By Gary Wright
The Emblem Faction 'TimeScapes' (2017)
The Emblem Faction is a brand new 5-piece progressive metal band from Des Moines, Iowa. Featuring former members of The Creation Complex, They Will Repent, Constellation, and Shatter, the band's sound could be described as laying somewhere between that of those first two bands (that I've heard), but introduces a heavy groove element that forms the backbone of its sound. Their debut EP, 'TimeScapes' (2017), is a 5-track explosion of tech metal with djent guitar signatures that offers up a fresh experience with an increasingly popular mix of genres.
The line-up is Mark Richardson on vocals, Brandon Feldt and Will McHenry on guitars, Steven Lucia on bass, and Wade Niffenegger on drums. This powerhouse quintet bring forth sickly dirty and distressed clean vocals - the former on par and even exceeding that of many dedicated death metal/deathcore vocalists, chug-chug ear-shredding djenty guitars, clangy rhythmic bass, and intricately demanding drums. Brandon approached me about possibly doing a review of his new band's EP as he knew that I liked the previous bands he'd been in. It was a great honor to have access to the tracks before their official release date (March 31 2017), and to be asked by a skilled scene musician for my opinion. It's not hard to find similarities between the sound of this venture and the members' previous bands, but they wish for them not to be directly compared as this one is their most personal projects yet, with a complete life of its own and a new direction. Indeed, it's been a long and enduring process that has shaped this new band's sound, and is the result of years of combined musicianship from all those involved.
If you're into this radically modern type of genre fusion, your ears won't take much persuading and you'll soon identify rudiments that we all know and love while being surprised by elaborate grooves and substance that keeps the audience in suspense. At just under 16-minutes long, you'll find that you're left wanting more. With not a single 'blegh' to be heard, which sometimes appears as an unimaginative or esoteric vocal filler with bands of this formation, the lyrical content is as relevant and forceful as the music. For those of you that are interested... this EP was recorded, tracked, mixed, and mastered by Curtis Morgan (also guitarist in the band 'Final Escape') of CM Sound based in Albia, Iowa. The band have this recording studio to thank for their new, more developed and fine-tuned sound, as much as their evolution with their own abilities.
So let's take a brief look at each track in its own right.
01. Intro (0:59) is an instrumental track that starts us off, and displays chillingly dissonant clean guitar, torrents of staggering double-bass and paralyzing rhythms. These 'intro' tracks have become a customary addition to releases by band's of these types of cosmopolitan musical genres.
02. Sandy Beaches (2:45) was released as a single before the EP was launched. It's the first track to showcase the visceral, bestial, infernal presence that is Mark's vocal prowess and is a quality not always found in prog metal, set against the debilitating sound of their 8-string Agile guitars and thundering basslines. Even on this first real song, you can clearly hear that Wade has really stepped up his game since playing drums in previous projects with a variance of intense, attention grabbing low-end and lavish patterns. This song is over way too fast.
03. It Sucks That Han Solo Is Dead (5:29) is the longest track on the EP, and is the first time we hear the clean vocals used. This is progressive composition at its finest. It starts off at an unassuming pace, steadily building atmosphere and going through many different tempo shifts, moods, and densities, until it reaches its peak of auditory intensity that's handled so cleverly that you don't comprehend just how heavy the track is until you take a step back and realize what your ears are hearing. It ends with very groovy guitar riffs courtesy of Brandon and Will. John Ira (guitarist in the band 'Amass The Grave') recorded drums for this track in his basement, and you may also know him from his own 'Sound The Slaughter Records' label also based in Des Moines, Iowa.
04. Stampede (2:32) is the shortest actual song and is my favorite one here. With noticeably heavy underlying groove, it's topped off with guttural vocals, clean guitar interspersed by surly and scratchy djent guitar, twangy scathing basslines thanks to Steve and his 5-string Peavey, and complex drum work... this is another song that stops way too abruptly.
05. Loba The Destroyer (4:09) is the second and final song on this release to feature clean vocals, but this time they are executed with more gritty emotion, followed by harsh vocals that make the spine tingle with both delight and dismay in equal measure. The harrowing vocals spewing hate-filled lyrics on this haunting track are offset against a cacophony of drums and harmonious guitars that make for a humbling, thought-provoking close to a release that leaves the listener hanging on the edge of what's to come next from this brutal and tight new band.
The Emblem Faction have hit the ground running with their first release, and have set the standard by which all others - and indeed themselves - within this genre, will surely be judged by in times to come. As well as the previously-listed bands that the members have been in before, there's also something in here for fans of metalcore and other progressive projects such as Iowa's fellow B-REX, Circadian Rhythm, and Signs Of Life. The guys are excited to be getting geared up to show the world what they've been working so hard on for the last year. It's been quite a journey for all of them, in one way or another. Yet another killer band from Des Moines. Let us wait with anticipation for what they have for us in the future.
The band's first show was on March 03 2017 at The Beechwood Lounge in Des Moines, Iowa. If you missed that, or wish to catch them again, here are their upcoming show dates:
April 15 - Blue Moose Tap House - Iowa City, Iowa. In support of Shaping The Legacy (melodic heavy metal from San Antonio, Texas).
May 11 - Lookout Lounge - Omaha, Nebraska. In support of Volumes (metalcore from Los Angeles, California).
June 10 - Des Moines Social Club - Des Moines, Iowa. In aid of Des Moines Skatepark Fundraiser 2.0 (one of many bands and artists performing that day).
*** I'd like to thank Brandon Feldt for giving me this opportunity and for providing and confirming details. ***
The Emblem Faction 'TimeScapes' EP is available now on Bandcamp and the official website!
The Emblem Faction (Official)
The Emblem Faction (Bandcamp)
The Emblem Faction (Bandzoogle)
The Emblem Faction (Facebook)
The Emblem Faction (YouTube)
The Emblem Faction - Sandy Beaches (Official Audio)
The Emblem Faction - Sandy Beaches Guitar and Bass Playthrough (YouTube)