Ephel Duath – The Painter’s Palette (2003)
I gushed over Phormula in this blog’s youth. Things were different then – I didn’t really have a grasp on what I liked in composition, I had less listening experience to use as comparison, and most gravely, I didn’t put a silly joke in the alt-text of album covers when I reviewed music! Phormula still gets occasional listens from me, but in retrospect it’s more awkward than previously expected. The Painter’s Palette relies more on its gimmick (overt jazz stylings mixed with metal/hardcore punk), and is overall more polished from a compositional stance. The genres don’t really conflict, but the final result isn’t all that ambitious, especially compared to the debut.
I’m not sure I can call this a metal album in good conscience; the traditional “do not judge your music by whether it is heavy metal music or not” adage obviously applies here. Either way, distortion is down, there really isn’t much riffing to speak of (although it can be there during the ‘loud’ sections), and the songwriting generally reminds me more of the sort of half-free, half-modal/consonant method a lot of modern jazz music uses. The clean vocals have improved since Phormula, which makes it an especially good thing that they’re higher up in the mix. The harsh vocals are also more prominent – they’ve arguably become more coherent even if they’re not as technically well performed as they were on the debut. It actually reminds me more of Ihsahn’s vocal development in Emperor.
All of these aesthetic changes add up to something a bit sparser than Phormula/Rephormula. Ephel Duath seems to have lost some of the more intricate counterpoint and complex riffs that attracted me to the debut, but on the plus side the songwriting feels more coherent. Transitions between various sections are better realized here, so despite the greater aesthetic changes songs go through, there are fewer jarring changes. Now, there’s obviously some cases where abrupt transitions work, and the extreme end of hardcore punk is full of those examples, but The Painter’s Palette needs all the coherence it can get. In addition to requiring relatively structured songs, the jazz-metal stylings open up more opportunities for dynamics, and Ephel Duath does use those opportunities. The problem is that they’re not very creative with their dynamics – most of the changes boil down to basic loud-soft techniques; I would have liked to see more in that regard.
Relistening to this does appear to have changed my perspective, at least – had I written this even a month ago I may have claimed this was an energetic, if fractured recording; at some times I can hear why I thought so. There’s a lot of irony in the results of Ephel Duath’s genre shift – despite the big jazz influence, it’s the composition and arrangement that’s improved. One might expect more improvisation, given that it’s prevalent in jazz music, but this is not the case. Obviously, The Painter’s Palette doesn’t go all the way in embracing its jazz elements, but at times it comes rather close. Later albums from this band apparently go further into the avant-garde side of jazz music, but I haven’t given those any listening time. Regardless, metal-jazz fusions have come a long way (at least on the integration front) than the Atheists and Cynics of the world. Ephel Duath was able to manage a rather substantial stylistic change here, even if it did come at expense to their passion. Definitely recommended for punk, mathcore, and/or jazz fans, but be forewarned that your interest may fade quickly.
Highlights: “The Passage”, “Labyrinthine”, “Praha”