So a while ago I promised a review of the recent Unexpect release, “Fables Of The Sleepless Empire“. I’ve decided to approach it track by track, doing my best to describe each song. As a short intro, I’d just like to add a few things. First off, the keyboardist, Exod, is no longer with the band, though he still contributed a great deal to the new album, and liner notes in the digipack state that he’s working on a solo project called “I Fury!” Second, the fantastic album that preceeded this one, “In A Flesh Aquarium” will be referenced a few times in relation to this new album, so if you haven’t heard that one, I highly recommend it. Also, naturally, a large part of this is just my interpretation of the album, and so my readings of the lyrics are by no means the be-all end-all of this incredibly rich work.
Ok, so to begin, “Unsolved Ideas Of A Distorted Guest” is a very striking opener for this album. It pretty much immediately shows the distance between this album and the last one, while still maintaining certain elements – for example, the intro to this song is a kind of slow rise into a very chaotic track, much the same as the intro to “Chromatic Chimera”, the first track of the previous album. Much like the rest of this album, this song shows that it has more in common with the final track of “In A Flesh Aquarium” than the rest of it – it feels more theatrical, like it’s being performed on a more grandiose scale perhaps. This is the biggest thing about this album I think, especially compared to the previous release from Unexpect – “In A Flesh Aquarium” felt like something that burrowed deep into your mind and started tearing it up, a frantic dialog of ideas and backfiring synapses. In “Fables” the songs feel like episodes of a sprawling cosmic epic, and the dialog has become one of worlds communicating in great battles, tragedies, and revolutions.
This brings us to “Words”, which to me feels like the most tragic song on the album. Not to say that it’s bad – it’s fantastic. In this song the general musical themes seem more dissonant though, and the lyrics speak to unpleasant reality that words never really communicate all that we want them to. While the song strikes me as somewhat bittersweet, it also practically garuntees a phoenix-like rise of transcedent ideas and emotion later in the album. Somewhat literally, actually, as we shall see on track 4, titled, “Mechanical Phoenix”.
The third track, titled “Orange Vigilantes” is, at least as my mind reads it, about mankind being overthrown by an army of mechanized pumpkins. The opening illustrates humanity existing in a robotic kind of dystopia, and goes on to paint a picture of the armies of mechanized pumpkins that will rise up in revolution to replace humanity as the dominant species on Earth. Or whatever planet this is – it’s somewhat difficult to tell, since the whole album has a kind of “galactic theatre” feel to it. This is one of my favourite songs on the album, and the one that was released as a preview to make me suddenly crave this album more than any musical release slated to come out in the near future. The music conveys perfectly the jazzy chaos and massive scope of the album, and in closing, the lyrics suggest that just as the orange vigilantes rose to power, so to will another race eventually surpass them in the same manner.
What comes next is the first of three tracks which, when listened to in sequence, compose what I believe to be one of the most sublime spaces in musical time ever recorded. First, “Mechanical Phoenix” describes the struggle between the need to create and the need to function and survive in a sometimes crushingly mundane society, all within the mind of the individual (perhaps “the artist”, though I wouldn’t presume to limit the message of this text). The music conveys all this with a collision of dissonance and electronic/mechanical sound, and incredible spaces of hypnotic 9-string bass, dreamlike keyboards and vocal performances, and downright mindblowing guitar and violin work. As the lyrics read,
“Empires rise, Empires fall
Structures collapse and lords are disgraced
But no power shall ever strip humanity
Of its creative capacity”
With a dreamlike sequence mimicing the opening of the song, “Mechanical Phoenix” leads into “The Quantum Symphony”. For me, this song embodies the epic scale that the emotions and ideas of this album seem to be conveyed on. Everything about it suggests whole galaxies and aeons of creation and conflict in my mind, from the awesome and deeply moving chorus to the deep layering of sounds and music along with generally mesmerizing melodies. As we progress through this 3-track space of musical time I was talking about earlier, it becomes more and more difficult for me to put it into words. In brief though, where “In A Flesh Aquarium” made me picture individuals in a psychic carnival, this song is a good example of how “Fables Of The Sleepless Empire” makes me picture wholes words colliding in an endless dreamscape. Oh, and the guitar solo in this song rules.
