Descender is technical, tender, and above all, endlessly impressive. A masterclass of emotional prog.
I love all kinds of music, so it would be quite disingenuous (or just flat-out wrong) of me to say that one genre is more passionate than another. All (good) art contains passion; it’s a primary driver to artists and creation. But still, I find that progressive music seems to contain a special kind of passion, especially prog music that is powerful in an emotional way. Hailing from Puerto Rico, Avandra are an exemplary force within this emotional progressive landscape. They set themselves apart with Descender by showing some restraint – something prog artists often struggle with – and just plain being better than a lot of their peers at inspiring a listener to be in touch with yourself and the world around you.
Although the first minutes of “Beyond the Threshold Part 1 – Helios Awakens” may contradict my comments on their restraint with its energetic opener, it’s still a great hook for what are two of the best tracks I’ve heard all year. The song often pulls back and lets singer Christian Ayala run free with his enchanting, airy voice. This is where I’m most comfortable as a listener. Keyboard flourishes and showy guitar work do punctuate this and other songs quite well, but all of the power comes from the moments when Avandra let the music breathe. It’s like sitting on a grassy hill wrapped in a blanket, looking up at the azure morphing skies as a gentle wind caresses your face.
So many of the transitional moments here give me chills. There are several within the two “Beyond the Threshold” songs alone that are borderline transcendental, as if opening your eyes to all the untapped beauty in the world around you. “A Decision Must Be Made” is another massive standout that’s all lower tempo with a softer rock mood. Again, Ayala just kills it with his smooth cadence. “Even//You” continues this approach into the second half of the album with more colorful additions like a twinkling, pensive synth melody. This track shows a slight dark side to the album, but one that isn’t necessarily malevolent or betrays the overall softer structure of the overall sound. It’s enigmatic and truly difficult to put into words, but it’s something I can definitely feel within the core of the music.
Even the more conventional moments on the album, like the Cynic-esque “Derelict Minds”, are capable of enveloping you in a storm of progressive charm thanks to Avandra‘s top-notch writing and commitment to mood. Flashy riffing is still thoroughly backed up by Ayala’s superb vocals; the technical drumming is complemented by separate measures of atmosphere, provided by Kevin Moore (ex-keyboardist for Dream Theater) on this particular track. If you’re all about balance of your tones and moods in an album, Descender should prove to be an expertly paced album for you.
Listening to Descender is an absolutely sensory and stunning experience. It reminds me of Roy Batty from Blade Runner, and how he stood in front of Rick Deckard after saving his life and reflected on his own life as a rogue replicant before dying. I think of how he saw things others wouldn’t believe, implying how witnessing such things is to be cherished and is integral to a fulfilled life, fracturing the line between human and machine. Descender places you at the precipice of existence and shows you everything that is and isn’t – all up to your interpretation – but it’s all fascinating, captivating, and special. Something that’s to be cherished and remembered fondly.
What Avandra offer are tears in the rain. It’s evident that they want you to feel something special with their music, and they have the artistic chops to deliver on that. I haven’t felt this emotionally connected to a progressive music album for a few years. Learning that Descender was written by the band during the miserable aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the devastation of which is still painfully felt to this day, is very telling of its slight gloomy tone that burrows into you. It’s a hypnotizing affair that really helps you appreciate all the beautiful, arresting things in life. If you’re a prog fan, you would be doing a great disservice to yourself by not experiencing this album.