Source: The Dutch Progressive Rock Page
Date: December 2006
Reviewer: Andy Read
Iíve found this an incredibly difficult album to review. Having raved over Divided Skyís self-released debut album, Spectral, I naturally jumped at the opportunity to see how the band has developed in the past three years.
Iíve had this on and off my player for the past two months, and I still canít come to a conclusion as to whether The Subtle Art Of Failure is genius or just confused.
What I have no doubt about, is that Divided Sky is a band with huge - nay massive - potential. In a similar way to Pain Of Salvation, when the Swedes first appeared on the scene, this four-some from Philadelphia is really pushing the boundaries of progressive metal into a distinctive and ground-breaking new territory.
That this album will take many - and I mean many - listens to fully sink in, should be taken for granted by anyone who grabs a copy. The Subtle Art Of Failure is an attempt to fuse a smorgasbord of genres, moods and emotions, in order to create a unique sound. Experimental and innovative in equal measure, thereís a heavy use of improvisation across the 14 tracks contained within.
The music is generally strong on melody and groove, but it is also filled with sudden shifts of dynamics, moving from frenetic double bass drums and grinding guitars, to slower, P-o-S-like acoustic arrangements Ė and usually back and forth between the two extremes in just one song!
In a similar way to Kings-X, when they first hit the scene many a moon ago, African/American vocalist Sean Crisden, has a voice that immediately stands out from the crowd. His unconventional melody and phrasing, mixed with the Pain of Salvation-like discordant harmonies, fits in with the music perfectly. As on the debut, he reminds me at times of the Novact vocalist.
His vocals are blended with a wide range of guitar styles Ė from highly-aggressive metal riffage to mellow acoustics Ė as well as a huge variety in the style of the bass and drums, plus occasional, atmospheric synth elements. The lyrics meanwhile are poetically evocative and add an important dimension to the music.
There are times when the band gets the blend just right, creating a perfect vintage that warrants the conclusion of 'genius'. Father, for example, is a beautiful song where the band maintains a steady groove even though they mix-up their lighter and heavier approaches. It is a very complicated and multi-faceted song, but everything somehow fits together to make a coherent piece. Similarly, on Memory And Desire, where a clean guitar sound creates a superb instrumental section with bass and drums.
Unfortunately, as frequently as the band gets it right, they get it wrong - delivering an equal number of songs where the 'confused' label comes in. The opening track has a great central melody and lyric, but is torn apart by drums, bass and guitars going off in different directions. Sometimes less really is more.
I remember commenting that on the debut the production was rather poor and sadly things havenít improved. Itís on the tracks where the guitars and bass are in full grind mode that it all becomes a bit of a muddle. The opening track suffers the most, where Crisdenís voice really struggles to maintain its authority.
I guess what Iím really saying is that there is just too much to absorb on this album. Thereís such a wealth of ideas and creativeness here, but rather like a kid being let loose in a sweet shop at Christmas, one comes out very bloated at the end. To aid the digestion, I often take this album in phases of three or four songs. But perhaps if the band could just stick closer to 40 minutes, rather than 70, that would reduce the risk of over-doing it.
I may be being over-critical here, as I know some people will no doubt go for the chaotic approach to musical art. But as I said at the start, I canít help but feel that Divided Sky has the potential to do something really special that will have a much wider appeal. After two albums they should be able to decide what works and what doesnít. If they make the correct choices and get into a decent studio with an outside producer who can impose a bit of discipline and direction, then the third album will be immense.
But maybe Iím missing the point, and the band will decide that this freeform-style of music is how they want to express themselves. Ah well, life is all a matter of choices.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10