Completing this 3-track space that I keep praising is my favourite song on the album, to me a jaw-dropping monument to musical creation, titled “Unfed Pendulum”. My reading, simply, is that the mind is fed up – emotions and creativity have been left at the wayside as the body becomes an automation, and now it’s all leading to a revolution in the collective unconcious. The chorus is lucid and almost overwhelming, and leads into spaces of… I don’t even know how to describe it. Some kind of dancey rhythm all coordinated by bouncy guitar, which then lead into beautiful rides of the sublime on waves of violin, guitar, piano, drums, bass, vocals, everything coordinated in a rollercoaster for the soul. Unexpect is on full overdrive at this point, and if there’s only one song on this album that you listen to, I would recommend it be this one. Of course, I would recommend even more emphatically that you listen to the rest of it too! This album not only has some of the most “dancey” moments, and some of the most sweepingly precise moments, but also some of the most “metal” moments, at times echoing the stomping march of a robot invasion, and this is all without even mentioning the use of mechanical sounds at the intro and throughout the song, or the drifting spaces towards the end of the song, contrasted with more marching robot sensibilities. Absolutely amazing.
After “Unfed Pendulum” there is a brief “intermission” of sorts titled “In The Mind Of The Last Whale”. No lyrics here, but it’s interesting to note that this is one moment where the album mirrors its predecessor. Both albums have somewhat ambient tracks marking about the 2 thirds-mark of the release, and both feature great use of electronic sound and chaotic editing of the more “natural” sounds used such as traditional instruments (piano in this case) and vocal additions.
Then comes “Silence This Parasite” – this is another song which reminds me of the last track of the previous album, which in some sense is like a preview of things to come. Like the clip hidden after the credits-sequence in some films that hints of what will happen in the next installment of a series, “Psychic Jugglers” from “In A Flesh Aquarium” gave us a test of the “bigger” sound that would permeate the next album from Unexpect. “Silence This Parasite” is in some ways the most “violent” song on the album to my ear – the instruments all seem to be locked in duels with eachother, while the vocals scream at eachother in turn, some sounds spinning out of their duels to join with others in similar conflicts, then breaking off again and reforming their respective fights. It all pulls together to detail the destruction of a great tyrant, slowly pulled down by chaos and revolution as reach fails to consider grasp – something that Unexpect never seems to have a problem with.
The conclusion of the album, while consisting of three tracks, is actually one piece titled “Until Yet A Few More Deaths Do Us Part” – a trilogy about an undead marriage. This is another case of the new album mirroring the previous one, as the previous album also finished with a trilogy, structured much the same way – beginning with a somewhat more calm song with only Lelindel singing, then leading into a much larger and chaotic song. There are two differences between this album’s closing trilogy and that of the last one – first, that this trilogy ends with a song which serves as much more of an epilogue to the trilogy, certainly much shorter than one might expect if comparing this trilogy to the one in the last album. The second difference seems most unfortunate to me – that there is no song after the trilogy, which in the case of “In A Flesh Aquarium” there was “Psychic Jugglers”, which I earlier described as the “things to come” preview for “Fables”. Naturally, it’s very possible that Psychic Jugglers was never planned as the preview for the next release, but it would still be nice to see a similar situation at the end of this new album, so that I could hold onto it as a kind of musical prophecy that would keep me waiting with near-religious anticipation for the next release – which, honestly, I’ll probably do anyways.
In closing, I can’t commend Unexpect enough on this album. To say it was worth the 5-year wait is a grave understatement. I can only hope that we hear more from this incredible group for many years to come.