Label: Presagio Records
Review: Michael H
Thoughts: Chilean band Aisles have one thing that instantly makes them stand out amongst progressive rock bands - a main emphasis on vocals - wait, don't run away just yet! There's still plenty of exceptional musical displays from the band throughout their third album 4:45AM (2013), a energetic, brooding, yet frequently joyous work, but the instrumental passages often take a back seat to a strong focus on vocal prowess, both of lead singer Sebastian Vergara and the whole group. We're not talking lazy frontman-focused AOR or straight-forward rock, instead the band has gone to great effort to deliver a huge array of vocal variety and complex harmonies, which is very admirable and quite daring. Prog rock is a genre known for sometimes treating vocals as an unimportant afterthought, so this makes the band stand out even more. There's no doubt about it, Aisles are a very confident band, totally sure of their abilities, and they've delivered a strong, melodic and distinctive work here.
Despite not a proper concept album with a connected narrative, the individual pieces often share a similar theme. According to the band, "4:45 is about pain, blood, resilience and strength. It's the most extreme hour of the day, the time in which you either get up or get completely lost, an hour shared by a soul in decline and one ready to rise". To realize this idea, Aisles chose an interesting selection of influences to incorporate into their sound. Everything from Rush and Coheed and Cambria-style intricate heavy prog, Spock's Beard cleverness, 80's accessible Genesis, the stadium rock excess of `The Wall-era' Pink Floyd and even new wave synth/poppers Duran Duran (not as bad as it sounds!) emerges throughout the album, but never in a lazy and uninspired way. The band twist subtle touches of those artists to their own unique vision. There's also lengthy and thrilling instrumental passages that only hint at directions the band may choose to guy in the future.
The band go right for the throat with the gutsy title-track opener, Coheed-influenced delirious vocal intensity (as well as similar female backing chorus spots), spiky electric guitar runs and some very upfront drumming. `Shallow and Daft' is an impossibly catchy yet lyrically dark synth-popper in the manner of 80's Genesis and Duran Duran that is perfect for what is a scathing observation of vacuous and empty celebrity culture, and it's truly one of the best examples of a catchy pop format working seamlessly with progressive intelligence. The harder sections of `Back My Strength' have a `Wall'-era Pink Floyd thickness, but sadly the lead vocal melody gets a little harsh in a few spots.
The seven minute `Sorrow' is an astonishing standout. A sad, sweetly romantic vocal is wrapped around numerous tempo and direction changes back and forth, the piece leaping to life with sudden confident bursts amongst the warmest of dazzling acoustic playing. "I've got you to resign to this world" is a particularly lovely lyric too. Somber acoustic ballad `The Sacrifice' has swooning, powerful group vocals from the whole band, as well as some welcome sprightly and nimble acoustic guitar fret-work. Album closer `Melancholia' balances delicate acoustic moods, triumphant and joyous electric guitar soloing and gentle voices. Oddly, and possibly coincidently, much of this piece reminds me of British singer Paul Draper and UK proggers Mansun. Shame about the unexciting fade out at the end, though!
There's also a few purely instrumental pieces that demonstrate a whole other fascinating side to the band. `Gallarda Yarura' shows the technicality of Dream Theater without the heaviness, an unpredictable harder edge like the Nick D'Virgilio era Spock's Beard-like and some precious IQ mystery. There's tension filled electric drones with delayed guitar feedback and electronic pulsing beats during the experimental `Intermission'. The almost nine-minute `Hero' is a tour-de-force, full of brooding heaviness with unpredictable chiming guitar bursts, bristling snappy Neo-prog styled synths, ethnic percussion, melancholic ambient and doomy symphonic atmospheres.
Accompanied by a lavish CD booklet with stunning - and frequently dark - paintings by Omar Galindo (and just look at front that cover - vinyl edition, Aisles fellas, please!), 4:45AM (2013) is an assured and thrilling work from a talented band that frequently sounds so defiantly original, like no- one other prog band at the moment, and the way they implement their emotive vocals with the same passion that most prog bands only give to their instrumental passages is completely inspiring. I predict a bigger status in the progressive rock community in the years to come for Aisles.
The band was included in our Podcast #30 and you can listen the song '4:45' HERE.