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Alaya - Thrones album art[17th March 2014]
[Basick Records]

01. Inside
02. White Noise
03. Sleep
04. Screaming Still
05. Poor Gloria
06. Haunted Pt. I
07. Grace
08. Day of the Dead
09. Thrones
10. Paths
11. Entropy
12. Haunted Pt. II
13. Haunted Pt. III

Good things come to those who wait. If It feels like this debut album from Chicago trio Alaya has been a long time coming, its because it has. Basick Records announced Alaya’s signing and released the single “Inside” all the way back in December 2012, but various trials and tribulations face bands at this level which can get in the way of a smooth release schedule.

But even with a year to wrap ones head around “Inside“, initial listens to Thrones in its entirety are somewhat discombobulating. Most of the elements of Alaya’s sound carry the hallmarks of a far more radio-friendly outfit than the usual Basick fare – cascades of guitar arpeggios and big, hooky choruses delivered by vocalist Evan Dunn’s silky tones – but they are then underpinned by off-kilter, staccato riffs in cunningly accented, triplet-heavy time signatures.

This blend of technicality and melodiousness takes a good few listens to properly get your head around, and even after a dozen plays I still haven’t quite figured out the time signatures of some passages.

But whilst fully getting to grips with Thrones is a challenge, it is certainly am enjoyable one. Other bands – notably TesseracT and The Safety Fire – have been dragging tech-metal away from being just a relentless barrage of jagged discordance, but Alaya have shifted the balance even further. The majority of Thrones could be serviceably performed by Evan alone with an acoustic guitar.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have seen tech-death emerge as a sub-genre, so is this the beginning of what could be called melo-tech? Very possibly.

This Muse-shuggah hybrid of soaring melodies and lip-curling chug maintains a high quality right through the album, with the title track and “White Noise” being particular highlights. Bassist Michael Rinkenberger gets a real chance to shine on “Screaming Still“, with a magnificent, spidery, synth-effected riff.

Entropy” culminates in a truly glorious blizzard of guitar, backed up by David Robison’s characteristically pin-sharp double-kick drumming that is just a hairs breadth away from being a blast beat. This feels like a grand finale for the album, and is so successful it does rather make “Haunted” Parts II and III feel a little bit of an afterthought.

Nevertheless, Thrones is a particularly impressive album. The hybrid of the technical and accessible could ultimately prove to be something of a gateway into this teeming sub-genre for those previously put off by almost impenetrably dense and awkward riffery.

In setting out their stall a step or two away from the djent/tech pack, they have carved out a niche for themselves so completely that one almost wonders where they are going to take their sound for album number two. But, hopefully, we won’t have to wait quite as long to find out.