Jason Apoch Weiss is an online blogger who reviews metal music, movies and games.
Here’s the full review
Semantic Saturation is a Canadian Progressive Rock and Metal instrumental act that formed back in 2012. This four piece group, founded by former Nu.Clear.Dawn guitarist Shant Hagopian, wasted no time in recording and issuing their debut full-length album Solipsistic, which finds a home through Cornless Unicorn Records. Aside the active four members, this release finds additional keyboards from guest Progressive legend Derek Sherinian, formerly of Dream Theater fame, as well as some guest vocals from Vanden Plas singer, Andy Kuntz. But, with such a small window to write these nine often extensive performances, does Solipsistic prove to be a Progressive fans wet dream that should be sought out, or is the band’s name more of a warning than anything else?
Despite having some Progressive Metal traits, the production of Solipsistic doesn’t make it all that heavy an offering, which ends up a positive thing for the sake of atmosphere. The guitars have a cleaner distortion to them more akin to the Rock aspect of the style, though can be a bit heavier when lower notes come into play. The bass is a mid-range twanging approach most of the time that helps carry the groove of some songs moreso than just act as an aid to the rhythm in others. However, sometimes it can be played a lot deeper, which is usually during the heavier Progressive Metal songs or passages. The drums sound fantastic, having clear cymbals that sound like they are right there in front of you, along with the tight snaps of the snares, though the bass kicks are pushed back slightly with more of a thud. Then there’s the keyboards that appesar throughout. Most of the time it’s just small passages, but they vary from electronic distortions, to a much cleaner style that tries to replicate an actual piano in a clearly digital manner.
Even though the band mixes together the Metal and Rock worlds of the Progressive style, some of the best material comes more from the latter of the two. “Ambivalence” is the perfect example, and kicks off the album in the right direction. Some of the riffs, such as at the start, do carry a Metal touch as far as the distortion and bass presence goes, but the groove the track has does eventually carry into some lighter riffs from the guitar that offer additional technicality that is simply infectious with an upbeat vibe that continues to grow the further you get into it. This is easily one of the most memorable songs off the album, and thankfully not the last as “Make Believe” comes right in afterwards and offers a far more atmospheric offering. Showing traits of early NWOBHM influence, this track has some simpler, emptier passages that allow the mid-range bass to really take over, and it sounds great. There are additional cleaner chords in some of these spots that give it more emotion, aiding the passionate, catchy, and sometimes upbeat track in really standing out.
“Blessing in Disguise” offers a beautiful ballad piece, one you could see being the final song at the high school dance, or even a conclusionary kiss between main characters one might expect from a dramatic film or television show, such as The Wonder Years. The only difference is that there’s more complexity in the chords for an extended guitar solo style offering. The keyboards also sound fantastic here, and the cymbals help to fill this passionate performance without going too overboard. But, then there’s “Stardust,” which is a much heavier offering for the first half. The bass-rich track carries a darker tone through most of the Metal-drive riffs. Around the half way point, the slight burden the music conveys shifts over to a more astral, somewhat Space Rock approach that the listener can easily be wrapped up in. The additional clean keyboard notes are very subtle, but well played in a Jazz inspired manner for a brief period before going tighter and more electric. The song closes merging both heavier and lighter worlds into a sense of danger, as if cast out into a sea of darkness just to meet an abrupt end that does end up suiting to the track’s conclusion.
But, for all the priase, there’s some material that doesn’t quiet have the same impact. First up is “Point of Singularity,” which is similar to “Blessing in Disguise” in my ways. The main difference is that the acoustic riffs take center stage moreso than the bass, which seems rather muffled and restrained. That being said, the song is still pretty good, sometimes carrying a Spanish touch to it, giving this a vibe more like a serenade without the vocals. The keyboards end up really unneccesary here, presenting more of that astral tone that just doesn’t work with the atmosphere present. This is also the shortest song, and, while it’s still enjoyable, it does end up sounding like a filler composition unfortunately. Finally there’s “What We All Stop,” which features Andy Kuntz on vocals. Aside some various passages and guitar solos, this one doesn’t have the atmospheric bite many others have. The singing isn’t really all that great, but suits the toned down and restricted music outside the richer chorus. In the end, it’s not that unique an experience, and comes off more like a typical Progessive song with a bit of an identity crisis, finding some Power Metal environments here and there that feel forced due to Andy’s presence, all concluding with a very weird keyboard performance after a few moments of silence. It sounds pretty bad, and feels tacked on, as if Derek provided it for a song, and it wasn’t used, but they decided to throw it on as a bonus to make sure it was used.
Despite the two songs that don’t have the same bite or impact as the others, Solipsistic is a fantastic, varied Progressive journey fans of the style are definitely going to eat up. This doesn’t go off into the showmanship-like performances some bands in the style today seem to love doing, instead offering up some well constructed songs rich with atmosphere and talent in a way that flows smoothly from start to finish. One spin through this recording makes it pretty evident that Semantic Saturation is poised to go pretty far in the genre, and it wouldn’t be surprising if labels like InsideOut Music were to take notice of the group after this stunning debut. Easily one of the most important entries for the style in 2013, Solipsistic by Semantic Saturation is an album that needs to be included in your collection. It’s just sad that, given the underground nature behind it, this will probably be heavily overlooked outside the Candian territory of it’s birth, a true crime for a release of this caliber.
01. Ambivalence – 6:33
02. Make Believe – 5:06
03. Lost and Found Insanity – 5:26
04. Stardust – 6:49
05. Blessing in Disguise – 4:48
06. Armchair Activist – 4:10
07. Point of Singularity – 3:50
08. Time is an Illusion – 5:43
09. What We All Stop – 8:44
Initial Pressing Score: 9/10