Artist: Structural Disorder
Album Title: …And the Cage Crumbles in the Final Scene
Label: Lion Music
Date Of Release: 15 March 2018
“If I had to be brutally honest, the accordion is one of my most disliked instruments. It’s right up there with the child’s recorder, the trumpet and the mouth organ as far as loathed instruments go. And yet, much as I have learned to appreciate brass in my rock and metal over the years, I have to concede that the accordion on this record sounds surprisingly good…”
The quote above is taken from my review of Structural Disorder’s previous album, ‘Distance’, an album that started off in sticky fashion for obvious reasons, but which genuinely won me over in the end. And that, in a nutshell, is why I adore progressive music, be it metal or rock; the way in which it can surprise me, catch me off guard, challenge my own deep-set prejudices and long-held opinions.
I thought Arcturus’ ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ was awful on a first spin but with time and patience, I grew to love it. The same is true for the song ‘Fandango’ by Pain of Salvation or anything on the last two Knifeworld albums for that matter.
The fact that I now know that I’m going to hear the accordion when I listen to Structural Disorder means that I am less shocked when it appears. But more than that, I have grown to actually welcome its inclusion within the Swedes’ latest offering, pithily-titled ‘…And the Cage Crumbles in the Final Scene’. To some degree, I believe that it is a mark of how far the quintet have come in recent years in terms of their song writing and overall maturity. But equally, I no longer recoil at the sound of the strange bellows-driven instrument, bedecked in piano-like keys and buttons aplenty.
Within an interview aimed at providing us with more information about this record, we are informed that ‘…And The Cage…’ is a heavier and darker beast to previous offerings. This is entirely deliberate, a way of showcasing a side of the band that was previously hinted sat, but never fully explored. It is also designed to offer fans the full Structural Disorder repertoire so to speak, pathing the way for future releases to effectively go in any conceivable direction. It’s a smart move from Markus Tälth – (Guitar/Vocals), Jóhannes West (Electric Accordion/Vocals), Hjalmar Birgersson (Guitar/Vocals),Erik Arkö (Bass/Vocals), and Kalle Björk (Drums).
So what do we actually have with ‘…And The Cage…’? Well, for my money, we are presented with the best album of the Swedes’ career. It is an album that shows an increased maturity in just about every department and it is arguably their most ambitious recording too. Yes it is heavier, but not exclusively so, meaning that it is extremely varied too, with plenty of sonic peaks and troughs. Oh and as hinted at within that aforementioned interview, the guys have clearly been listening to a lot of Haken since ‘Distance’ was released. More on that later.
The album kicks off with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar and is joined by some equally soft vocals. It may only last for a smidge under two minutes and promptly dismissed as an intro piece by some, but the nice, welcoming melody and slightly sombre lyrical content means that it is very hard to ignore. I like it.
Up next is ‘The Fool Who Would Be King’ and it is a cracking piece, bringing the full Structural Disorder package to the table. The furious drum roll opening is replaced in the blink of an eye with an off-kilter chunky riff, backed up by a superb rhythm section that means that we’re in properly ‘progressive’ territory. And then, to underline this point, in march some huge synths that smother everything in a glorious atmospheric glow.
And then things get really odd. Taking their cue from Haken and even art-rock cult band A.C.T, the song becomes hugely idiosyncratic. It is hard to describe, but the music is like a circus ditty mixed with some kind of sea shanty, where the accordion finds itself in its element, full of bold and in-your-face mischievousness. By way of contrast, we are also treated to some big riffs, aggression and powerful growled vocals. I can’t help but be reminded of the likes of ‘The Cockroach King’ or many of the compositions from ‘Aquarius’, certainly in tone and the playful way in which caution is thrown to the wind. But similarly, the composition is not impenetrable and it weaves in some nice melodies and strong musicianship to keep you coming back for more.
Almost certainly my favourite song on this record is ‘Drowning’ thanks in large part to the juxtaposition between the heaviness in places and the ballad-like beauty that book-ends this surprising level of extremity. The quiet, piano, synth and vocal intro that builds up slowly and confidently is a joy, especially as the time signature refuses to be ‘normal’ at the same time. And then the song descends into extreme metal territory, somewhat doomy in tone and delivery flitting between this and the more gentle material, during which time, a gorgeous chorus full of emotion, depth and melody is proffered.
The latter-day Haken influences again loom large over ‘Nine Lies’, although Structural Disorder put just enough of a personal stamp on the track to ensure it cannot be dismissed as a clone. Nevertheless, the similarities are quite striking. As a big fan of Haken, I naturally find myself enjoying this song but I find myself thinking that the Swedes might be better served ploughing their own furrow a little more, given their undeniable skill.
The influences heard within ‘Architect’, on the other hand, are much different. For my money, there’s a much greater ‘old school’ 90s prog feel to the composition, thanks to the bold piano and synth embellishments, not to mention the melodic sensibilities that whisper early Dream Theater into my ears. It is certainly a more straightforward-sounding piece, shorter in duration but packed with plenty of punch and enough variety to ensure it’s not lost amongst the rest.
The accordion makes a pronounced return within ‘Kerosene’, an intriguing and well-constructed instrumental piece that once again makes great use of light and shade to cleverly build the suspense and impact of the song. There are moments that feature little more than the accordion or the piano in sections that have a relaxed, almost ambient feel. But these are then butted up against djent-like heavy riffs and grand soundscapes to wonderful effect. Such is the sophistication of the track that it took until the third or fourth listen for me to realise that this was an instrumental.
‘…and The Cage…’ is then brought to a close through ‘Mirage’, the single longest composition on the record. In my opening notes ahead of writing this review, I wrote ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ and ‘Queen’. The former Metallica reference came to mind due to the pacing and intent of the riffs at the beginning of the song; that inexorable stomp that typified that particular track. The Queen reference is perhaps more subtle and certainly more fleeting, but is borne out of the synths and the vocal delivery at a couple of points. I’m not saying that the vocals sound like Freddy Mercury, because no-one does. However, because of something that I can’t quite put my finger on, I can’t help but think of ‘Innuendo’-era material when I listen.
Once again, the song is very well written and performed with aplomb. We get a few extended instrumental sections where the synths get to go nuts whilst adding a sense of drama. I also like the quieter sections where the throbbing bass comes nicely to the fore and where the song builds back up slowly to full lurching, lumbering power. But its biggest strength has to be the way in which as the song develops and with it, the manner in which the understated and insidious melodies get themselves lodged in your head by the close, leaving me with a positive impression as the final notes fade.
Overall, ‘…And the Cage Crumbles in the Final Scene’ is a top quality progressive metal album, one that will undoubtedly and deservedly raise the profile of this excellent band. But just like all the best prog metal acts out there, don’t dismiss the album on a first listen because you’ll do yourself and the band a disservice. Sit back, relax and let the music of Structural Disorder penetrate your defences; you’ll be glad that you did, trust me.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse