Universe Effects – Desolation – Album Review

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Artist: Universe Effects

Album Title: Desolation

Label: Independent

Date of Release: 29 October 2018

And finally, here we have it. I was talking a few weeks ago about the fact that I am forever searching for the next great prog discovery, a task that has become ever-harder as the years go by because I feel like I have uncovered almost every gem that the genre has to offer. I was certain that I was being naïve and was incorrect and, ironically, I was right. Because today, I am pleased to say that there is a new name about which I can wax lyrical. There is a core following for whom Universe Effects are not a new name but for me, this is an entertaining and gratifying new discovery.

For those of you who, like me, are unfamiliar with this band, allow me to fill in a few of the blanks. Universe Effects hail from Quebec City in Canada and describe themselves as a ‘cinematic rock band’. They are a quintet comprised of bassist Dominic Tapin-Brousseau, keyboardist Francis Grégoire, guitarist Gabriel Cyr, drummer Philippe Pouliot and vocalist/acoustic guitarist Gabriel Antoine Vallée. Prior to ‘Desolation’, Universe Effects had released just one album, ‘In the Haze That Surrounds Us’ back in 2015.

It took a few spins of this sophomore full-length for the music to start to click and make an impact upon me. At first, my main concern was with the vocals and what I initially perceived to be an album that was nice, but just a bit bland – lots of endeavour and attempted grandiosity, but with little to hook me in and keep me entertained. However, what I soon discovered was an album very different from my first impression.

I will be totally honest and state at this point that Gabriel Antoine Vallée doesn’t have the greatest voice in progressive circles. He is perfectly decent, able to hit the notes as required and there is no lack of effort. But when there are so many spectacular voices in prog these days, you always hope for something more than ‘decent’, especially when the music tries to be quite ambitious.

Musically, the first thing that drew me in after a while was, perhaps surprisingly, the drums, principally the sound of the drums in the mix and the use of those ‘classic’ crisp tom rolls for which I have such a weakness. A few of these caught my attention and from there, I found myself listening more intently.

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On the subject of the production, ‘Desolation’ is a wonderfully smooth-sounding record, able to afford the instruments the clarity they need but also allowing the keys to dominate for the most part, thereby accentuating the ‘cinematic’ aspect of the Canadians’ sound. I’d have liked a little more muscle and grunt in the guitar department but when they do come to the fore a little more, there are some nice riffs and plenty of expansive lead solos as is the prog way.

In their bio, the band list a large number of influences, from the usual suspects like Rush and Dream Theater, right through to Freak Kitchen. But what caught my eye the most is the reference to both Hans Zimmer and John Williams. To underline this, ‘Desolation’ opens with the title track, a three-minute long dark, moody and oppressive film-score piece that builds to an impressively bold climax. This could easily be the soundtrack to a sci-fi thriller.

However, when ‘Wasteland’ commences, the more recognisable prog trappings emerge, from the tinkling of pianos, gentle atmospheric synths, introspective-sounding vocals and an interesting, yet relaxed drum and bass rhythm. The lead guitar then joins, following the vocal line for the most part. All of a sudden, things take a turn for the heavier, with strong early Haken echoes to the more energetic material. The more I listen, the stronger the melodies become and the more I realise just how cinematic the band really want to be. The song moves from section to section with eyebrow-raising frequency, flitting between moments of light and shade, heavy and serene, all the while with the output doused in synths to add depth and richness.

I really like the opening riff and beat to ‘Oblivious’, a track that contains a strong energy and oomph to be one of the stand-out tracks on the record, particularly thanks to a real grower of a chorus. Again, it took a while to make its mark but now that it has, I have to say that it is a great track. The keys and synths are more playful, blending more modern sounds with those staple effects that have been heard within progressive music since the 70s. And, like this record as a whole, there is plenty of room afforded to the extended instrumental interlude or flourish, including some great drumming and even a little funky slap bass for good measure.

‘Fading Light’ is an 11-minute exercise in technicality and also a good demonastration of how to build up tension. Beginning quietly, it builds in intensity to around the half-way mark to include some vaguely extreme metal drumming and a chunky, swirling riff, only to drop off a cliff into quiet, minimalist territory. But again, the music builds expertly, to include an elegant guitar solo which drives the song into an opulent and flamboyant climax, full of bold cinematic endeavour.

Whether ‘Desolation’ is formed of five or nine tracks will depend on whether you view ‘The Library’ as one single body of work or five separate tracks. Either way, this accounts for around 38 minutes of music, during which time, Universe Effects deliver some really great progressive rock, in keeping with the vibe of what has gone before without seeing any dip in quality.

‘Part I: Departure’ has a strong dreamy Pink Floyd feel to it before adding a touch of relaxed jazz to proceedings. As it advances, it leaves the softness behind, gathering in power until abruptly ending with the introduction on ‘Part II: The Garden Of Lights’, a great piece full of well-placed chunky stop-start riffing, lovely drum flourishes, instrumental meanderings and some strong melodies to tie everything together. Indeed, the ebb and flow throughout this part, as well as ‘Part III: Corruption’, ‘Part IV: Collapse’ and ‘Part V: Resurgence’ is nicely paced and full of twists and turns both musically and lyrically. Again, if I was being totally up-front with my views, I’d have to suggest that this sequence would have benefitted from a few more immediate hooks to act as reference points and demand further explorations. Nevertheless, the ambition and the execution cannot be faulted.

If I could sum ‘Desolation’ up in one word, it would be ‘elegant’. It is technically adept, ambitious in terms of the song constructions and grandiose where the overriding cinematic elements are concerned. And yet, the whole record just sounds very smooth and enjoyable to listen to. I think that this smoothness might also be its Achilles Heel because it might not grab some listeners quickly enough. However, ‘Desolation’ is very much a success and I’m delighted to have made their musical acquaintance. I’m sure that this record will remain on rotation for some time to come and I look forward to the next instalment with great interest.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Kalidia – The Frozen Throne
Rikard Sjoblom’s Gungfly – Friendship
Ashes of Ares – Well of Souls
Veonity – Legend of the Starborn
Bloodbath – The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn
Nochnoy Dozor – Nochnoy Dozor EP
Vola – Applause of a Distant Crowd
Lost In Thought – Renascence
Into Eternity – The Sirens
Fifth Angel – The Third Secret
Ashes of my Memory – Raptures /// Disillusions EP
Anathema – Internal Landscapes
Samskaras – Lithification
Seventh Dimension – The Corrupted Lullaby
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow
Northward – Northward
Seventh Wonder – Tiara
Warrel Dane – Shadow Work
Haken – Vector
Beyond Creation – Algorythm
Ultha – The Inextricable Wandering
Amaranthe – Helix
Ghost Ship Octavius – Delirium
Decembre Noir – Autumn Kings
The Odious Construct – Shrine of the Obscene
Fauna Timbre – Altering Echoes
The Moor – Jupiter’s Immigrants
Revocation – The Outer Ones
Riverside – Wasteland
Ethernity – The Human Race Extinction
Dynazty – Firesign
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost
Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned
Kingcrow – The Persistence
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
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

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