ALBUM REVIEW: The Lotus Chapters (ABOVE, BELOW)
ALBUM: The Lotus Chapters // ARTIST: Above, Below
Much like the ancient flower it pays homage to, the debut album from Sydney quintet Above, Below unfurls and flourishes with delicate rage and walloping beauty across the space of 12 tracks.
Firmly planted in the progressive metalcore stratosphere, Sydney's Above, Below have consistently endeavoured to set themselves apart from the fray - a feat not to be sneezed at in the age of metalcore zealotry. But since their debut EP The Sowers Of Discord in 2017, their efforts have not been in vain, clearly establishing a unique mix of grooves, grit and ravishing clean moments that has since seen them share stages with the likes of Chealsea Grin, Born of Osiris, Polaris and beyond. And now after releasing three tantalising sneak peeks into their upcoming debut full-length The Lotus Chapters, there's been a growing buzz for these Sydney lads, and the final product due out on September 27th certainly backs up the buzz - and then some.
Laid out as a true concept album, the twelve tracks across The Lotus Chapters are separated unsurprisingly into "chapters", with each chapter signifying the various stages of life of a lotus flower beginning as a seed, flourishing and eventually blooming. And kicking off proceedings is the utterly beautiful intro track quite aptly titled: Chapter I. Seed. To start we're greeted with warm pianos and lilting guitars amid serene melodics that slowly build into teetering dissonance as the realities of life burst out on Eternal Sunshine. While not nearly as warming as its name would suggest, track number 2 is a melancholic and dense soundscape still slightly permeated by the placid tones lingering from the intro track, dangling beseeching moments of intriguing, bittersweet prog over more melancholic pummeling.
Next up is one of the lead singles Labyrinth, playing up some eerie synths as an intro before rolling out arpeggio licks and crushing rhythmics, with an especially thunderous outing from drummer Isaac Ross amid some of the slightly more electronic junctures. And closing out the first chapter for The Lotus Chapters is Kensho, a dense and thickly illustrated universe that sits lighter on the harsh vocals initially before driving off Thelma and Louise-style into a chugging sonic abyss.
LABYRINTH (ABOVE, BELOW)
The second chapter from Above, Below kicks off in sweeping form as Chapter II. Flourish descends into murkier waters, with whirling and melancholic textures materialising in the guise of languished guitars, melancholic keys and muddied vocals. From here we hit slightly heavier fare as Mantra flits between ferocity and softer ambience, while Blood Wine levels up the grit with some crushing displays of riffage and face-melting rhythmics. Thematically dealing with toxic relationships and the facets of human connection, the track morphs into personified angst as it wholeheartedly bruises its way through booming tones and congealing textures, before we yet again find ourselves at the end of another chapter. Closing out the 'Flourish' stage for the Lotus Chapters is none other than the album's first single cut Behind the Mosaic Garden, creeping in with sludgy basslines booming below scintillating dissonance and Eastern tinges, steering firmly into a ferocious malestrom of unbridled rage that peters off as we head into the third and final phase.
BEYOND THE MOSAIC GARDEN (ABOVE, BELOW)
The Lotus Chapters final chapter starts off a tad downtrodden before flittering tones and melancholic strings lead into a swinging journey and a hazy robotic chorus outro on Chapter III. Bloom. And now fixated in the slowly closing stages of the album, Equilibrium up next busts out some truly stellar vocal performances from both Jacob Wilkes and Zac Adamson as the djent-tastic track pulls out every single weapon from the Above, Below bag of tricks. From crunchy riffs and blasting basslines to a show-stopping guitar solo from guest guitarist Ryan Siew, there's a whole lot to love with Equilibrium, and it's here amongst the clean vocal acrobatics that we witness some startlingly stunning serenity gliding over a strong and controlled proggy backdrop.
Beginning to ebb out the chapter and the overall album, the Above, Below gents slowly shed the fury and rage, with the vocals getting rawer and the djenty bounces skimming across swirling, ethereal frameworks in significantly assured fashion on The Gradient Lake. But despite a constant sense of movement and change so far, the overarching sense of growth building throughout The Lotus Chapters is truly realised in its closing track Lotus, wasting no time hurling pummeling blastbeats and ethereal melodics with dramatically building beauty. Ultimately, Lotus is big, bold and cathartic as hell, littered with a kaleidoscope of angst and charm that eventually sheds its wrath and swings into a ball of emotive bliss, marking a satisfying conclusion without relying heavily on too many sonic bells and whistles.
It almost seems like an oxymoron to describe such a heaving release as dainty - but just like the eponymous lotus, Above, Below have captured levels of fragile elegance and metered restraint amid the ferocity strewn across The Lotus Chapters. But it's perhaps the overriding thread of ethereal ambience apparating across the album that so firmly establishes a refreshing individual take on the metalcore world, combining a dazzling amalgamation of prog, hardcore and the occasional electronic tinge that rarely tires from its journey. Ultimately, The Lotus Chapters is a significant and enthralling release that threatens to become one of the most notable heavy releases so far for 2019, and it's truly exciting to see a band so convincingly blossom on a debut full-length.
BY TIANA SPETER