First, I thought East of the Wall was a new band for me. I took this review on because Toni recommended it as some of the best prog this year. Well, I’m in. Then I remembered later they dropped NP-Complete four years ago, and my brain let out the biggest revelatory ‘oooohhhhhhhhhhhh‘ it had in a while. Four years is a while, yes, but I was wondering why I so easily forgot this band when I do remember liking NP-Complete a good amount. With my memory, it wasn’t surprising though.
That context didn’t do much to change my opinion of A Neutral Second though – I thought it was a good album before and after remembering. I was initially put off slightly by the album’s first song (something about the vocals in the verses didn’t do it for me, but the chorus is good), but that’s where any substantial criticisms begin and end. Even within the first song, “Detonator Gauntlet”, the instrumentation is vast and immense, really putting the rock in ‘prog rock’. Guitar is gnarly, bass has the vigorous ‘boof’ of a big, loveable dog, and the drums are pulling overtime to color between the lines with some tasty rhythms. The busiest sections that bridge movements together remind me of some of The Physics House Band‘s crescendos and climaxes – I love that band, so that’s a wildly huge compliment from me.
I think what gets me the most with East of the Wall is their tectonic shifts between more action-oriented structures to calming, sedated ones. Within the same songs, you’ll hear them effectively play with tone, pace, and mood, and this is where I really like my prog to be a lot of the time. One of the best tracks to do it is “Autosomal Recessive”, the longest on the album by a handful of seconds. It’s churns nice and quiet relative to its more explorative and explosive elements, including some harshly yelled vocals, something only a couple songs on A Neutral Second house. The transitions are the best part for me, acting as portals to new realms for the band to settle in their sonic adventuring, us in tow, in awe at what’s taking place.
“Momentum Mori” has this anxious feeling about it with fluttering bass and chest-collapsing drum fills that put the prog in ‘prog rock’ (now we have completed the equation). The riffs are clean, but mostly play as accents to the aforementioned rhythm section that kills it on this song. Coincidentally, this is another song that also has harsh vocals, though it’s not particularly a standout reason why I like the song. It’s the energy and I found its lyrical theme of burning fuel – and yourself – to keep things going against all odds relatable these days as I seem to work more and more.
A Neutral Second didn’t feel too concerned with being the catchiest or most technical prog rock album you’ve heard, and that’s fine. This is an album with some restraint and focus in many ways. Length-wise, it’s just shy of 42 minutes, and eight tracks is all it took for East of the Wall to satiate me – I’ll take it. While I do wish the melodies were a bit more captivating to me personally, the soundscapes and ambience captured in lieu of that are a good payoff.
I actually went back to listen to NP-Complete after I wrote a majority of this review and heard A Neutral Second several times. I found more or less the same thing I did on this new album, so put up another mark for the band for consistency as well. While I still chalk up my forgetfulness to my two remaining brain cells failing to retain East of the Wall from years ago, I think it did also have to do with the fact that the band fall just – and I do mean just – short of giving me what I needed to fully memorialize the band in my mental annals of stellar music. For prog fans, especially those that genuinely haven’t given the band a try yet, it’s a trek well worth taking. This may be the one thing to get your prog pal summer going hard.