
A funky bass riff from Terry Clouse opens “Pathos of Least Resistance” supplemented by waves of Mellotron. One quick glance at the lyrics divulges the bleak lyrics dealing with suicide, sung very impressively by Cornell. It is on this tune that he sounds most like his brother Chris, especially in the higher pitched sections. Jody Park lays down a few spectacular synth solos, very much in the tradition of Clive Nolan from Arena/Pendragon, which adds an uplifting tone to the otherwise dark nature of the song. Fans of Yes take note here; guitarist Charlie Shelton whips out a solo mid-way through this song that just screams Steve Howe circa The Yes Album. Charlie throws in a combination of speedy, classical influnced runs, wah-wah, and distortion, for a dramatic, extended lead break.
Perhaps the song on The Paranormal Humidor that would be most accepted by listeners of more mainstream rock would be “Destroy…She Said”, a chunky rocker with an aggressive chorus. Cornell really lets loose on this track, alternating between forceful shouts and emotional pleading. The rhythm section of Clouse and Whitaker are really in sync with each other, while Park adds layers upon layers of organ and Mellotron. The whole band combines for a furious ensemble workout where normally a solo would be, and then Cornell gently rips into a brief homage to The Who “see me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” Guitarist Shelton takes the band to the finish line with another melodic, and extremely tasty solo. The next track, “Infant”, is a short guitar instrumental, and lets Shelton show off his talents using two hand tapping and pull-off techniques. Unfortunately it is all too brief.
Symphonic keyboards and grinding guitars begin “Troy Built Helen”, a moody piece that gets more complex as it goes along. Keyboard player Park is literally throwing every instrument he has at the listener. Beautiful piano melodies abound one minute, which gives way to raging synth and walls of Mellotron. There are intense moments when he trades wild flights with Shelton, and the guitar and synth seem as one. Just as you start to get used to all the instrumental mayhem going on, the band scales back for an atmospheric, almost Pink Floyd inspired passage, with some faraway, yearning guitar parts from Shelton. It’s a great way to change the mood of the song, from violent to somber, all done in dramatic fashion.
Complex vocal lines permeate the surging “Died and Gone” courtesy of Peter Cornell. Here the singer uses his voice as an instrument unto itself, matching intricate verbal expressions that go right along with the tight guitar, bass and keyboard work. The band pulls in an impressive performance on this track, and shows some musical muscle that match bands such as Dream Theater or Echolyn. Weaving guitars float above melodic arpeggios played on synthesizer. Park also adds to the solid wall of sound with some insistent organ, for a very big, Yes-like feel.
The band saves the darkest, gloomiest track for last, the impressive title cut. Less manic and slower paced than the preceding songs, “The Paranormal Humidor” is a brooding maelstrom of dark prog, featuring haunting vocals from Cornell, creepy keyboards, and pounding drums. I would say that this track is the closest the band gets to the doom aspect of some of the songs on their debut CD. Some of the guitar work on this song is loaded with effects, which gives off a spacey feel. The climax is quite powerful, with waves of Mellotron, heavy guitars, and furious drums, as Cornell’s vocals fade in the distance before the music comes to an abrupt and final halt. As for the lyrics, they are quite obscure and bleak, which really follows the pattern of this album. Mr. Cornell certainly seems to have a penchant for writing bizarre tunes that stray far from what other bands in the genre stick to, and that is a good thing.
I’m not sure if The Lasers Edge realized five years ago exactly what a powerful monster Somnambulist would eventually turn out to be. The Paranormal Humidor is an exciting, complex work of art, which will appeal to listeners of progressive rock, metal, and dark gothic music. The band throws the listener many different curves that keeps the songs fresh and original, and should make for a future classic in modern music.