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Pomegranate Tiger - Entities

[31st January 2013]

01. Gift Of Tongues
02. Maxims
03. Stars
04. Drifting
05. New Breed
06. Mountains In The Sky
07. Not To See The Sun
08. Ocean – I. White Ship
09. Ocean – II. Maelstrom
10. Ocean – III. The Golden Portal
11. Sign Of Ruin
12. Regenesis

There must be something in the water.  It seems that there are more instrumental metal (instru-metal?) bands around at the moment than there have been at any point in living memory. Of course, the causes and implications of this explosion of vocal-free tune-smithery could fill an entire article, so there’s one question we need concern ourselves with right now: is there is space enough in this increasingly crowded genre for Canadian quartet Pomegranate Tiger and their self-released debut album Entities?

Before we get to that, we must just pause briefly to consider that name. I will admit that I winced slightly when I first saw it, but it turns out to be an oblique reference to a Salvador Dali painting, so it isn’t just two disparate words jammed gracelessly together – Trampoline Ocelot or Cupcake Jamboree anybody? – but something rather more cerebral.

That intelligence is also evident in the music itself. After all, nobody starts a progressive instru-metal (if it’s not a word yet, I’m making it one) band without knowing their way around their instruments, and it is clear that all four are scholars of their craft. From even a cursory listen, it is also evident that somewhere in at least one of the member’s houses lies a very well-thumbed book of arpeggios.

But while many instru-metal bands are often prone to noodly introspection and great tidal washes of sound, Pomegranate Tiger do bring to the table something that these bands often seem to forget: riffs. Great big, dirty, lip-curling bouts of unashamed chug. The net result is a band that sounds, to these ears, like a sort of half-way house between Scale The Summit and Aeolian-era The Ocean, with maybe a dash or two of Blotted Science wizardry for added flavour.

After the seemingly obligatory short intro piece, the album sets off to a cracking start, by any measure.  The first two tracks proper, “Maxims” and “Stars“, showcase the band’s not-inconsiderable talents admirably.  It is also clear that the band are capable of writing instrumental songs, when so many of their contemporaries really only manage exercises.  So far, so promising.

Unfortunately, it is during track five, the nearly eleven-minute “New Breed” that some chinks start to appear in the armour. To be fair, there is no denying the song starts very well indeed – with a particularly deft false build that sets up a tremendous pay-off second time around – but the track as a whole seems to overstay its welcome, like a film the director doesn’t quite know how to end. There is a seemingly natural coda around the seven-and-a-half minute mark, and everything from then on just feels a bit surplus to requirements.

And that somewhat flabby final movement seems to knock the momentum out of the album for me. Time and again, when listening to it I found that I’d had enough by that point, and turned it off.  It is worth noting that I would pick it up again from track six and listen quite happily to the end – which is worth doing for “Sign of Ruin“, which stomps around the tail end of the album in lead-lined boots – so, for me, it is less an album than it is a pair of EPs.

I suppose that brings me to my principle concern with the album as a whole, which is that for all their obvious skills, their palette of available sounds and techniques feels somewhat limited, and at times the absence of vocals is keenly felt. Whilst some of the passages in the album are undoubtedly great, I am left with the feeling that, with the addition of a soar-away vocal melody or some good old fashioned screaming-bloody-murder – instead of yet another heavily arpeggiated guitar run – they could have been pushed into ‘essential’ territory.

Nevertheless, whilst the album can’t quite hold my undivided attention for its entire sixty six-minute run-time, there’s still plenty here to like – particularly the mix of guitar tech-nerdery and bona fide crunch; it is certainly refreshing to hear an instrumental that you can head-bang to.

Let’s not forget its still early days for these guys. They have thrown their hat squarely into the progressive ring, so let’s see how they progress. Casting the net wider to bring in more elements to their sound and being a touch more experimental would, I think, pay dividends. That broadening needn’t necessarily come from the addition of a vocalist - Red Sparowes found slide guitar, and others have used keyboards or electronica – but whatever happens, this is a solid base from which the band can confidently grow.