“What if you stopped looking at the clock… Maybe others would start looking up…”
Pasted on the inside of the album sleeve for X Contract’s ‘Territory: Hours’, this enigmatic statement stands as an interesting introduction to an album that takes Anathema’s ‘judgement’ as its cue (ethereal prog, sublime vocals, occasional bursts of schizophrenic guitar aggression) and drifts, over the course of its twelve tracks, in a mercurial fashion through the realms of Muse, Pink Floyd, Jolly and Porcupine tree. It’s a dreamy, subtle album, unafraid to engage with ambient soundscapes and ambitious passages and it will undoubtedly enthuse listeners who love to be drawn into and absorbed by an album.
The album opens softly, with the beautiful ‘frequencies’, a kind of hybrid between Anathema and Muse at their most restrained, with vocals in the upper register and the rich, warm tones of a grand piano leading the listener towards a thunderous roll of drums and the introduction of surging guitars and oddly angular time shifts. It’s a bold start to an album that enjoys playing with perception and it segues neatly into the Jolly-esque ‘In the mist’. There is much to admire about the song, and about the album in general, but surely one of the most important elements here is the band’s instinctive grasp of vocal harmonies matched by few (Spock’s beard come to mind) and delivered by singer Dennis Pedersen and Lars Klit (who also handles lead guitars and keyboards) who both possess honeyed voices that provide the music with much of its ethereal beauty. There is power here too – the guitars burst into life with fire and fury and the percussion (Kasper Viinberg) is often explosive in its delivery. ‘Walk’ cleverly throws some synth flourishes into its otherwise deeply organic sound, providing a familiarly styled track with the band’s own unique spin, and as the guitars slowly appear in the mix the listener is drawn towards an explosive climax rife with emotion and a yearning guitar lead that ably matches the power of the vocals. ‘A way out’ is similarly based around simple elements slowly building up into something truly remarkable – like watching the long ascent of a firework before it finally bursts into bright, startling life at the end of its journey. Like many of these tracks here, ‘[a way out’ segues directly (and cleverly) into the wistful opening chords of ‘better day’, a song that soon adds Tool to the band’s list of influences with its chugging chords and awkward timing.
It is clear, from the start of the album really, that this is the sort of record that is sequenced perfectly and designed to be played all as one. That is not to say that individual songs won’t appeal – each song is weighty enough to stand alone – but the cumulative effect of the album is so much stronger that you will only get the full benefit of the wonderful music within if you let it run straight through. ‘All these lights’ takes things down a notch after the crushing might of ‘better day’, adopting a rippling, ambient tone that gentler bubbles under the warm vocals. Like the dreamy child of a union betwixt Porcupine Tree and Anathema, it is a gorgeous lullaby that appears, like a fairy tale castle, out of the mist, the band revealing each part of the song until finally, awe-struck, you can see the whole thing. ‘Silencio’ is, as you may imagine, a blissful instrumental augmented with lush strings that heads straight into ‘bullet proof’, the heaviest number on the album by some way, even managing to slip into industrial territory along the way with its mechanistic, dub-step-referencing synth lines powering the psychotic guitar attack. ‘Mood’ swells out of a gentle piano intro, the strings once again swirling around the mix and the percussion carefully restrained in order to best support the enigmatic lyrics with the sad refrain “and while I tend to keep worrying about it, time flies, time flies…” ‘Too far’ is similarly dour, the lilting guitar and pained lyrics reflecting the pain of true heart-break and cutting things a little too close to the bone, threatening to awake the memory of similar feelings in the listener no matter how long dormant they may have been. ‘Universe’ is sublime – there’s nothing else to say about it. The album closes with ‘All the words we say’, another track which presents its lyrics in the form of a riddle, whilst the closing solo is short but wonderfully sweet, and you’re left feeling bewildered and strangely elated, as if you’re post heart-break and not sure where to go, but you finally believe it could be somewhere positive; and you realise that it is this album that has made you feel that way and that you’re thankful that there are talented musicians out there who still want to put their heart and soul into making music that actually means something and which makes you feel in an age where numbness and apathy are praised as virtues.
X contract are a wonderful, beautiful, intelligent band whose music will surely appeal to anyone who appreciates music as an art form. Here there is beauty, sadness, loss and redemption and it is played to perfection, with no song outstaying its welcome or sounding out of place. To record such an album takes time and energy, and it deserves to be listened to in full, but primarily it just deserves to be listened to. Music such as this should be mandatory listening and it highlights just how much wonderful music is being made in the underground right now. ‘Territory: hours’ is a gem of an album, a bewitching, subtle piece of artwork that belongs in any music fan’s collection.