"Turning Tides"

By Great Sun Jester

Malpractice's newest release from Napalm Records is an unabashed, expertly produced progressive metal concoction. Guitar pyrotechnics, precision drumming, restless tempos, and a strong grasp of melody fill every song. This release has clear reference points with genre giants like Queensryche and Dream Theater and this shared lineage often serves them well when the band hits on the right structure for their musical excursions and emphasizes their stronger dynamics. However, the band often parrots their predecessors' layered, confident sweep without ever rising above it. It leaves crucial moments of the album meandering and dilutes the work's overall strength.

The opener is a good example of this. "Best Kept Secret" storms out of the speakers with a tight, precisely orchestrated romp that grabs the listener's attention. However, the band is content with ratcheting up the tension without ever exploding it, but the shift into a harder attack isn't enough to compensate for the lack of any memorable bridge or chorus. I will never be someone who says the lack of these elements dooms a song, but the opening slot on any album is a crucial selection for any band and one as commercially minded as this choosing such an almost expository number for the album's start is baffling. It, perhaps, might have played better as the album's second track.

"Weight of the World" is a stronger effort. The slithering guitar attack generates impressive heat and has a fluid bite, but furious rhythm section supplies much of the song's energy and aggression. The vocal melody is a little weak, but the performance is nuanced and the band's use of harmony vocals is strong without ever becoming overbearing. It represents a real advance over the first song with its stirring crescendos and memorable chorus.

The dissonance opening "Irony Tower" sets the scene for a much harder attack than we've heard so far and ranks as a definite highlight. Conjuring echoes of their thrash past, Malpractice plows through a handful of tempo shifts that enhance the dynamics of light and shade. The band has proven they are adept at writing strong melodies, but a moment like this sounds like songwriting fulfilling its full potential. It rages in a fresh, surprising way that never lost my attention.

The title track is a cinematic, fifteen-minute plus epic in a similar vein as "Irony Tower". The scope is much more impressive here and the songwriting shows tremendous imagination as they play in lockstep through a seemingly endless array of clever riffs and changes in direction. A multitude of thoughtful touches distinguish the material - the atmospherics and flamenco tinged acoustic guitar near the beginning and the powerfully orchestrated dynamics between lighter and softer moments are among the composition's strengths. Long epics should never suffer from "over-construction" that leaves them sounding premeditated and lifeless. The key to a long song's success is its organic movement, the inevitability of one section flowing into another. This song has that - it makes sense and builds on itself.

"Symphony of Urban Discomfort" is, perhaps, a strange choice for the closing number. As an instrumental, it is a powerful work with madcap tempo shifts and enough energy and aggression for three songs. However, when taken with the rest of the work, it feels slotted at the end as an afterthought, a strange lapse in focus that raises more questions than it answers. It shows a powerhouse musical outfit impressively working out for the listener, but it doesn't fit.

Recommended, with some reservations.