A band that started out sounding like a Dream Theater wannabe on 1997's Electric Skies, Event has radically evolved into an amalgam of technical progressive metal and melodic alternative rock fueled by staccato guitar-driven riffs and modern production techniques. While 2001's Human Condition incorporated techno loops and off-tempo vocals, Scratching at the Surface - the Berklee College of Music-educated quartet's third and catchiest album - eschews that route in favor of songs these guys actually think could garner a bit of crossover success.
Don't scoff. From the King's X stylings of opener "Make Your Way" to the brooding mid-tempo closer "Too Much," Event have crafted a record that will appeal to fans of Pain of Salvation, Porcupine Tree and Symphony X as much as Tool, Soundgarden and Garbage - all within the confines of songs that each run less than five minutes long. But the band still revels in quirky minor-key arrangements and unconventional melodic phrasings, and singer Dave Deluco croons and growls with soul, injecting these 13 songs with his animated delivery. In fact, vocals are so much a key to this album's appeal that the band took the time to experiment with various compressors and microphones to augment Deluco's alternately laid-back and in-your-face styles. Practically every song here boasts a different soundscape, thanks to both Deluco and guitarist and band mastermind Shaun Michaud's experimental effects and sonic appreciation. The production is superb. There are a few duds, during which either Deluco's voice or the music begins to drone a bit, but that's a minor quibble in the big scheme of things.
What's more, while remaining faithful to its progressive roots, Event manages to target the so-called nu-metal crowd without devolving into rapped vocals and inane lyrics. Just listen to the funky finesse of "All Too Real," which sounds as if drummer Matt Scurfield is playing two vastly different grooves at the same time. As on Human Condition, the songs on Scratching at the Surface are laced with self-analysis and core emotions, but they offer strength and insight rather than spew frustration and hatred.
Clocking in at 48 minutes, Scratching at the Surface plays out faster than expected, and it's tempting to go back and hit the "play" button again to hear what you missed the first time. Progressive metal just got a bit more adventurous …