Album review: Altostratus - Complete the Connection (2019)
Complete the Connection is the first full-length album by UK instrumental prog metal band ALTOSTRATUS, and while listening to it I found that the title they chose sums up perfectly what I thought about their music.
ALTOSTRATUS is a band born in 2015 in Newcastle, founded by current members Alex Hek (guitar), Jordan Harris (guitar), Andrew Smith (bass), and Jack Thomas (drums); in the years between the band was formed and the release of Complete the Connection they weren’t idle, since they managed to play alongside artists like Sarah Longfield and Skyharbour and performed at UK Tech Fest in 2016 and 2017.
They link their music to contemporary acts like PERIPHERY, TESSERACT and ANIMALS AS LEADERS, and I see no reason to argue with that. As in the case of PERIPHERY it is the rhythmic components that dominate most of their compositions: the riffs are extremely complex and articulated, with fragmented structures and a prevalence of darker registers that increase their power, but unlike the American band they do not completely abandon the more melodic elements, which indeed often flow together or rise above the rhythm section, softening its edges and widening the soundscape; in this they are closer to TESSERACT or ANIMALS AS LEADERS.
But to be honest, the more I listened to Complete the Connection the more I remembered the bands GORDIAN KNOT and even more SPASTIC INK, which I personally have always believed were precursors of the hyper-technical progressive metal / djent of which PERIPHERY and TESSERACT are standard-bearers. That's why I found the title of the album particularly appropriate and evocative, because I had the feeling that ALTOSTRATUS with their work somehow closed a circle, merging the melodic and fusion nuances of GORDIAN KNOT with the quirkiness and incredible technique of SPASTIC INK, and then bringing everything up to today’s standard of production.
The structure of the songs is quite varied, with frequent changes of rhythm and style that manage to give movement and colour to the compositions without ever giving the sensation of being forced; there are not many layers, the depth is given more by the great complexity of the rhythmic structures rather than by the intertwining of the instruments, and in this area the skill of the musicians really leaves you speechless. I found the alternation between more complex and aggressive sequences with short more melodic breaks, sometimes within the same song and sometimes through short compositions (such as Universal Receiver, with electronic elements that reminded me of some songs by RIVERSIDE or WOLVERINE, and Nexus) which seem to divide the album into separate chapters, particularly effective. The tracks that stood out for me were Lodestone, where I really loved the guitar solo around the middle of the song, it reminded me of Ron Jarzombeck at his best, and Starlight, in which I felt the fusion elements of the band were particularly evident.
The musicians are all extraordinarily skilled, and demonstrate that they are comfortable both during the harsher sections and during the softest moments; I was particularly impressed by how tight their playing felt, but I also greatly appreciated their compositional style, with deceptively simple melodies superimposed on extremely complex rhythmic sections and the choice of unobvious tonalities in some sections.
From the production standpoint the album is really of a good level, with a clear distinction of frequencies and tones that allows you to appreciate the performance of all the players and their skill.
Even though I really enjoyed the album there are a couple of things that didn’t totally satisfy me, but these are tied to my tastes and so might not be something others could relate to. I thought that the dynamic range was a little lacking, I would have preferred a greater difference in intensity between the softer and harsher parts as it is, the album sounded a little flat to me; also, while ALTOSTRATUS absolutely manage to blend the influences of other bands creating a personal style, I would have loved if they had taken an even more adventurous path and created a more unique experience. But these are minor, personal gripes, and don’t detract anything from the pleasure of listening to this album.
ALTOSTRATUS is without a doubt a first rate band and I would absolutely recommend Complete the Connection to fans of PERIPHERY and TESSERACT, but I also feel that many that in the past enjoyed SPASTIC INK and GORDIAN KNOT could really love this work.
Complete the Connection
Altostratus - Hosnian Prime (official video)