|Release Date||12 April 2019|
Prog is a tricky thing. On one hand, being all over the map with regard to time signature, riffs, or melody tends to be a typical trait at this point. However, unless there’s some cohesive force or technically skilled execution, bands are doomed to fall into the abyss of the commotion that they created for themselves, never to be discovered in the ocean that is progressive metal. This is especially a problem for instrumental bands (and this goes for fusion and prog rock, too) who think that just because they play in weird modes or stick a flat seven on a chord they’re hot shit.
Luckily, that isn’t a problem for Valence, and they’ve proven that once again in their second record: Cognitive Dissidents. There’s not a moment when their musical ideas sound jumbled, despite the explosive riffage that ensues as soon as the record starts in ‘Damnit, Lana!’ and relentlessly carries through the rest. The whole album has a fun, bouncy feel to it and is stylistically closer to jam/jazz fusion in the breath of early Snarky Puppy, but obviously much heavier. Regardless of genre, you can tell that these guys absolutely love what they’re doing.
There’s no doubt that this is an incredible group of musicians. The fat guitars shred like there’s no tomorrow and Michael Buonanno (guitar) and Wilhelmus Sapanaro (bass) even pick up the violin, viola, cello, and double bass parts rather than resort to samples. The drumming is some of the best I’ve heard in a band like this and, to top it all off, the hugely dynamic songs manage to master immense ferocity, found in ‘Walrus’, and laid back, inquisitive moments as in ‘Prelude: Parlance of Our Time’.
The only thing keeping Cognitive Dissidents from scoring higher is the shortage of any truly exceptional moments. This is a great album and there’s really nothing I dislike about it, but I was, after every listen I gave it, still a bit hungry. From a band who so easily conveys a synergistic joy through their music, I wanted something to smack me in the face and make me wonder what the fuck just hit me. Some parts come close, like the end section of ‘Red Sky at Morning’, which builds and builds into a climax of holy choirs and rushing cymbals, but there needs to be just a bit more. Valence is clearly a team effort, but that extra push would have been all the album needed to become glorious.
(Also, I don’t really know what’s up with the Archer and Big Lebowski references in the titles, so maybe I’m missing out on some musical secret, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.)
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