Fleshvessel - Yearning: Promethean Fates Sealed (I, Voidhanger)

Regrettably, progressive death metal (DM) remains dominated by hagiographies of Opeth. Since its heydey in the mid 90s and early aughts, “progressive” has become less an apt adjective than a rigid subgenre term that denotes very little forward-thinking ambition. Such bands chuck reverb-laden acoustics and masturbatory solos into anodyne chugfests, their sucrose melodicism and hackneyed fantasy aesthetics weak covers for such passionless rote. Remarkably little is said with an awful lot. Fleshvessel, yet another I, Voidhanger darling to get a lengthy writeup on this blog, draw from a far deeper well. Their approach feels far more akin in ethos to the ambitious Bartokian psychoses of King Crimson or the fantasy hallucinations of Robert Wyatt, because they too have created a playbook for their own utterly unique sound-world. Yearning: Promethean Fates Sealed is no imitation of the golden oldies—but a spiritual return to the heyday of prog rock fantasia.

The most striking element of Yearning is its exotic instrumentation. The record is as timbrally eclectic as Pram’s eerie soundscapes or Talk Talk’s post-rock primordial soup, always leaving the audience guessing even in calmer moments. Much like maudlin of the Well, however, crushing guitar overdrive and battering percussion heave among this revolving door cast of unusual devices and powerful melodies, with Fleshvessel's performance flaunting the technical extravagance of Nile. “Winter Came Early” dual-wields these elements in a stormy conclusion that has guitars squealing alongside swooning flutes and fraught fiddles. Sakda Srikoetkhruen’s fretless bass attack deserves special praise for keeping things grounded while the rest of this DM orchestra reaches for the stars, keeping up with the impressively well-programmed drum kit.

All of this eclecticism would be irrelevant if the material wasn’t meticulously well-arranged. Fleshvessel are comparable to 90 Day Men not only for their piano-driven compositions and Chicago stomping grounds, but also for their uncanny ability to leap from jaunty carnivalesque to elegant epiphany. “The Void Chamber” may indulge in 30s big-band jazz, Hammond organ-enhanced brutal DM, and operatic cleans, but it ends on a genuinely forlorn and mournful note—an exercise in tonal acrobatics that manages to avoid falling from its remarkably unstable high-wire. The brief interludes afford much-needed breathing room between the lengthy compositions, preventing an exhaustion of the audience’s attention, while dipping into more unusual (and in the case of “Vignette III”, positively gorgeous) territories. Meanwhile, recurring melodies, such as the motif that opens the record and is reinterpreted subsequently across it, keep a sense of thematic unity. As with my unconventional teenage heroes Van Der Graaf Generator, the band’s playfulness is tempered by an earnest appreciation of craft, which emphasizes and does not undermine moments of contemplative catharsis. The often frenzied strings of “Winter Came Early” match “Cat’s Eye / Yellow Fever (Running)” for dramatic excitement; “The Void Chamber” evokes the sombre moods of “Still Life”; and the indomitable “Eyes Yet to Open” feels in some ways like an homage to the unhinged psychodrama of “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”. Indeed, the closer transcends with a Hammillian vocal outburst, empowering the most haunted section on the whole album with a haggard cry.

Much in the vein of (yet another Chicago unit) Cheer-Accident’s whimsically wistful masterpiece “The Autumn Wind is a Pirate”, Fleshvessel take much from the Rock In Opposition movement. They, too, avoid the niche subgenre’s main pitfalls by not sacrificing emotional accessibility in striving for anti-commercial oddity. Yearning’s absurd chamber-metal panoply is a sonic expression of the omnipresent tragedies which our modern world has desensitized us to, and much like Ashenspire, Fleshvessel’s hyper-dramatic sense of theatre perfectly reflects and deflects the workings of a culture on the brink of hellish self-parody. Personal alienation is the building block of the capitalocene, as This Heat's nuclear panic attacks and latter-day Death's woeful dirges have taught us. Yearning pushes that thesis to heretofore unseen peaks and troughs of human experience, not only through its politically radical lyrics, but also in its elaborate sequence of tonal contortionism. In the closer’s ambient break, the band compel listeners to settle with the hundred emotions conjured by this ornate whirligig—exhausted, troubled, but ultimately enlightened.