“Progressive metal” can be a loaded term. On one end, you could be in for some engaging, envelope-pushing music. On the other, you’d be hearing dudes with gauged ears ripping off Meshuggah and Tesseract. While I can’t speak to the state of Vancouver band Neck of the Woods’ ear piercings, I can say their new album The Annex of Ire falls safely in the former category. Front to back, it’s a real ripper.
At 7 songs and 38 minutes, the album is pretty lean for prog. But despite the short run time, there’s plenty going on here. The title track combines the best of classic Opeth and Cynic, while “Strange Consolation” is half thrasher, half spiraling prog. Most of the songs also have galactic sounding sections that pop up at some point. “Crosshairs Will Shift” in particular embodies this, with these sections making up a majority of the song. The album is a full display of all flavors of progressive death metal.
The concise tracklist means there aren’t really any dips in quality, only moments that are extra strong. An example of that is the second track “Ambivalence”. It starts with a drumless riff that sounds like the descent into a boss battle, and the guitars continue to spider-crawl over the fretboard throughout the duration of the song. The drums offer everything from blast beats to intricate ride bell grooves. Vocalist Jeff Radomsky has a commanding bellow akin to Randy Blythe’s, which is most apparent on this song with iconic lines like “fuck the high road.” He’s not the only one to get the spotlight; there’s a blindingly fast guitar solo that is concluded with a short bass fill.
The musicians in this band are all experts, but the bass playing in particular is god-tier. The highlight for bassist Bryan Gobbi is the title track “The Annex of Ire”. He gives us a small taste at the 2:54 mark before he just completely dominates the last third of the song. There’s basically two bass solos towards the end of the song, a melodic, spacey one and a frantic solo where the bass just says “fuck it” and becomes the rhythm guitar once the blast beats go full throttle. Every guitar solo on the album is glorious too, but what’s really impressive is the range and diversity of riffs. There are so many earworm riffs here, be it the NWOBHM mid-section of “The Tower”, the jagged tremolo on “Skin Your Teeth”, or hell, every arpeggiated guitar part on the record.
The Annex of Ire is both a great prog album and a great metal album. It’s somehow straightforward and aggressive for your inner meathead, yet intricate and mysterious enough for your inner nerd. Neck of the Woods show that you can make a crowd-pleaser without compromising your integrity.
Neck of the Woods’ new album The Annex of Ire is out now via Pelagic Records.
Best Tracks: Ambivalence, The Annex of Ire, The Tower
Weakest Tracks: n/a
FFO: The Ocean, Rivers of Nihil, Slugdge
Overall Score: A-