The Far Shore
posted on 9/2011 By:
Much like analytical geometry, progressive metal can sometimes be one of the best labors of love to enjoy with your pants on. However, there’s only a thin line between spellbindingly engrossing complexity and a frustratingly unsolvable puzzle that drives you nuts faster than the shakes after three days at a Cambodian opium den. More often than not, the Euclidian space puts forward nothing but those unpleasant three-dimensional mind-fucks that feed on dead neurons and vandalize the nervous system, whereas progressive metal can similarly take a person over the border of sanity and genius by simply frustrating you beyond belief with lifeless non-riffs and endless noodling around scales and modes. The Far Shore, Cathis Ord’s self-released debut full-length, is thousands and thousands of nautical miles away from these most obscene spectacles of instrumental and compositional wankery, but it still follows the footsteps of many otherwise enjoyable albums that also unfortunately exemplify that too much is too much - even in forward-thinking music, and especially when ambition exceeds the capacity of the ideas.
In theory, there is very much to like on The Far Shore: sorrowful melodies mingling with moderately fierce riffs; gut-wrenching leads that descend into classical acoustic soloing; the exchange between deep (but not cavernous) growls and sparse spoken word passages…all of which blend together in a seemingly effortless manner, forming a steady structure albeit with a shaky foundation. Atmospherically, the band appears to be entrenched in the gothic death/doom industry of the 90s, giving nods to the likes of early Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema and Katatonia and wallowing in the same desolate pathos that fueled such classics as Gothic and Brave Murder Day. The music’s prog tendencies spark associations of early Opeth and Sculptured, which is to say that the songs contain little in terms of instrumental autofellatio and structural quirkiness, while still aiming for impressive levels of complexity.
It’s obvious that James Russell, the mastermind and sole member of Cathis Ord, is a wonderful musician, who can apparently master any given instrument from six strings to second fiddle. Indeed, The Far Shore is fairly abundant with parts that reek of skill and musicality, like, for example, the whirlpool of circulating notes on “The Palace Without a Name” (2:00 – 3:05) or the serene piece of tremolo-picked melody that grows into a short, howling solo at the end of “As Winter Lays Its Siege”. And therein lies the crux of the problem: The Far Shore is, above all, an album of moments: ones that give your soul a glimpse of higher levels of existence; ones that make you cringe (by, for example, introducing a uniquely awkward key-to-key transition that knocks a perfectly good lead out of sync in “Rider on the Dawn”); and ones that are too uneventful to warrant more than an absent-minded nod of approval. And there’s so much of that only nod-worthy material here that all that that could potentially blow you away gets lost in the shuffle.
Although it would be a miscarriage of justice to call the songwriting on The Far Shore formulaic, the songs here do also follow a pattern: After a strong start they tend to lose steam towards the middle and get back into full swing just when you are almost across the living room to reach for the stop button. A perfect example of this is the closing epic, “Fire on the Horizon”, the first three and a half minutes of which work cleverly around the same motif, consisting of a haunting tune that would be almost threatening if it weren’t so beautiful. Then, all of a sudden, the song hits a slump by taking a header into three minutes of uninspired acoustic introspection covered with a layer of muzak-like keyboards before finally recovering from the coma by gaining a considerable amount of momentum and releasing it in the form of a gorgeous modulating melody tacked onto a heavy, mid-paced riff.
The Far Shore contains a few other things that lend themselves to nitpicking, but they are hardly of the essence. Yes, the production is thin, almost to the point where it strips the instruments of their heft, but you’ve heard worse. Yes, the Englishman’s fingers tend to seek the exact same frets over and over again, but perfectly good albums are made of variations on a theme. (Like, for example, Variations on a Theme.) Above all, the Cathis Ord debut - although bloated with ideas - is missing something, and it’s not the good ol’ je ne sais quoi. Instead, before his next creative splurge, Russell could try to hook up with a couple of dedicated band members – whether it be a rabies-fueled guenon for laying down some drum tracks or a few like-minded virtuosos to help out with skimming the fat and putting some edge to these already promising compositions.
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