In recent months SonicAbuse seems to have been inundated with excellent prog bands. Clearly something’s in the air because now, appearing from across the seas, we get the intricate and multi-layered work of Dream The Electric Sleep, a band who draw from a wide pool of inspiration that ranges from The Beatles to King Crimson taking in a good deal of rock culture along the way. Formed in Lexington in 2009, the band took a leisurely two years to develop their debut album, Lost and gone forever’, which received widespread praise and now they return with ‘Heretics’, a bold, dark album that looks set to see the band reach even greater acclaim and, if there’s any justice at all, a much wider audience.
What makes ‘Heretics’ truly remarkable is the sense of light and shade that dominates the album. This is no one-dimensional trawl through prog’s dirty history, but rather a summation of the band’s myriad influences, distilled with practice and perfected with time. From Matt Page’s gorgeous cover art to the near-perfect production, everything is handled by the band themselves with the result that this is a remarkably cohesive, intelligent and thought provoking effort. Take the opening title track. Drawing from Genesis, Crimson and The Beatles, there’s a pop sensibility in the vocal that is all but buried under Lenon-esque distortion set against a solid wall of guitars the like of which Steve Hackett spent years perfecting prior to ‘Nursery Cryme’. To add to that there’s the unconventional and beautifully arranged percussion and gorgeous lead guitars, all beckoning you into the dark, hallucinatory world the band conjure with their music. The second track, a sublimely beautiful piece entitled ‘Elizabeth’ grows out of this new world, and for the first time we bear witness to Matt’s plaintiff tone set to a shimmering melody that sits between Porcupine tree and U2 with its reverb-drenched guitar and taut drumming. Matt Page is possessed of a voice that falls somewhere between David Gilmour’s rich tones and Jeff Buckley’s exquisite and soulful voice and the band make full use of his abilities whilst ably backing him with a rich musical backdrop that threatens, even, to unseat Sound Of Contact as the champions of the new progressive order. ‘Utopic’ features stunning guitar work, the like of which goes straight to the heart even before the gentle strings and pulsing percussion join the fray. Reference points are myriad, but imagine Billy Corgan at his most blissful engaging with Steven Wilson, Peter Gabriel and Massive attack and you have an idea of the glorious sonic canvas upon which DTES work their magic. It is magical, life-affirming music and, like a good book, it steals the listener away from the modern world and draws them to an ethereal place where dream and reality collide and the mundane trudge of life is replaced with the eye-opening possibility that anything could happen. It leaves you inspired, energised and enthralled and it is quite remarkably beautiful.
With the album having drawn you into itself, it takes its time to reveal its secrets, with multiple listens necessary to gain access to its inner heart. ‘To love is to leave’, a slow, acoustic-led piece sees Matt’s voice crack with emotion as he embodies the lyrics on a track that would lay waste to the charts if only modern audiences would be open-minded enough to accept eight minute long tracks. Recalling Pink Floyd, Radiohead and Anathema with its unutterable poignancy, it is a track that haunts the dreams with its tale of self-sacrifice and loss. ‘The name you fear’ has a panoramic feel that sets a solid beat against shimmering guitars and synth lines for a song that allows the heart to beat again after the mesmerising brilliance of ‘to love is to leave’. It provides the perfect bridge to the lengthy ‘it must taste good’ which combines the lyrical themes of Roger Waters with the crunch of ‘Bends’-era Radiohead and the hypnotic rock of American industrial rock act VAST; indeed, Matt does not sound dissimilar to Jon Crosby in the vocal department. ‘I know what you are’, in contrast, opens with a pretty little piece of pastoral beauty that would not seem out of place on a Caravan album before suddenly changing aspect to take in King Crimson via ‘starless and bible black’. ‘Fist to face’ is a frazzled piece of art-rock with a melody that sticks in your brain like bubble gum sticks in hair whilst the unexpected ‘lost our faith’ is a short, entirely unique piece of music that defies description and segues into the blazing wonder of ‘how long we wait’, a track that sounds like Steven Wilson covering U2 with the Mars Volta as his backing band. It sees Matt exploring his vocal range over a backing track that shimmers with light and hope and then, as if in an instant, we reach the concluding ‘Ashes fall’ with its crunchy opening riffs and taut power recalling A perfect Circle on debut album ‘mers de noms’. It is a fitting end to the album and one that leaves you ready to engage once more in the voyage upon which the band forced you to embark.
‘Heretics’ will break your heart, open your mind, expand your imagination and leave you feeling bereft when it finally draws to its close. In short it does everything that a good album should do and it harks back to a simpler time when musicians made music because it was their calling and fans listened to albums rather than celebrity-chosen playlists on Spotify. It is a record uninterested in the vicissitudes of the celebrity lifestyle played by musicians who, on the strength of this showing, have no other option but to pour their imaginations out upon record to stop slow the build-up of pressure in their over-crowded brains. It is a deeply imaginative, intelligent and often beautiful trip that explores the many possibilities that music offers when it lies unencumbered by commercial concerns and it will leave you elated that there are people in the world who care enough about their art to make music this wondrous. SonicAbuse has been lucky to have had the opportunity to hear some truly great modern records in recent months – Sound of Contact, Rain, The Flower Kings & Spocks Beard have all produced albums that will live on long after the bands themselves have disbanded – and to their ranks we now add Dream The Electric Sleep, for ‘Heretics’ is a wonderful, beautiful, mesmerising journey that I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to review. If you have any love for the art form that is music, then you owe it to yourself to find this fascinating, charming, effortlessly sublime record at your earliest convenience.