Vicinity - VIII

Artist: Vicinity

Album Title: VIII

Label: Uprising Records

Date of Release: 8 March 2024

My first response was shock, when faced with this review; I was shocked when I discovered that Vicinity have been in existence since 2006. Firstly, they are they a ‘classic’ progressive metal band which, as you all know, is one of my all-time favourite genres of heavy music. Secondly, they are Norwegian, a nation known for producing some sensational heavy metal exports over the years across numerous subgenres. Leprous, Circus Maximus, and Pagan’s Mind are just three that trip off the tongue immediately with no effort whatsoever when focusing on prog music. So, I ask rhetorically, how can I have possibly remained unaware of Vicinity for over a decade-and-a-half?

In that time, Vicinity have released two studio albums, with ‘VIII’ being their third. They are currently a quintet, comprised of vocalist Erling Malm, drummer Frode Lillevold, keyboardist Ivar A. Nyland, guitarist Kim-Marius H. Olsen, and bassist Pierre-Nicolai H. Schmidt-Melbye. And this is a rather lovely album to say the least.

It is fair to say, right at the outset, that Vicinity will likely not satisfy those of you looking for a style of music or an approach that’s particularly unique or original. Vicinity instead ploughs that familiar furrow of progressive metal that borrows heavily from the great and the good of the genre. Of course, names like Dream Theater feature highly when thinking about the obvious reference points. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to think of Dream Theater as you listen to this record. You get eight individual tracks that stretch over sixty-three minutes, which means that, in keeping with the genre norms, Vicinity are not afraid to pen tracks of a longer length. Indeed, ‘VIII’ is bookended by tracks that extend well into double figures.

The thing is, being a fan of this kind of music, I am not put off by those facets of Vicinity’s sound that might deter others. In fact, it is because of many of them that I find myself really enjoying this album and the music that’s delivered along the way. Not all bands can pull it off, with many consigned to the musical rubbish bin. But there’s something about Vicinity that means that they avoid a similar fate and instead, have convinced me to write this review.

When I say the band have ‘something’, I should say that they demonstrate a number of ‘somethings’ that combine really well to ensure that people should definitely pay them some serious attention.

Vicinity - VIII

Top of the list is the instrumental talent that is in evidence. I’m a sucker for progressive metal that has a strong synth element and that’s evident here, from swathes of atmospheric tones to bolder, more prominent flourishes and even the odd keyboard solo or six. I have a soft spot for drumming that incorporates lots of tom fills, including those proggy runs that use the whole range of toms, especially beginning with the little ones. I’m not articulating myself very well, but hopefully you know what I mean. And we get loads of these on this album to my delight. Naturally, I’m also a huge fan of lead guitar solos and we have these in abundance, too, from fast and frenetic, to some that are much more melodic and emotive.

The production is also strong on ‘VIII’, meaning that the bass guitar is not rendered a bystander in the mix; indeed, there are plentiful moments when the instrument comes to the fore nicely. In fact, the production allows all of the musicians to shine throughout, whilst maintaining the crunch and authority that a metal album should display.

Vocally, band newcomer Erling Malm puts in a great shift, which is a huge relief because more often than I’d wish, strong potential is undermined by a weak singer in this genre. It’s fair to say that Malm does not have a voice that immediately stands out, but the guy has a great pair of lungs, hitting all of the notes with confidence and precision. Importantly, though, he shows he has an understanding of when to push hard, and when to exercise restraint, allowing the song to be his guide, whilst injecting just enough passion and emotion to give depth and colour to his overall performance.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, Vicinity prove that they are very solid songwriters. Throughout the album, my interest is maintained, largely by a combination of some immediately strong melodies as well as a few more subtle ones that take a little more work to tease out into the open. Unlike many albums, I warmed to ‘VIII’ on a first spin; there was something about it that I liked straight away, and which has remained. And that’s in spite of the length of some of the tracks and the overall duration of the album.

It is largely futile to pick out and mention individual tracks in any great detail because, by now, we all know how this album is going to sound. That said, if you’re in any doubt and want some more persuading, then you could do worse than check out the opening two songs, because they perfectly articulate what Vicinity are all about.

The opener is ‘Promised Paradise’ and although it has a twelve-minute run-time, it wastes no time with quiet intros, instead going straight in with a synth-soaked riff that’s melodic and catchy before veering off down all manner of paths, incorporating chunky riffs, extended instrumental passages, and a recurring chorus that makes an instant impression, but which hits harder with each passing listen. I particularly like the moody minimalist passage that enters after around three minutes, as it builds really nicely whilst demonstrating the band’s ability to blend light and shade to create drama and arresting dynamics. Put it all together and you get an engaging and thoroughly entertaining composition that never feels like it outstays its welcome.

On the other hand, ‘Distance’ is a shorter, more succinct composition that brings with it an air of the 80s thanks to the opening synth effects that are slathered over the other instrumentation, including some fantastic lead guitar solos and a pulsing riff that gets into your head. The layers of vocals within the chorus are a great touch and help to elevate it to a point where it’s possibly the most catchy and melodic moment on the album. Oh, and did I mention the drum rolls and fills? They are incredible on this song.

I really don’t care whether Vicinity offer an original sound or not, because I love what they have created here. Yes, it is prog and as such there are some complex ideas and instrumentation going on within the songs, but it’s also an album that I can put on and properly chill out to. I can air guitar, air drum, and nod my head with gusto, revelling in the music that greets my ears, putting a huge smile on my face at the same time. Put simply, if you want a powerful reminder of why you got into progressive metal in the very first place, play ‘VIII’ at significant volume, sit back, and enjoy.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%



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