Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Psychobliss - Dreams of Dystopia
Originally while looking for things to review, I came across Psychobliss' posting requests online for reviews so I mozied on over to their bandcamp page. I decided not to review the project on my own. I figured I wouldn't have many nice things to say about a project that has a name worthy of a forgotten mid 90's local project whose CD resided for many years in a used record store bin. Two days later, I get an email from Dan Stollings - who is credited with all the instrumentals - asking to review their album. Oh well... I had hoped for something resembling Virgin Black and got something sounding as if it was created solely to fulfill a girlfriend's whim. I'm not saying that both Dan and Kyla Pavelski aren't together on this project. I'm just saying like a lot of the music sounds like the dumped aside 'riffs' and melodies of something else. The whole thing needs some work really - both the mix, songwriting and the appearance.
I'll tackle the mix first since so many of the issues on the album could be fixed with equalization and a different focus. The largest drawback here is that all of Dreams of Dystopia sounds extremely light. The loudest instrument other than Kyla's vocals is clean guitar. The distorted guitar is so set in the background of the music that it's even difficult for me to really consider the album having much in common with other heavy metal or even avant-garde albums that have similar styling. A perfect example would be opening track, "The Coldest Years." Even at the end of the track where Dan employs a lead guitar, opted for is a clean guitar with some echo and reverb instead of a distorted guitar which would have added some strength to the album. Throughout the track the buzzing guitar sounds like static in the background, hidden behind misty clean guitars. Even when the distorted guitar is highlighted, it is particularly subdued and used the way in which a DJ would use scratching between two measures of repetition. Across the album this is basically mimicked across the entire five tracks. I don't understand why the guitars would be mixed so low... Louder crunchier guitars would have made this release sound much more confident. Programmed drums do nothing to make the release feel more natural and less forced.
Though I don't have too many qualms with the songwriting there are a few points to be made. The combination of the vocals and the melodies are so tightly linked that there is a serious predictability factor here. I know where the phrases are going before they get there. It's the difference between riding a train across untraveled wilderness and commuting to work every morning. It's watching a bad movie multiple times because someone else likes it. This creates a very syncopated album which works in opposition to the fluidity which works in Psychobliss' favor. The strongest possibility for Psychobliss exists in this fluidity and ephemeral vibe. On a better note, there are some well placed melodies and harmonies on the album such as in Drifting Away which, for me, is the best song on the EP. It's not saying much though as the others such as "Finally Dead" and the lamentable "Don't Leave" are wretched in almost every way.
The biggest thing holding Psychobliss back is the irony of what they believe their music to be and what it really is. "Psychobliss, a new revelation of Dark metal, hails from the desert capitol of Phoenix, Arizona." There really isn't anything new about what Psychobliss are doing. Female vocals over semi-melodic music with distorted guitars - barely there distorted guitars. Lyrically, this could be pretty much anything. What it definitely isn't is what Psychobliss state they want it to be or intend it to be. On "Finally Dead," Psychobliss state "This is a depressive black metal song..." and while the lyrics are barely passable as Depressive in any sense, the music is in no way Depressive Black Metal in the sense that most people understand it to be what with the metal-core breakdown mid-song. In fact the most DSBM attribute about this particular song is that Kyla uses some screamed vocals in the track. Psychobliss' sound more like recent Katatonia with thin and whiny female vocals than the genre they claim to be.
Psychobliss can do a few things to change for the better. The biggest thing they need to change though would be their mixing. I understand the desire to have a different sound then others but I feel that they would have that uniqueness even if they just made the overall sound heavier and more guitar driven. Or, they could have more chance dumping the distortion altogether. Also, perhaps the band simply doesn't know how to describe themselves. They aren't really a dark band so labeling themselves as Dark Metal doesn't work and claiming that their songs are depressive black metal is about as out of the loop as calling Metallica avante-garde. This is a case where it would almost be better for the band to not label themselves as anything and let people just listen and judge. Also, I know this may sound harsh but the lyrics and presentation of the vocals really needs some work as well. Amateurish would be a valid critique here. Dan Stollings probably shouldn't sing or should take vocal lessons if he wants to do anything other than the whispered vocals. His voice sounds small and self-conscious, thin and nasally. Kyla needs less work but she needs to find a way to project more power and strength. Her vocals are also often times thin and weak.
A tale of two high school lovers with a goth rock project, never having created music before, but having heard some of it, so they're sure they know what they're doing. It's a lot like someone who has seen someone drive a car and thinks they could do it, or a person who watched a documentary on scheming roulette and thinks they too could pull it off. Back down to Earth, this sounds like the equivalent of someone who spent an hour watching a documentary and thought they could pull it off, presenting their first attempt without refinement or even preferable equipment.
I have never heard anything this lackluster. I suppose the intent could be that the droning, emotionless nature of this music is the point of "depressive" music, but it doesn't explain the disjointed songwriting and brutally boring performances. One moment it sounds like a garage band covering Madder Mortem's softer moments, the next the drum machine plays a blast beat and the music turns as black as a sheet of paper in dim candlelight. It takes until halfway through the second track to understand that this isn't going anywhere and this music has nothing to offer but a shadow of mediocrity, a term that makes as little sense as this album.
The emotion that these five songs conjure best is sympathy. These sullen lovebirds croon their hearts out and sound pathetic. I do have a measurable amount of pity hearing the forlorn songs, thinking it couldn't get any more boring, then hearing their attempts at black metal vocals while MIDI drums click and I suspect there is a guitar somewhere in the mix, but not where I can hear it. Sympathy might be had for that if this was produced using Cakewalk in 1997, but in the final days of 2012, I connect with this music as little as I would have ten years ago as a high schooler. Knowing that the creators of this music were born in the 1980s, I hope they're either inexperienced enough to learn from their mistakes, or they're already fast-tracked on the way to giving up. This is even more pathetic than the "douchebag playing guitar" (singer-songwriter) genre spearheaded by John Mayer and Plain White Tees.
Do they really want to share this with the world? It might be cute (not a good adjective for "black metal") if they kept it to themselves, but it's almost as embarrassing as the black metal Nazi fashion show exhibited by certain "private" releases. It's as bad as the band's name, though it could be worse if they were juggalos, which the name might also fit. "It could be worse" also takes away the only achievement left to credit the release with - I've heard worse, so this isn't the bottom of the barrel, it's just pathetic. There's no sense of musicality, no memorable songwriting, and not a single part that I could identify as being redeemable. Rather than a train wreck, they're sitting in the assembly yard, enthralled with putting the screw and nut together, blissfully unaware that they're supposed to hold other parts together.