Album Title: Frontal
Label: Frontiers Music
Date of Release: 12 March 2021
I somehow nearly overlooked this album when compiling my list of potential reviews for March, and that would have definitely been a mistake. With a month already bursting at the seams with new music, a relatively uninspiring front cover, and buried within the ever-increasing Frontiers roster, I needed a reminder from a reader of my blog to check this out. And by ‘this’, I mean ‘Frontal’, the second full-length release from progressive metal band Turbulence. Hailing from an unlikely part of the world, I’m pretty sure this is the first prog metal record I’ve ever heard from Lebanon. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.
If it is the first, I have to say that they have set the bar pretty high for any compatriots to follow in the future. Turbulence have a history of performing Dream Theater tribute gigs apparently, so it will come as no surprise when I inform you that the US progressive metal institution is the biggest influence at play on ‘Frontal’, a concept album based around a true story of a construction worker, Phineas Gage, who survived having a metal rod accidently impaled through his head, albeit with a partially-destroyed frontal lobe.
However, Dream Theater is not the only influence at play because there is definitely a touch of Haken at times, which particularly comes through in the more modern flourishes, or when Turbulence go off on a bit of an odd tangent. But actually, what draws me in to Turbulence’s music most is the really nice blend of technical elements including polyrhythms, complex instrumentation, rhythms and tempos, alongside quieter, more chilled, smoother sections. Whilst I’d not go so far as to say that ‘Frontal’ is an emotional rollercoaster, I do detect an emotional depth to the music that can sometimes be lacking in this kind of progressive metal. For me, that’s a real positive.
Another positive is the nice production job. It can be tough to make an accurate comment when faced with an internet stream of a record but I have to say that the impression that’s made on me is a good one. There’s nice separation between the instruments and an overall clarity and smoothness doesn’t rob the metallic elements of power when power and crunch is required. In short, I find it a fatigue-free easy listen.
What isn’t quite so positive is the overall length of ‘Frontal’. At over 66 minutes in length, it might put a few people off. There is definitely a need for a little editing because five of the eight compositions extend well beyond eight minutes in length, with two of those running into double figures. Whilst the song writing is of a high standard and lengthy material is often a staple ingredient of prog music, I am not convinced that all of these tracks required their extended presence.
Notwithstanding the length of the album, there is much to enjoy about ‘Frontal’ as a whole and, it has to be said, within just about every individual track. Somewhat bravely, Turbulence begin the album with the longest song. ‘Inside The Gage’ spans eleven minutes but it’s an ideal opener, as it has great energy about it. The riffs are powerful and interesting, whilst the rhythms are complex and very tight. There’s plenty of light and shade too, with layers of keys adding warm atmosphere to both the heavier and lighter passages. Vocalist Omar El Hage impresses with an authoritative display and a delivery which offers a good range and lots of emotion. Melody is an important ingredient and, after a few spins, they become stronger and more memorable, particularly in the latter stages when we’re treated to a wonderfully soulful and musical lead guitar solo to compliment the mellifluous soundscape it accompanies.
‘Dreamless’ is the shortest track but it is one of the most beautiful. It has an ambient feel with gentle electronic beats and more warm melody, not to mention another impressive vocal display. By contrast, the well-named ‘Ignite’ is a more abrasive, confrontational beast with even the occasional agonised scream for good measure. But then, as is there apparent way, lovely melodies emerge to envelop the listener, the perfect counterpoint to some frenetic and technically adept progressive metal at other points.
When I referenced Haken earlier, I was primarily thinking of ‘The Place I Go To Hide’, as Turbulence decide to go a little crazy, throwing all sorts of ideas into the melting pot. There are some nice early melodies at the outset that actually remind me a little of Distorted Harmony, but as the composition develops, out comes the more extravagant side of the band, with bold synth sounds, interesting vocals layers and effects, more pronounced djent-like riffs and jazz-inspired instrumental workouts. To top it all off, the track then ends with an unexpected carnival music conclusion. I quite like it, more so the more I listen actually.
I really like ‘Faceless Man’ too, as it is really rather beautiful. Slower, more emotional and ballad-like, I love the smooth, relaxed nature of it. However, ‘Perpetuity’ has to be my current favourite track as well as being a strong statement with which to end the album. The riffs throughout are really cool, a real sense of the epic is captured, and the variety is impressive. And it’s my favourite because of its quirkiness, technical strength, and because it is blessed with arguably some of the strongest melodies on the record.
If you’re on the hunt for a progressive metal album that has one foot in the past, and the other very much in the here and now, Turbulence might just be exactly what you’re looking for. I have certainly become very fond of ‘Frontal’ and it isn’t difficult to see why. This is quality music, quality musicianship, and heart all in one very enjoyable progressive metal package.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: