I’m a sucker for alternative prog-rock. There’s just enough heaviness to satisfy the metal head in me but there is also a vast amount of tones and effects to appeal to the audiophile in me. Seriously, it’s like I’m an addict and the only cure is more interesting and unique sounds. So when I did a bit of reading and checking into A Liquid Landscape, I was immediately intrigued. They cite influences such as Dredg, Porcupine Tree, Sigur Ros, Karnivool, People In Planes, Tool, and more. Talk about an impressive roster of bands to admire, right? But anyone can claim such bands influence them. The question is can they take those influences and make a unique final product? Is Nightingale Express an album that stands on its own merits?
Starting with the title track, which also happens to be the longest track on the album by far (clocking in at over 12 minutes), the album starts with atmospheric guitar swells, single-note bass hits that rattle ever so slightly, and gently overdriven barre chords. Singer Fons Herder repeats “Come on home” over and over, increasing his intensity and pitch as the music builds, the emotion desperate and pleading. While it starts with beautiful effects and passages, the song falls into a trap where it seems unsure of how exactly to escape to the next passage. As the first track of the album, this track definitely demonstrates the variety of tones and emotions that the rest of the album presents. I just wish it had been a few minutes shorter.
The production of this album sounds wonderful. There is a slight rawness to the overdriven guitars that fits the desperate attitude that pervades across this album. The textures and clever use of panning make this an immersive experience. For example, guitar slides might start on the left and end on the right. My only complaint is that there are a few rare occasions where singer Fons goes a touch off-key. However, in this day and age where autotune is used more liberally than McDonalds uses salt, it’s refreshing to know that this was avoided.
For the listener that wants something more energetic and aggressive, both The Unreachable and Out Of Line will satisfy your need to nod your head along to the music just shy of headbanging. Easily the most epic of the tracks, Thieves of Time makes use of minimalistic approaches in the beginning to create some truly beautiful moments. As the song continues, there is an almost Tool-esque bass line. The song ends with climatic chunky guitar chords and syncopated drum hits.
The album ends with Secret Isle, a slow track that also features the first (and only) female vocals of the album. Shimmering cymbals, delayed clean guitar chords, and softly mixed pitched feedback all combine to create a track that is best enjoyed staring off into space, with no distractions nearby.
Yes, there are influences here from Dead Letter Circus and Karnivool as well as from Incubus and Coheed and Cambria. However, A Liquid Landscape manages to sound fresh and unique.
The Final Word: While Nightingale Express has some stellar tracks and some heart achingly beautiful passages, there are still times when the album meanders with songs that are, unfortunately, forgettable. Still, A Liquid Landscape is a band that will be on my “must watch” list. The potential is astonishing.