[15th February 2013]
02. She Whispers Treason
04. A Perfect Sky Of Black
05. …Become Minutes…
06. Ride the Second Wave
07. Goddess Of The Flame
08. Chasing Shades
09. Turn To Seconds
A Sign of Time is the second full length release by Belgian rockers Maudlin and, as per their critically-lauded debut release Ionesco, is a concept album. A Sign of Time looks at the important and defining moments in a life from the perspective of a near-death experience, and this broad and complex theme allows the band a lot of space for engaging and emotional lyricism and songwriting. Categorising the band’s sound is a little tough but they are described on their Bandcamp page as “psychedelic rock reinvented” and the description seems largely fitting, combining elements of classic progressive rock, a la Pink Floyd, and sludge metal heavyweights Neurosis.
Musically, Maudlin effectively demonstrate considerable variety and a willingness to to explore differing styles and moods, often within individual tracks. As is to be expected for the genre, songs segue between booming aggression and lengthy reprieves and Maudlin largely do very well to execute both. The best moments for me come at the album’s heaviest where the sludge-metal vibe becomes most prevalent and greater emphasis is placed upon guitar work and a grinding and aggressive atmosphere. Solid examples of this are found early in the album and the first full-length track “She Whispers Treason” has moments reminiscent of The Ocean’s spectacular Heliocentric. Further variety is found in the vocal styles on the album, with characteristic sludge-metal yells augmented by strong clean vocals and occasional guttural growls. The clean vocals strongly invoke Type O Negative, a stated influence for Maudlin on their Facebook page, and help differentiate the album’s sound from others in the genre.
The tracks that appeal most on A Sign of Time are largely clustered towards the start of the album, where songs seemed to have a greater degree of focus and consistency. Tracks “Lilith” and “A Perfect Sky of Black” are both fantastically written and engaging throughout, containing the best utilisation of more lead-focussed guitar riffing on the album as a whole. This segues well to one of my disappointments with later tracks, where repetitive power chord heavy riffs, sometimes akin to the work of bands like Cult of Luna, at times lack the correct atmosphere and sufficient momentum to keep the listener’s attention.
One specific area in which I feel the album stumbles is in its use of atmospheric effects or filler. Though very much a matter of personal taste, to me, even on concept albums, tracks with no purpose but to generate atmosphere need to do a lot to feel worthwhile and the intro and outro to this record do not succeed in that regard. Additionally, though a big fan of sampling as a way of adding additional layers of meaning to a song, the lengthy recorded monologue played over the start of “Goddess Of The Flame” falls flat to me as, much as I hate to poke at a fellow Brit’s accent, it simply doesn’t have the gravitas to generate the effect it feels like the band were aiming for with its inclusion.
Despite these small criticisms, Maudlin do succeed in running tracks together and, as one would expect in a concept album, it is very clear that A Sign of Time is intended to be consumed as a singularly entity if possible. The effective transitioning between songs is an element that only became noticeable on repeat listens but greatly contributed to the album growing on me over time. As I often find with albums that take a few listens to really appreciate, A Sign of Time’s real strength lies in its relative completeness and consistency in quality and impression. Though most tracks have a wide variety of mood and tempo within them, the album as a whole maintains a consistent style and each track runs together remarkably well. The instrumentation throughout, though not often particularly intricate or complex, effectively serves it purpose in maintaining drive an atmosphere and the layering of sounds at times really highlight the band’s considerable talent for writing in a powerful and evocative manner.
A Sign of Time is a very complete album and Maudlin have produced a varied and ambitious record which nevertheless maintains a distinct style they can call their own. Though influences from a number of sources are certainly evident, the sound they have settled upon is unique. Despite failing to find any tracks that immediately excited me which, even for such a clearly defined concept album, is certainly unfortunate, the quality of the album as a whole will definitely have me coming back for more. It was a pleasant surprise for me as a new listener to the band, and I would strongly recommend a few listens to anyone with a fondness for any of their wide range of influences.