The mystical magical world of instrumental progressive anything is one of hard work and excess production efforts, intricate bells and whistles, and most of all, excessive squiggly guitar sounds because that is most definitely the adult term. Today, myself and fellow long time curmudgeon and Bucketlist newcomer, Ted Berger, are going to combine our powers of childish mainstream taste and underground flex to wag a walking stick at the latest full-length effort by Montreal, QC progressive instrumental ensemble Unbeing, titled Delta. Grumpy fucks, take form of… grumpier fucks?
Of the two of us stern faces, it is definitely easiest to say I’m most familiar with the genre and the homegrown familiar face that is Unbeing. For anybody unfamiliar, progressive metalcore is basically taking your garden variety 4/4 time signature chug along and turning it into calculus with pretty sounds. Doing said math problem instrumentally means you then get the added joy of trying to make this pretty without the usual garden variety angelic voices in the equation and making up for it with the remaining instrumental melodies, which is as hard as it sounds. This is most notably done by the household names of the genre like Animals As Leaders or my favorite of the noodly noods in Canada’s own Intervals. Chugs, squeals, more chugs, fancy synthetic components, smooth jazzy transitions, MIGHTY GROOVE, more chugs, more squeals and so on and so forth are all part of the process that creates a mind-boggling product of musical genius. Unbeing essentially follow the standards of this genre to a tee, which then sparks my usual bullshit argument of either being “different” or “better than everybody else doing it”
Delta does everything described with a magnificent standard for quality but lacks the kind of spirit required to make one of these clusterfucks captivating. No, I’m not about to preach about the heart of music, but honestly speaking, the only thing this record doesn’t have is the enthrallment factor. From the very start of “Deployment,” it’s more than apparent that Unbeing plans on muscling their way through your skull in a fashion most chuggly, and through the journey that is the entirety of Delta, there are a few inescapable points to make peace with. Firstly, there’s no denying the sheer skill in both the creation and execution of this thing. These songs are smooth, fast, ambient on an almost R&B level, and complicated. Secondly, there were some perplexing choices of the aforementioned bells and whistles. Namely; the nature sounds in “Maim-Recover,” the repeated use of dead silences between songs and even transitions within songs (which left a rather annoyed aftertaste I must admit), and an oddly placed clip of a Metro announcement in “Sea, Air & Land – Seal,” which I can only imagine was intended as a pluck at the heartstrings of every Montrealer listening. All of which really only left me a feeling perplexed. Oh and not missing my fucking daily metro commute. Lastly, this record feels more like an homage to the genre and less like an attempt at breaking ground. As harsh as that may sound, Delta isn’t different, and it doesn’t necessarily do anything better than anybody else. It’s well put together and if you’re already a fan, then this will hit the spot, but if you’re testing the proverbial waters of Unbeing, you may find yourself quickly craving an AAL or Intervals record sooner than giving this effort a second run. Because of course writing, recording, mixing, and mastering an album of this calibre wasn’t already complicated enough, you also have to make it fucking interesting too? Well, this can fuck right off now can’t it.
Being the n00b here, I’m pretty sure the point of these here bi-polar reviews is to debate the qualities of an album based on differing opinions, but Jason and I are pretty much on the same page with this one. The two words that came to mind after listening to this were “uninspired” and “unremarkable.” Being a vocalist, I’ve always depended more on lyrical and vocal content to draw me to the heart of a song’s purpose, so instrumental music has been at a disadvantage. Unless an instrumental can prove to elicit an emotional response or take me on a musical journey, then it really doesn’t do me much good. Unfortunately, Delta doesn’t manage to do much of either. There are touches of potential for strong, quality songwriting, but they are brief and predictable at best. It’s like the journey they are taking you on is that underground metro Jason mentioned before; from time to time, you can see the light of unique stations, but most of the time you’re in the tunnel and once you’ve seen one subway, you’ve seen ‘em all.
Now, there’s no questioning that these guys have talent in what they are doing. The musicianship is on point and they can pull it off well, but it seems clear that this was recorded, re-recorded and corrected in editing software to ensure perfection, yet it resulted in losing any semblance of humanity or personality in the process. The simple addition of a vocalist could be an easy distinguisher from falling into the formula of the genre or taking some risks with outside influence. Whenever I heard the generic electronic synth accompaniment for the tracks, I found myself wishing that instead of playing it safe, they had taken a cue from early industrial such as Skinny Puppy or Front Line Assembly to truly distinguish themselves from their contemporaries. Without the ability to bring something to the table to stand out from others in the style, Unbeing risk having their musical abilities overlooked as just another group applying the djent formula to churn out an overproduced, boring release.
With heavy hearts, we the grumps have spoken. With risk comes reward, and it’s clear that Unbeing are talented musicians who would prefer to err on the side of caution rather than make waves in the land of the chug. It’s alright as background music to those who are into the genre, but in general, Delta is nothing to write home about. Which is precisely why I won’t be sending my mother a copy of this review. Jason’s mother on the other hand…
Written by Jason Greenberg and Ted Berger
*Edited by Dominic Abate