Album review: Chaos Over Cosmos – A Dream If Ever There Was One (2022)
Death metal/Prog metal
CHAOS OVER COSMOS, the worthy sci-fi 'long-distance project' straddling the line between death and prog metal, reaches its new chapter with ‘A Dream If Ever There Was One’ and as in the case of the two previous releases I was lucky enough to be able to listen to it.
CHAOS OVER COSMOS is a duo led by the extraordinary Polish guitarist Rafał Bowman, accompanied once more like on the previous album ‘The Silver Line Between the Stars’ (2021) by the remarkable American singer KC Lyon, with Keaton Lyon participating as a guest singer on the track ‘Navigating by Moonlight’: as is their tradition, these artists have never met in person but carry out all their creative and musical activities online.
If I had to define this new album in one word I would use 'refinement'. On superficial listening, many of the characteristics present in the previous albums are still predominant in this work: the lead guitar is reminiscent of ANDROMEDA influences (particularly in some of the tracks such as the instrumental 'Continuum' which opens the album), while the more rhythmic and death metal-oriented parts are reminiscent of IN FLAMES. It would be a mistake, however, to call this a repetition of the previously established formula: what were once influences have now matured into Chaos Over Cosmos' own unique style, with the choice of contrasting the often organic, liquid and smooth timbres of the solos with harsh, angular-toned rhythmic sections. Although the arrangement does not consist of many layers, the synthesizers used extensively in these tracks add character and depth, from time to time offering shades of color that help soften certain passages or chill the soundscape with synthetic tones that underline the science fiction theme of the album.
The rhythm is very elaborate and fast, with sections of broken, complex patterns (which reminded me of ANIMALS AS LEADERS at times) that suddenly interrupt more continuous and pounding sections inspired by death metal, or synth-driven breaks that unexpectedly release the sonic tension accumulated after consecutive minutes of extremely aggressive music. This alternation seemed to me particularly successful in the track 'Ebb and Flow(ers)', probably my favourite also because it is the most varied from a rhythmic and tonal point of view and in which both synths and lead guitar seem to have more room to breathe, and KC Lyon lets loose in some of his most epic and intense passages.
The refinement work also involved the arrangement of the pieces, which overall sound even more cohesive. This leads to an almost cinematic experience while listening: the subtle nervousness brought from the very first bars by the voice repeating numbers in a style that reminded me of the "numbers radios" (which are said to be coded messages for intelligence), the menace and the coldness of most of the rhythm sections, the rapid fugue of the solos and the intensity of Lyon's lyrics and voice describe a world and a story coherent in the context of the album, and there are many impressions and nuances hidden between walls of sound that are waiting to be discovered by the most dedicated listeners.
From the point of view of production, the level has certainly risen. The various instruments are better amalgamated and distributed in the soundscape, and this allows the listener to better appreciate the remarkable skill of the artists in their respective fields. Rafał Bowman has always proved to be a superlative guitarist, able to submerge and sweep the listener into streams of notes, but I believe that in this situation he has shown further growth not so much in his skill with the instrument, but in putting this ability at the service of the music he creates and this is one of the factors that contributes to the cohesion I mentioned earlier. Lyon, for his part, seems at ease in pushing his voice beyond the levels touched in the previous album and manages to express different emotions even though he uses almost exclusively the scream-sing.
Despite the remarkable level and growth I have talked about, there are some things that have not entirely satisfied me, but now more than ever they can be attributed to my tastes rather than to actual shortcomings. The first is the drum machine, a sore point for me every time I listen to the works of this project. Let me be clear, even in this case the growth has been remarkable both from a compositional and production point of view, but the synthetic nuance that it maintains has a "fake" effect in my ears where for synths and guitars it is instead clear that it is a stylistic choice. I'm also not a big fan of the wall of pounding sound that is more typical of death metal and that in some songs creates, presumably deliberately, the effect of a sonic aggression, but this made me appreciate even more the style changes in some passages and the variety in certain songs, in particular the aforementioned ‘Ebb and Flow(ers)’.
In conclusion, and it's not really a criticism, this album is probably less accessible to a large audience than the previous ones. The speed and aggressiveness of the pieces have increased further, so the people I would recommend it to are definitely fans of more technical death metal or more aggressive progressive metal, while probably listeners not previously close to these styles may struggle to relate with the songs from this album. Is this a flaw? Not from my point of view. There is value in defining, deepening, and refining your own style and formula, and in my opinion that's what Chaos Over Cosmos are doing. If they love what they do, they are sure to find an audience that understands them and to which they can appeal.