February 24th 2017 – Season Of Mist
06. Sleeping Ivy
07. Does It Matter How Far?
One weird side effect of the natural desire to pigeonhole bands into genres is that, sometimes, they can end up being associated with a peer group that they don’t seem to share that many sonic similarities with. Deftones and nu-metal is the obvious one. Pearl Jam and grunge is probably another (although that’s opening a can of worms that we should probably leave well alone). Poland’s DispersE have, largely through repeat appearances at Tech Fest and Euroblast, found themselves associated with tech metal, despite not being overtly technical, and steadily less metal.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, not least as ‘tech’ has been steadily morphing into into an umbrella term to encompass much of what might also be called ‘progressive’, and whilst Disperse’s overall sound might not have been the frenzied blizzard of notes that a tech metal label might imply, the prodigious skills of guitarist Jakub Żytecki have been more than enough to keep the tech heads interested.
There have been some changes in the Disperse camp since 2013′s Living Mirrors, resulting in a brand new rhythm section. With bass duties now handled by Bartosz Wilk, and ex-Monuments tubthumper Mike Malyan installed behind the kit, the new-look Disperse has been playing sets largely drawn from the material now being released on Foreword since last summer. Those shows comprehensively whetted appetites, receiving warm – and sometime rapturous – receptions that are uncommon for so much unfamiliar material.
It is perhaps unusual for a band to name their third album Foreword, but it does not take long to realise that this collection is less the start of a new chapter and more the start of a whole new book. The arrival of fresh meat in the rhythm section has coincided with a noticeable uplift in the maturity of vocalist Rafał Biernacki and Jakub’s songwriting, building on the pop sensibilities hinted at on Living Mirrors, and developing them into a distinctive, and deeply pleasing, proposition.
Almost all metallic elements have been purged. There’s not a throaty scream, palm-muted chug or grindy riff to be heard; the only real nods to a heavier past come on the couple of occasions where Jakub lets fly fret-shredding solos that are sure to have guitarists openly weeping over the tab books. Instead, we get upbeat, breezy verses, hooky choruses and the all-round feel-good vibes of pop music.
However, although the overall final sound is playful and accessible, the routes Disperse take to get there are often anything but conventional. The arrangements and individual parts are unmistakably the work of masterful progressive musicians, so digging beneath the surface reveals an Aladdin’s Cave of surprise and delight. Foreword, therefore, is clearly a progressive pop album, drawing as much from Duran Duran as it does from Devin Townsend or Agent Fresco. Can we start taking about ‘prop’ music? I think we can.
There were noticeable waves of anticipation rippling around the scene when Mike was announced as Disperse’s drummer, due to the prospect of what could come from the meeting of minds between him and Jakub. Though that anticipation was well founded, let’s not sell the contributions of the others short. Rafał gives Foreword a soulful, cinematic beginning with “Stay“, a song he dedicated to his late mother from the Euroblast stage. Bartosz is rather more of an unknown quantity, but his perky bassline adds to the funky strut of “Gabriel“.
There are plenty of high points in Foreword, so its hard to single any out. One incredibly specific example is in the exact placement of the kick drum hits in “Bubbles“, gently nudging the delicate groove into an unconventional shape. It’s an idea that’s relatively simple in execution, but requires a rare talent to conceive – so it serves as a neat microcosm of Foreword as a whole. “Tether” is probably the single song that brings together all of Disperse’s strengths to best effect, showcasing their relaxed fluidity and deeply infused with an obvious and infectious joie de vivre. It’s hard to walk away from a listen to Foreword in anything other than a good mood.
It would be fair to say that the album does lose a little of its momentum around the middle, with two longer, quieter tracks – “Sleeping Ivy” and “Does It Matter How Far?” – sitting next to each other, but this is a minor concern.
In short, Foreword is a triumph. It was already clear beforehand that Disperse would be heading down this road, but I doubt that anyone was really expecting them to make this much progress along it in a single album cycle. It is mature and confident, dynamic and memorable. It’s clearly the product of a devastatingly talented collection of musicians all in step with each other and having a tremendous amount of fun in the process.
We already know that a number of these songs translate well to the stage, and that is only going to be compounded by a greater familiarity with them. Disperse will be touring the UK with Plini in a few weeks, and those shows really will be must-sees for fans of honest, dynamic, progressive music. Outstanding.