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Degree Absolute: Degree Absolute

This album by Degree Absolute has been in the works for over two years, but never got released for some reason. Finally, it was announced in late 2005 by Sensory that it was coming out January 31, 2006. Before its release, the band got noted producer Neil Kernon to do the final mixing and Kernon once again is one of the main factors why this debut album sounds so amazing.

So who is Degree Absolute? An American band with three members, namely Aaron Bell on guitar, vocals, keyboards, Dave Lindeman on bass, and Doug Beary on drums. Beary also plays in Defyance, another great band worth checking out, and he is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music. However, Degree Absolute is mostly Aaron Bell's project, since it was he who put the band together, and even released the earlier demos all on his own. Besides handling the guitar duties, Bell also provides the vocals on six tracks, the other three being instrumentals. I immediately liked Bell's unique style, as he is definitely different from the typical prog metal vocalists in the genre. For a start, his range is no where near as high as others', but his sincere and emotive delivery make up for it. Strangely, his singing sounds like a combination of the late Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Ray Alder of Fates Warning, something not too common in progressive music. But it works pefectly. Still, if there's anyone who may not like the band, they will claim it's because of the vocals. I personally think Bell is an excellent singer, and the perfect voice for these songs. While he may not possess a big vocal range, it would be hard to imagine these songs would impact the way do, unless someone extraordinarily talented sang them, such as Devin Townsend or Daniel Gildenlow.

Musically speaking, the album is simply fantastic. Starting with two technically challenging and extremely heavy songs, the band navigates cold yet cutting guitar rhythms and bass lines through complex passages laced with slightly fusion-friendly solo breaks. Thanks to Neil Kernon, the bass is loud and crushing through the whole album, and I love it. "Exist" evokes Zero Hour to me, particularly in the way Bell sings passionately and in an almost fragile tone over a sharp and raucous musical landscape. Contrary to the cold music, his voice exudes sheer emotion, especially during the slowly arpeggiated acoustic riffs, akin to the stuff heard on the first Gordian Knot album. "Laughing Alone" also starts with thick guitars following Meshuggah style odd time patterns. Bell's vocals are doubled here and shift between his clean gentle voice and slightly more throaty style. Being extremely melodic, his guitar solo at the end again beautifully contrasts the general flow of the track. Aaron Bell is a phenomenal guitar player. He has plenty of chops but never overuses them. His songwriting is intended to create atmosphere, rarely heard on such technical prog metal releases. On the three consecutive instrumentals, the band delves deeply into ambient sections, utilising hand drums on the experimental "Distance" marked by dark acoustic guitars reminiscent of Al Di Meola's earlier works. The fusion elements are definitely there, but you really need to make an effort if you want to reach them. "HalfManHalfBiscuit" is even more adventurous. It is underscored with Ulverian production; weird electronic sound effects pop in and out of the map, as keyboards subtly enter simultaneously with the heavy rhythm guitars to thicken the soundscape. This results in depressive emotions that bathe in an ice-cold and tension-filled coda. "Pi", the last chain of the band's instrumental trilogy, goes back to displaying the technical aspect of the band. Think the heaviness of Meshuggah mixed up with the killer chord sequences on the Control Denied album, with occasional jazzy Allan Holdsworth breakdowns. The music goes from shredding guitar to doomy dirge-type acoustics and back to madly pounding kick drums.

After several listens, Aaron Bell's vocals on "Ask Nothing of Me" sound so catchy in his own unique way that you may want to put this track on repeat. Also, this song features another impressive guitar solo from him where he plays excellent tapping harmonics. On the long and spooky final song "Ergo Sum", which is mostly instrumental save for the last couple of minutes, the band employs a lengthy instrumental section, but the song is very minimalistic until Bell's textural guitar work. The ending is particularly amazing, as he begins to sing words of hope, but it is so ironic, considering the tones of the instruments and the droning guitar feedback. This song has so much texture and it is suffocating in its impact. Bell sings like the same way Warrel Dane does on the amazing title track of Nevermore's Dreaming Neon Black. Although not listed in the CD booklet or the band's website, there's an untitled bonus track on the album, which I assume may suggest what the band want to do on their future releases. This song is pure atmosphere. It is a nightmarish piece that makes you feel locked in a dark room with weird sounds, like dripping water and tortured beasts. Low bass and guitar rhythms drone endlessly with a lot of synth work. The sludgy guitar feedback is sort of like Dysrhythmia, another awesome band, so the similarity is most welcome.

Last year, Linear Sphere released an incredible debut that ended up in my favourites list of 2005. This band excites me the same way. Though too early, I feel Degree Absolute has already secured a top 10 spot on my list for the year as well.

Track Listing

  1. Exist
  2. Laughing Alone
  3. Questions
  4. Confession
  5. Distance
  6. HalfManHalfBiscuit
  7. Pi
  8. Ask Nothing of Me
  9. Ergo Sum

Added: March 4th 2006
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Degree Absolute website
Hits: 6074
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Degree Absolute: Degree Absolute
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-03-04 13:03:56
My Score:

The debut from Degree Absolute, another solid offering from Ken Golden's Sensory Records, stays away from modern power or progressive metal themes and takes its influence from 80's era Fates Warning, as well as smatterings of jazz-fusion, classic metal, and vintage Rush. With Neil Kernon at the mixing table, you know you are going to get a great sounding CD, and this is no exception. The band is led by guitarist/keyboard player/singer Aaron Bell, and also features Dave Lindeman on bass, and drummer Doug Beary.

Thick, crunchy guitar work permeates the heavy "Exist", which also features moments of intricate bass and drum interplay, plus plenty of histrionic Ray Alder styled vocals. Complex and angular rhythms and riffs are all the rage on "Laughing Alone", while the dreamy "Confession" is a moody and progressive number with haunting keyboards and gentle guitar chords. Fusion fans will love the groovy instrumental "Distance", complete with alluring percussion, nimble bass lines, and neat effects laden guitar patterns, as well as its more metallic and spacey counterparts "Halfmanhalfbiscuit" and "Pi". This is an instrumental trio that is well worth hearing!

Machine gun metal rhythms jump-start the raging "Ask Nothing Of Me", while the albums epic "Ergo Sum" is a wonderful and energetic slice of progressive rock, fusion, and metal styles. This one contains some killer instrumental work as well as soaring vocals, and will instantly appeal to fans of Fates Warning. It ends a very surprising and satisfying album from a band that proves that they can pull off the instrumental as well as vocal metal performance. This is definitely a band to watch out for.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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