Review by Rick Ossian
Chaos Frame comes to us via the windswept prairie of the midwestern United States; St. Paul, Minnesota, to be more precise. They have dubbed themselves ‘regressive‘ metal, which may seem contradictory to most, but to me it makes perfect sense. After all, everyone else in their ‘genre’ seems to be satisfied with being referred to as ‘progressive‘ metal. Well, either would seem appropriate in today’s genre-happy mixed up musical world. Perhaps by being regressive CF are just making light of the whole situation. Who’s to say? Let us move on to the important stuff, shall we?
Chaos Frame are about as regressive as it gets, and they have one powerful message to give to us. Vocally, they have a sonic powerhouse in the shape of one Dave Brown. Dave not only lets rip vocally somewhere in the sky next to the kings of the falsetto – he also brings it home and back down to the ground when the music calls for it. Most of the time he is in the stratosphere, but then isn’t where a regressive metal vocalist should be?
Instrumentally, we have two duelling guitars that scream and wail, oftentimes in unison, though perhaps slightly disjointed. Many times they both go off in search of the ultimate shred together, one taking a lead while the other rests/riffs, then swapping spots at the drop of a hat. The guitarists in question are Matt Hodson and Andy Xiong. Ably backing this dynamic duo are Aaron Lott on the bass guitar and Steve Bergquist on the drums.
Our first track up is Painful Lessons. It opens with a lead jam, then some vocal effects. This is very proggy, but let’s not forget that we’re trying to be regressive. Just whose leg do these chaps think they’re pulling, anyway? I smell PROG. Energy – check. Urgency – check. Wicked vocal hooks – check. Then, at about a minute in, the main riff/jam kicks in. When the vocals return, Dave exhibits his range in the way that only he can – sky one moment, then grounded the next. The lead guitar work seems to be part of the ultimate refrain, which is refreshing. We do get brief bursts here and there, but nobody seems to be leaning on the shredding – also refreshing! This is a powerful tune, and a good choice for an opener. There is even a little lead at the end!
The title track, Paths to Exile, is up next. This one is a real barn-burner, but a long epic to boot. The intro is a thrashy double-thumping slam to your senses, and I’m digging the main riff with the sky vocals mixed in. This is great stuff, with the energy just barely in check again. I think one of the reasons I’m liking these guys so much is that, at the risk of sounding like so many others, they pour some extra passion into the mix and come up roses! They could be Dream Theater, they could be Pagan’s Mind – they could even pose as my beloved Symphony X – but they are, instead, a big pile of heaping Chaos Frame – and that should be enough for all of us. Vocally, Dave exhibits controlled righteous anger – but only just – he sounds like he could be threatening to let rip (literally) at any moment! There are several guitar solos here, but as before they can be brutally brief. Short but sweet, as we Americans are so fond of uttering. The first is mixed with a sort of instrumental breakdown with HEAVY double-bass drum usage (4:15). Then their is another (4:53). Then, at about 5:50, there is a longer, shreddier, if you will, one that’s laid down very nicely. At six-and-a-half minutes in we get an all-out jam, then another solo at 6:50. The shift to the refrain at the close seems a bit disconnected, as the lyrics let on. This track is nothing short of brilliant. Small wonder it is the title tune!
Derceto must be some sort of prog-monster/demon, or something, as is evidenced by the mix of Cookie Monster vocal FX with the straight vocals – something, by the way, that I would NOT recommend. Perhaps it is just me, but as I’ve mentioned before, I like to hear my vocalists actually SING, thank you very much. I realize that I waffle considerably on this particular issue, and today I happen to be on the side of the fence wherein the straight singers reside…no offense to the growlies, of course! The triumphant keys on here make me wonder if there is, indeed, a keyboard player – after all, there are only guitars, bass and drums listed as the main source of instrumentation. Perhaps there is a bit of keyboard thrown in here and there…only the CF blokes know for sure! This is thrashy prog, and the above-mentioned growls are indeed well done, but the straight vocals are better, in my opinion. There is also the obligatory guitar solo at about three-and-a-half minutes in, but instead of remaining a mere shredding exercise it goes into vista-sky style (sorta bluesy). The vocals at four minutes in remind us of Dave’s inimitable powers, and he throws in a scream at the outro, to remind us – as if we needed it!
