Eclipse Leaves Listeners in the Dark
Monday, March 5, 2012 3 Comments
My first thought upon hearing the first few minutes of Veil of Maya’s new record: “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?!?!?!” I couldn’t tell if this was some kind of joke. It sounds exactly like the last record. And the last record sounded exactly like the one before that. I’m really at a loss as to how the band could put this record out and not think it sounds too much like their previous albums.
I couldn’t even fully enjoy listening to the album because while I was listening to it I had to pause and find where in their previous albums I had heard a riff before. And for the most part, I was successful. The album starts off the same way all VoM records do: a minute-long song with an eerie sounding intro that leads into chugging. “20/200” sounds a lot like “Pillars” from The Common Man’s Collapse or “Martyrs” from [id]. It kept bugging me because I knew it sounded like something else too. I eventually figured out that the song I was reminded of is Born of Osiris’ “Rosecrance” off The New Reign (also the first track of that album). No, they’re not note for note the same part, or exactly the same rhythm. But they’re similar in enough in my book. The VoM intros are minute-long songs with open chugging separated by sharply played dissonant chords. I’m willing to give VoM a pass on this one, because it seems like structuring the intros this way is intentional. Maybe the band thinks of it as an homage to their previous albums, or maybe even consider it a signature of theirs.
Besides the intro, there are many other moments throughout the album that remind me of their other songs. The cascading riffs and harmonies in “Divide Paths” are very similar to “It’s Not Safe to Swim Today” from The Common Man’s Collapse. The beginning of “The Glass Slide” sounds exactly like “Mowgli” from [id]. From the guitars, right down to the drum beat. Give the two a listen. There are many other examples, but I think you get the point.
Some of my favorite moments of the album are actually in “The Glass Slide.” I love 1:26-2:36 because it actually makes musical sense. They start out with a riff, and build upon it with layers. But then they totally ruin it by cutting to a riff that has nothing to do with anything that was in the song before. At 2:41 it sounds totally cliché how the drummer hits the cymbal. I’m no drummer, so I can’t say exactly what it is (china?) And afterwards they go back into the first riff of the song. This would make sense if they had organically built up to it, but that isn’t the case. It’s just kind of haphazardly placed there, and it kind of ruins the song for me, because on top of the riff having no business being there, it reminds me too much of “Mowgli.”
There are basically two aspects of Veil of Maya’s sound on this album. The aforementioned parts that are tried and true staples of the band’s sound, and then the new ideas. I have to say that I absolutely love the new parts. There are really cool moments throughout the album, such as the Periphery-esque melodicism in “Winter is Coming Soon.” I know Misha Mansoor played a hand in the production in this album, but the song is still cool. See, I don’t really care when things “kind of” sound like each other. But it’s undeniable when one thing blatantly sounds like another.
I know that when you’re writing a new album it’s hard to balance new ideas with old ones. You don’t want to stray too far from your original sound, because that would alienate your fans. You’ve built your fame on a particular sound, so I understand why you wouldn’t want to mess with a successful formula. At the same time, you really don’t want to be regurgitating the same sound over and over. So far, I think Veil of Maya have been relying too much on their old bag of tricks. [id] had great moments, and I would argue that Eclipse has some of the best ideas of any VoM album. However, it is by far their weakest album. One reason in particular is that the songs are so short that the cool ideas are never fully developed (the total runtime of the album is about 28 minutes). Another reason is because I have to sit through parts that I’ve already heard in previous albums. There’s really nothing that cohesively brings these riffs together as a song. And on top of that, there’s nothing that ties these songs together into an album. Rather than feeling like an album, this feels like a collection of random songs. That’s not really bad or anything, but at least the previous two albums had a distinctive feel.
For the record, The Common Man’s Collapse is by far VoM’s best album, with All Things Set Aside right behind it. [id] and Eclipse sit behind those two, because even though they have great moments, it feels like there’s too much recycling being done. The trend started with [id], and it continues on Eclipse. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the song lengths have been getting shorter with each album. I’m not saying that song length alone determines a song’s quality, but between the rehashed ideas, and the shorter song lengths, it seems like inspiration is running short. Hey, I know it’s hard to write in between tour cycles. But as a listener, I can’t escape my disappointment.
When I was listening to [id], I felt like I was listening to B-sides of The Common Man’s Collapse. The similarities are even more apparent this time, and now I feel like I’m listening to B-sides of B-sides. It’s like if you took the last two albums, put them in a blender, and then constructed the songs for this new album by putting the pieces together.
Now this is total speculation, but from what I can gather (interviews, etc.), Marc Okubo, the guitarist does the majority of the writing. It’s easy to tell then, why so many of the ideas sound the same; it’s because there’s only so much variety that one man can come up with. It also explains why the band’s sound has stagnated a bit. Hell, I couldn’t come up with four albums’ worth of material on my own and not have shit sound the same.
I really want to like this album. I honestly do. I respect Marc Okubo as a guitarist, and a musician. This album frustrates me because I know there’s the potential for something great. With more focused writing I think Veil of Maya could create something truly memorable.