Like most people, much of my summer was spent knee-deep in mud, forgoing personal hygiene and fending off the amorous advances of half-naked unfamiliar men. While taking some down-time from sexually aggressive, lager-drenched teens, I actually got to see some live music (believe it or not). While seeing ageing super-groups did indeed have its merits, and I was more than happy to watch bands that were more hairspray than human, few of their performances had a lasting impact on me (aside from a few broken fingers, but that’s another story…). Being dragged into a small circus tent a few days before any arena opened, was by far one of my best festival experiences of the year.
Download 2010 (and a friendly stoner) introduced me to Silent Descent, a visceral punch of home-grown, British trance-metal. Now, ‘Trance Metal – the concept was about as familiar to me as ‘dignity’ is to Katie Price, but that’s beside the point. Initially, I was expecting some kind Enter Shikari /Hadouken! affair, but by God, they blew those bands out of the water. With deafening synths, violent riffs and a drum line that could awaken Godzilla, no-one in that steamy tent could stand still. After a set that left me battered and bruised, I found it hard to pick my jaw up from the floor (metaphorically – the pit was brutal, but no-one was dismembered); God only knows why they weren’t tearing up the main stage. After falling off a crowded train the following Monday, I threw myself onto the internet and ordered their latest album.
‘Duplicity’ is Silent Descent’s second release (the first being 2005’s self-titled album) and the one that got my heart pounding in that sweaty pit. And, needless to say, it doesn’t disappoint. ‘Anagram’ is the opening track of ‘Duplicity’ and does a sterling job of inhabiting the ‘delicate beginning, sudden heavyness’ sphere. ‘Anagram’ introduces the two different voices of Silent Descent’s vocalist- the Deathstars-esque low vocals and occasional screams and the more upbeat, clean, chorus-friendly voice. While melding metal with synths could be seen as a bit of a risky business, considering how one can quickly go from ‘credible act’ to ‘tacky mashup’, but somehow, Silent Descent have managed to find a way to fully meld the two; no occasional synths – they’re as integral as all conventional instruments.
‘Beyond Grey’ follows suit with a delicate piano intro with a sudden introduction of heavy riffs and is as pleasing to the ear. The track is predominantly lead by Tom Watlings‘s heavier vocals, with only the occasional emergence of clean vocals. Saying that, the uneven distrubition does prove to be effective, especially when the anthemic breaks of ‘Beyond Grey’ pop up. The track also features a rather snazzy guitar solo – one of many features the band use throughout their tracks in order to keep the tracks fresh and exciting. And, well, it works! While such bands could easily become tiresome and predictable, Silent Decent do manage to keep their (admittedly) lengthy tracks engaging.
‘I Can, I Will’ is a full blown musical assault that can’t help but get your blood pumping. For me, this is the track that really showcases the musical capabilities of the rest of the band – the drum line is so impressively precise and heavy, it makes me want to down sticks and admit defeat. The mixed guitars and bass also prove their worth with retina-melting displays of mastery. With such technical abilities within the band, it’d be more than easy to forego good music in favour of grand displays of musical masturbation (ten-minute solos, horrific time signatures etc), but they seem to have thankfully reigned it in.
‘Bleed In Trust’ is not necessarily my favourite track on the album, but as with much of the record, it too proves itself to be a substantial display of modern, metal musicianship. While ‘Bleed in Trust’ is an undoubtedly ‘metal’ track, its disconnected and repetitive vocal line wipes out all chances of memorability, and the whole affair does come across as being used as filler; to bulk up the album’s running time. The same can be said for ‘Hitting the Ground’, which, though an exciting instrumental track, is ultimately pointless as part of the album and simply does not match up to others, especially when regarding heavy structure and dynamics.
‘Duplicity’, the title track of the album instantly proves itself worthy of that accolade. Opening with a flurry of frenzied drums and synths, the track is kicked into a long metamorphosis, with each stage being as compelling and exciting as the last. Thankfully, the arrival of clean vocal sections helps dilute the growly haze created by previous tracks and the band are put back on trac k- showcasing their innovative approach to music-making. By no means is the ‘Duplicity’ free from heavier vocals, but they are used appropriately in relation to the stage of the song, and so produce a far more intense sound. While the track clocks in at an impressive 6:27, it is nigh impossible to tire of the track before it comes to its end, which is an achievement in itself- even Power Metal epics have fans dropping off half way.
The snazzily titled ‘Blood Fucked’ certainly lives up to the brutal nature of its name; evolving from a crechendo of guitars into a Cradle of Filth-style, discordant ball of anger. While far more extreme than other tracks, ‘Blood Fucked’ is so perilously close to falling off the wagon. Often, as the long, increasingly monotonous verses came to an end, the use of synths seemed to become more of a lifejacket – saving the track (and the listener’s interest) in the nick of time. Although there are sections of brilliance throughout ‘Blood Fucked’, at over six minutes long, it far outstays its welcome.
‘Prepare to Fly’ is a far cleaner and slower offering, which although retaining its metal sensibilities, manages to achieve a far warmer and commercial tone to its predecessors. Although ‘Prepare to Fly’ may suffer on a live platform as it lacks a constant running beat, particularly in the opening minutes, it proves to be one of my personal favourites, and a real gem of the album.
Although there is no sign of a ‘dud’ track on ‘Duplicity’, there are some which don’t quite hit the mark. ‘Failure’ and ‘Living in False Eternity’ are true examples of this – while the ideas behind them, especially the vocal changes and samples, are great, and do work for brief periods, they never seem to fully mesh with the existing verse structure that Silent Descent insist on retaining. Saying that, ‘Failure’ is an enjoyable song, and merits a few listens, there are few too many moments where changes seem clumsy or ill thought out.
The album closes on ‘In The Skies’. Now, stand-up comedians often begin their set with their second best joke, and end with their best material. Thankfully, Silent Descent have chosen a similar method. At 8:37, it’s certainly their longest track, and could be interpreted as a ‘best of’. Employing rap-style vocals, delicate piano interludes and good old fashioned metal growls, ‘In The Skies’ can’t help but plant excitable butterflies in your stomach. The eight and a half minute epic delivers a cinematic, brutal and, well, vital shock to the heart that leaves the listener breathless. Enthralling, exciting and innovative – ‘Duplicity’ closes on a structural and general musical triumph.
4 out of 5 high fives!