Terra Firma also features a thrashy/proggy intro with heavy riffing and busy double-bass drumming. Then things are airy, then power riffing with vocals. There are several shifts here, and that is just within the first minute or so. There is a shreddy lead solo at 3:40, and an instrumental breakdown of sorts at four-and-a-half minutes in. Vocally, World Trade and TNT came to mind whilst I was listening.
Paper Sun features yet another heavy-as-fuck opener riff, with the killer vocal imprint all over the proceedings AGAIN – doesn’t Dave get tired of kicking ass? It also includes a sort of keys solo at 4:20 that morphs into a saxophone, somehow – either that or these old ears are playing tricks on me. There is a nice little shredding also at 4:40. Lyrically, I was briefly captured aurally by this couplet: “Since you’ve been gone/ I wander the roads where you left me“. Profound, right? Romantic, no? Perhaps.
Giantkiller is another lengthy, epic-y production with a classic prog-rock opening. Everything is here again, by the way – the urgency, the energy, the brilliant, powerfully sky-rocketing vocals. This bloke is obviously of hero status, as well. Just check the lyrics if you don’t believe me: “For justice and the helpless/He’s the man who walks among the giants“. At the 3:45 mark there is an instrumental breakdown that shifts slightly into a brief lead guitar bit, then there are more prophetic lyrics: “The only way to win the war/Straight down into the planet’s core“. By the way, the drums are again very busy on this particular tune, and we get another couple of lead pieces as well. Some shredding (4:15), plus riffage, and at 5 minutes in, more shredding that leads to traveling bluesy/rocky leads and riffs, then a lovely instrumental breakdown from around 6:45 to the close. Absolutely brilliant.
Doomed starts out a bit doom and gloom (hence the name, right?), almost reminding one of Sabbath-esque riffing. There is some seriously shredding riffage here again, and some wicked cool powerful vocals as well. At 2:40 we hear yet another breakdown/shift of sorts (with vocals), an instrumental version at three-and-a-half minutes in, then a shred-fest with both guitars at the 4:20 mark. How appropo!
At long last we arrive at the closer. It has been a considerably long journey. I would not deem our proceedings arduous, however. I have thoroughly enjoyed this ride. It seems only fitting that this, our last number, is the longest of the batch. At almost 8 minutes, in length, one would be tempted to dub The World Has Two Faces as an epic. It IS very tempting, because it is nothing if not an epic, musical journey. We start out with keys/guitars PLUS drums and bass doing the heaviness-and-airiness at the same time thing…not sure how on earth they do that, but CF do it WELL! The main riffing that comes in about 1:45-2:00 is heavy as fuck (again), and the doom factor creeps back in at about 3:20. Busy drums – did I mention that? At three-and-a-half minutes in there is a nice lead guitar bit. At 3:50 they falter only slightly with some chanting/whoa oh oh’s (I like the 60’s/70’s as much as anyone, but I’m not sure this is the place for that). It is repeated again at the 7-minute mark, oddly enough,. At 4:20 there is something you don’t get to hear often in prog metal – we get spatial FX – guitar riffs moving from speaker to speaker – and if I can detect it on a little ol’ PC, just imagine how groovy it will sound on your stereos! Both guitars positively shred at the 5 minute mark. Some proggy keys are happening at 5:20, and some nice vocals plus riffs at the 6-minute mark. There is an instrumental breakdown (broken record, Rick!) at 6:45. Let’s see, does that about wrap it up? Indeed it does!
Upon consideration of adding this piece to your listening library, do not focus strictly on what I have written. It may indeed influence you to go out and purchase it instantly! I have already decided to purchase my own copy to support these deserving blokes. However, I think you should hear some first! So, go to YouTube, punters! Go to Facebook! Go to your record store! Just go, I tell you! Hear Chaos Frame, they will make you want to stand up and rock!