Artist: Distorted Harmony
Album Title: A Way Out
Date Of Release: 19 July 2018
“To be honest…I can’t stand it anymore. I am bored by the general construction of that kind of music…”
This was the comment from Yoav Efron of Distorted Harmony when I interviewed him in 2014 following the release of their second album, ‘Chain Reaction’. The keyboardist and driving force behind Distorted Harmony was referring directly to my query about why that record sounded so markedly different from ‘Utopia’, its predecessor, their debut release. ‘Utopia’ was more of a ‘classic’ prog metal record, inspired by the likes of Dream Theater, whilst ‘Chain Reaction’ blew me away with a fresh-sounding blend of tech metal, djent, jazz and any number of other ingredients, including strong, memorable melodies.
But, despite the previous quote, ‘Chain Reaction’ was most definitely still progressive. And it was certainly metal. So Efron can’t have been that sick of this broad style of music. After all, it’s not like it’s a lucrative genre of music or one that will bring instant mainstream fame. So there has to be a love of heavy, technical music at the core of a band to explain why they create it time and time again. I mean, why else would you put yourself through it?
And so, here we are, with the long-awaited, highly-anticipated third studio recording from the Israeli band, entitled ‘A Way Out’. Distorted Harmony in 2018 are a slightly different entity than before, with long-term members Yoav Efron (keyboards), vocalist Michael Rose, bassist Iggy Cohen and drummer Yogev Gabay, joined by two new guitarists, Amit Plaschkes and Yoel Genin. Plaschkes joined in late 2016 to swell the line-up to six members whilst Genin was a direct replacement for previous guitarist Guy Landau who departed a year later.
Despite the personnel changes, Distorted Harmony have remained faithful to the core sound that they unveiled via ‘Chain Reaction’ in 2014. However, as this new album confirms, they are not done with experimenting, tweaking and exploring new ideas.
At it’s heart, ‘A Way Out’ is still a very modern-sounding record that borrows from the djent and tech metal stables whilst blending this heaviness with a subtle complexity borne out of a love of jazz, progressive rock. Indeed, there is a strong case to be put forward to suggest that this is the heaviest that Distorted Harmony have ever sounded. Nevertheless, the ability to create memorable compositions thanks to their innate and sophisticated understanding of rich melodies remains intact too, with any number of the new songs challenging the likes of ‘Every Time She Smiles’ and ‘Methylene Blue’ in terms of sheer addictiveness. More on that later.
The primary difference with ‘A Way Out’ however, is the immediately noticeable and demonstrable increase in the amount of electronic sounds that litter the vast majority of the compositions here. Not willing to die wondering, Efron and co. have dived in at the deep end and so some often quite sonically arresting electronic-based soundscapes weave themselves intricately within the songs, adding a further depth and originality to an already uniquely identifiable sound. When used in conjunction with some gorgeous cinematic orchestration, it works brilliantly, despite the initial thought that some of these effects might be better suited to more mainstream electronica and dance-based music. Instead they help to create an all-encompassing, immersive and intelligent final product.
As with all good progressive-based music, the compositions take a little time to work their way into the affections. But, speaking as someone who has spent the last couple of weeks almost solidly listening to ‘A Way Out’, I can only conclude that once the songs take hold, they only get stronger as the insidious hooks and clever melodies dig in deep and refuse to let go. I’ve actually lost count of the times I’ve woken in the middle of the night with one of these tracks lodged in my brain.
The increased electronic elements make themselves known from the outset, playing an important part within the bright, breezy and warmly welcoming intro to opener ‘Downfall’. The transition into heavy riffing is pronounced but manages to feel strangely smooth at the same time. The rhythm section is incessant and powerful whilst the riffs carry with them a muscularity and commanding tone. The chorus is jaw-dropping, both in terms of its catchiness and also lyrically. ‘Tell me, how could we have come to this, we took this gift and threw it all away’, sings Rose with genuine emotion to move even the most stony-hearted listener. I love the sporadic, electronic-led moments of quieter introspection but I also have to doff my cap in the direction of the riff at the 4:46 mark which is a brutal, stomping monster. What a start to the album.
Crucially, the quality does not let up at any point within the following ten tracks on ‘A Way Out’ – there is literally no weak moment to be heard.
‘Room 11’ has some quieter moments but overall, is heavier and less immediate, dominated by some swirling, lurching riffs and interesting rhythms which eventually give way to some well-disguised melody that lurks deeper below the surface than its predecessor. The bass of Iggy Cohen comes into its own a little more here, whilst the use of a gruffer vocal delivery is deployed more frequently to good effect.
‘Awaken’ is the longest song on the album, running just shy of seven-minutes. It starts quietly and deliberately, allowing the strong atmospheres to weave their magic. The shifts in direction are superb and actually very smooth, meaning that you almost don’t notice their impact straight away. Naturally the song builds to provide some heavier moments but the best part is the final crescendo that feels like an outpouring of positivity set to a gloriously memorable soundtrack, led by some almost ethereal vocals from Rose and killer drumming from Yogev Gabay.
Other personal highlights include ‘Puppet On Strings’, which takes the foot off the accelerator but replaces the heaviness with an Anathema-esque laid-back, lush sophistication and some beautiful melodic intensity. This was one of the final songs to click with me but now, having done so, it is arguably my favourite song on the entire disc. The vaguely post-rock instrumental ‘For Ester’ is also a high point, thanks to its cinematic qualities and the emotion that it conveys within its relatively meagre length.
I could literally mention every track but instead, I need to conclude by making a couple of further important comments about ‘A Way Out’. First of which relates to the songwriting, principally the succinctness of the material. I’m deeply impressed at the way in which Distorted Harmony have created an album with so many layers and so much intelligent content, but which lasts around a thoroughly digestible 46 minutes. That’s an impressive feat as far as I’m concerned, proving that progressive music doesn’t have to be a chore.
The other important facet of ‘A Way Out’ is the production, which is absolutely superb. Music of this depth and complexity needs to be presented properly and here, everything is just right. You get the power and the clarity as well as the necessary space and separation to allow all of the elements within the music to shine through and make both an individual and a collective impact. Whether I listen to this record in the car or on headphones late at night, it is an effortless joy to listen to.
To be honest, whichever way you look at it or listen to it, ‘A Way Out’ is a near flawless collection of top drawer modern technical progressive metal that also has heart, subtlety and a magnetic beauty that keeps me coming back time and again. It may have been four years in the making, but ‘A Way Out’ was, without doubt, worth the wait.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
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