[25th February 2013]
Every musician is a product of their influences. Nobody is immune from this. The work of Devin Townsend will inevitably loom large in any assessment of the self-titled debut album from progressive metal duo The Omega Experiment. To be scrupulously fair to the band, they aren’t coy about acknowledging this influence, and they parade the praise given in public to them by The Man Himself like an athlete would an Olympic medal. But Devin is a hard act to follow, so are they standing on the shoulders of giants, or merely hiding in his shadow? Its a bit of both, really.
Despite the obvious command of their instruments and a clear talent for song-writing, there is something slightly unsatisfying about this album to these ears. Right from the bombastic opening bars of “Gift” that kick the album off, comparisons with everyone’s favourite crazy Canadian are inescapable. At no point can I quite shake the sensation that I’m listening to B-sides or discarded ideas from around the Accelerated Evolution/Synchestra period. Even heaviest track “Furor” would sit comfortably alongside most of the final Strapping Young Lad album.
This, in itself, is no small achievement. That these songs can even be considered in those sort of terms is testament to the fairly considerable talents on display, particularly in the vocal and guitar performances on offer. However it is also clear that the bands appreciation for Devin extends to his production techniques – including the judicious use of sampled explosions. It is here that things start to go a little awry. In their quest for ‘massive’ soundscapes, the songs often become muddled and confused under armfuls of synths, samples, choral backing vocals and guitar flourishes. This is a desperate shame, as it seems to me that many of these songs would stand up to the ‘acid test’ of song-writing, in that they could be credibly performed with nothing more than a voice and an acoustic guitar. It is clear that their hearts are in the right place, but in piling layer upon layer into each tune, they are smothering them with love.
There are some great riffs and fantastic chord progressions hiding somewhere in the mix, but they simply don’t have room to breathe. It is also in this hyper-production approach that the limitations of what is effectively a bedroom recording become clear, and this is felt most acutely with the programmed drums. Partway through the second track “Stimulus“, a too-perfect ride cymbal slices through the mix, bursting the illusion and leaving you in no doubt you are listening to a machine. At the same time, it is also fair to say that recreating the sound of an acoustic kit through programming is a rare skill indeed. I guess the fundamental issue here is a problem faced by all self-producers. Adding another track to the mix is easy, and there is nobody in the room dispassionate enough to say ‘that’s enough, chaps’ before the additional touches and flourishes overwhelm the song completely. That you can have too much of a good thing is a very hard lesson to learn.
All in all, this is a collection of strong songs that have been somewhat let down by the limitations of the technology used to record it, an over-enthusiasm for layering the sound and an altogether too heavy reliance on a single source for sonic inspiration. I can’t help but think that in the future, if I’m in the mood for this kind of upbeat prog-metal, then I’ll probably just listen to Devin. But that still feels a little unfair. Other Devin fans, ever-hungry for more material, may well find a number of pleasing surprises amongst these nine tracks. I see the band now has a full line-up, and I would definitely go and watch them play if they ever make it to London. Chimp Spanner’s songs, recorded in a similar environment, take on whole new dimensions on stage, and I suspect it is through live performance that these guys will really start to find their own voice, particularly if they can bring themselves to drop a track or two of keyboards or samples out of the backing tracks.