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June 21, 2004

Sikth: The Trees are Dead and Dried Up; Wait for Something Wild

Sikth are one of the most interesting new metal groups around. A British band, they have almost no presence in America. I am very lucky to have discovered them, mostly by accident, on Amazon.com. They have a pretty nice website too.

Sikth’s style is best approximated as progressive hardcore, but to give them any label is to deny their impressive versatility. They have two vocalists, and alternate between clean singing and a sort of raspy yet theatrical wail, though often both vocalists participate in the latter style. The guitar work is technical and flashy, blending a high degree of melody with something few technical bands grasp: groove. Yes, Sikth make you want to shake your ass, and that’s a compliment few bands this talented really can do. Two guitarists ensure that you never want for either more rhthym or more soloing, both of which are abundant.

The opening track, “Scent of the Obscene”, begins with a bit of atmospherics a-la Mekong Delta’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” but these become a memory quickly with the introduction of a slap bass line and some reasonably advanced drumming, followed by a guitar slide. Then, the groove has you, and you immediately notice the technicality of the guitar work: high-speed notes are being played in between the riffs. I can’t emphasize enough that the speed here is quite impressive, not because it is really all that fast (though it is) but rather because everything is being played perfectly. Every note is crystal clear. It sounds crisp—a stark contrast to most hardcore, which is usually quite messy. The first vocals you hear are the raspy ones described above, but they lead into the chorus with a combination of clean and raspy vocals. About halfway through the song, the mood changes completely and we find ourselves in a mellow, bass-heavy section with ethereal guitar work while the clean vocalist croons. The intensity grows until we find ourselves back in the chorus, followed by a return to the frenetic mood of the post-introduction. Vocal interplay layered on top of the guitar work is the order of the day.

The second song opens with the higher of the raspy voices screaming “Pussyfooooooooooot!”, the name of the song, leading into grindy guitar work. The speed and intensity are a step up from the previous song. The nearest reference point for some of the vocals here seems to be System of a Down, but the comparison is a reach. Technical guitar work married with technical singing. Then a segue into a groove-enhanced section occurs with a very memorable back-and-forth “OOOGH” “AAAGH” shouting match left and right shouting match over the thumping of the guitar and bass. This is a rhythm-driven song, but the rhythm is very complex.

“Hold my Finger” opens with some guitar flourishes in the background, quickly returning to the groove-driven riffing with a brief step-up. This song has several playful rhythms and alternates between them frequently while alternating between vocal styles. It would be annoying if a lesser band had attempted a song of this complexity level, but Sikth manage to tie any amount of complexity together in a rhthymically and melodically pleasing fashion.

It is impossible to overemphasize the clarity of the elements of Sikth’s music, or in the case of the vocals, the uniqueness. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a singer quite like the singers in Sikth, with rapid-delivery, strange outbursts, theatrical pitch and silliness. I can only hope that it becomes more common in the years to come.

The fourth song is my pick of the litter: “Skies of Millenium Night.” This song stands out from the rest not for technical reasons (though the blood-curdling screams are probably the best here), but rather because more than the other songs it seems to transmit a passionate concern. Sikth can write wonderfully complex and beautiful songs with little underlying meaning, such as “Hold my Finger” which is ostensibly about the intimacy of holding someone’s finger, but in this song they manage to capture an incredible panorama of emotions. The song communicates the frustration of having so much technology and yet not managing to feed the world or reach the stars. Punctuated by screams of “Look at the sky!” it evokes the feelings of hope, frustration, fear, and dissatisfaction, while emphasizing hope. The groove is very much on, and the technicality is present in spades. A beautiful song that simply must be heard.

“Emerson Pt. 1” is a piano solo. These guys are incredibly diverse. :) It’s also short, sort of a well-placed breather between the frenetic first four songs and the other half of the album, which is more mixed.

The next track, “Peep show,” opens with mid-tempo thrash work. It quickly moves into a clean vocal croon over mellow guitar. This transitions into the guitar-heavy chorus with more crooning and wailing voices. It is probably the saddest song on the album and the least unique, but it fits in with the mixture quite well. The vocals become more desparate and scream-y as the song goes on, reaching a fever pitch near the middle just before a mellow inner section.

“Wait for Something Wild” is a mid-tempo grinder with lots of screaming and lots of showing off on the guitar. Abruptly, the mood shifts to a soft, gentle one, and just as abruptly changes to a slower pace, atmospheric guitar. The vocals shift to slower spoken word with clean vocals with intermittent bass and guitar flourishes before another shift back to the introductory theme. The song spends a good 30 seconds on miscellaneous screaming as the exit (sounds like at least 3 voices screaming randomly), which was a new one for me.

“Tupelo” is a Nick Cave cover. The band manages to do a very subtle job without imitating NC. There are plenty of guitar flourishes but the implementation is flawless.

“Can’t We All Dream?” begins with some relatively creepy organ work and a man shouting in the distance, punctuated by bass thumps. A few minutes in, some light atmospheric wailing and singing is added along with some non-standard drumming. A very mellow song with no sudden technical insanity. Some violin comes in as the distant man comes closer, singing gently with apparently female vocals in the background softly filling in. As the song comes to a close, the man in the background is now close, screaming “Can’t We All Dream?!” over and over as the guitar, drums and violin fade out. A theatrical, soft, song with a characteristically weird ending that leaves you tingling.

“Emerson Pt. 2” is another soft piano solo, this time with the sound of kids playing in the background overlayed on it very lightly. Every time I play this song I wonder if I am hearing kids outside. Ends with some beepy crap designed to confuse.

“How May I Help You?” opens frenetic, reminiscent of “Pussyfoot” though groovy as hell. Strange scales are playing in the background throughout, reminiscent of Mekong Delta’s “Music of Erich Zann” album and “Memories of Tomorrow” in particular. The groove changes repeatedly in this short piece but never manages to settle on a particular rhythm or melody. The song closes with theatrical voices interacting, a low and heavy voice and a high voice leading into more rhythm/melody randomness. This is all very pleasing to the ear, it should be emphasized.

The next piece, “(If You Weren’t So) Perfect” starts with old-school thrash transitioning to melody-play. Out of nowhere a hard groove emerges and dominates the rhythm, demanding at least an obligatory ass-shake, then departs for more melody-play, and this pattern repeats itself.

“Such the Fool” is about as close as they come to an amelodic technical hardcore song, though the melody is still present—just foreign sounding. Transitions are faster and more random in this song, with another clean vocal melodic chorus leading into a mellow section, which returns to the insanity after a moderate length of time. This is probably the most technical song on the album, showing that even after the insanity of the first half of the album, Sikth can turn it up a notch.

The final track, “When Will the Forest Speak?” is a spoken word piece with no instruments other than some slight vocal modification. You have to hear it to believe it.

Sikth are incredibly talented. I hope that someone here decides to purchase this album or come over to my place to hear it or something, based on this review. The complexity would be really daunting if melody and groove weren’t their other mottos. I love the vocalizations and the complexity there, a contrast to most other technical outfits that limit themselves to death or hardcore shouts, or even traditional singing. The complexity of their vocals are enough to merit them a place in the annals of metal history, but they are also bearers of two masters of guitar. The rhythm section ensures that just about every song on the album is danceable, or as close to it as we can come in the metal genre. Truly I can think of no other band in 2003 or 2004 who has done as much to propel us into the future.

Posted by FusionGyro at June 21, 2004 05:21 PM

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