Artist: A Dying Planet
Album Title: When The Skies Are Grey
Label: Lifeforce Records
Date of Release: 17 September 2021
A new album from the talented mind and hands of Jasun Tipton is always a happy event around these parts. It therefore stands to reason that one of the first handful of albums I reach for after returning from my self-imposed exile to focus on my health and wellbeing, is this. It’s the sophomore full-length release from A Dying Planet, one of Jasun’s many musical ventures that includes Zero Hour and Abnormal Thought Patterns. The album is, somewhat pessimistically titled ‘When The Skies Are Grey’, and it consists of six individual songs stretching well over 50 minutes in length. I really enjoyed the 2018 debut, ‘Facing The Incurable’, so I had high hopes for this release.
From the press release and the further information available on the Internet, it is unclear whether Jasun’s brother, Troy was involved in this release. On the debut, Troy focused on songwriting, lyrics and singing, as ‘Facing The Incurable’ was used as a vehicle by the bassist to delve into his devastating medical diagnosis that ceased his ability to play the bass guitar. Naturally therefore, the debut was an emotional, and occasionally quite dark affair.
‘When The Skies Are Grey’ is no different in that regard either. The lyrics focus on other topics, but it would be a stretch to suggest that this is a happy or uplifting record. Of course, there are some beautiful melodies at play, but the general tone of the record is quite sombre, perhaps reflecting the reality which now faces us on a daily basis, be it the pandemic, the environment, or seemingly endless wars around the globe.
The immediate example of what I’m trying to explain comes in the form of the opening title track. Out of the shadows emerges a simple, yet elegant and poignant melody led by clean guitar tones from Tipton, joined by the assured bass of Brian Hart. It’s gone in a heartbeat, as chunky, djent-like notes are overlaid by a striking lead guitar line, all underpinned by a sharp beat from drummer Marco Bica alongside a more muscular bass. The heaviness departs as quickly as it arrives to be replaced by a delicate, introspective, yet gorgeously rich atmospheric verse. Since the debut, Paul Adrian Villarreal has become the full-time vocalist and it’s wonderful to hear the ex-Sun Caged singer back in action and in such fine fettle. Resonant, emotional, and blessed with a great range, he is the perfect fit for the soundscapes that surround him. And those soundscapes, as evidenced within this stunning opening track ebb and flow wonderfully cohesively from rich, driving progressive metal, to bruising tech-djent, to atmospheric post rock.
“I wish I had someone to hold…sometimes I don’t care to see tomorrow…I’m broken…Society looks the other way, and doesn’t care to know your name…” With audible lyrics from Villarreal of this nature, that melancholy, dark vibe is unquestionable and unavoidable.
Next up is ‘Honouring Your Name’, another striking song and a little different in construction. It opens with a harsh-sounding heavy riff that turns out to be a pre-cursor to the chorus that features throughout. Interspersed between what is a bold, slightly repetitive chorus that seriously grows with frequent repeated listens, are some of the most gorgeous delicate melodies, played beautifully precisely, overlaid by yet more tear-jerking lyrics that seem to offer a sombre commentary on war from the point of view of the soldiers and their families. I have made no secret of my adoration of Jasun Tipton’s singing guitar solos and gratifyingly, we’re treated to a short and succinct, but no less impactful rendition within this composition.
‘Hope For Tomorrow’ follows a similar pattern, in that we get to hear some masterful musicianship and melodious singing within another poignant song, one that I have listened to frighteningly frequently of late.
If I had a gripe with the record, it would be that the longest track, the near 15-minute ‘Embrace’ is a touch too long and suffers at points from being a little repetitive and unmemorable. It is still way too good to be given the ‘skip’ treatment, especially the passage that begins around the 2:40 mark, but I wish it would open up and deliver another killer hook or two to hammer the listener over head a little more. I’m also not 100% sold on the production which, just occasionally, feels a little too trebly and tiring on the ears. And Jasun: more solos please!
But, back to the overwhelming positives and I have yet to talk about the final two songs, ‘Far From Home’ and ‘A Father’s Love’. The former features and insistent, pounding riff that’s reminiscent of Nevermore at their heaviest and most unrelenting. However, this track features a much more pronounced use of quiet atmospheres and delicate passages. It makes the heavier sections that little more powerful and menacing, sections where the down tuned riffs wouldn’t sound out of place on a tech death metal album.
The latter of the two is, as you might expect, the ray of much needed light and positivity on an otherwise sobering affair. But even then, the combination of heartfelt lyrics and gorgeous melodies means that, for this dad, it’s another tearjerker. The introduction is utterly mesmerising, a classic Tipton affair, with technical wailing guitars that sound scintillating rather than self-indulgent. Villarreal’s voice is so full of authenticity that he conveys the pride of a parent without question, adding the final ingredient to a fantastic closing song.
Bearing in mind the fact that Jasun Tipton is easily one of the kindest, nicest, and permanently happy musicians I have ever had the pleasure to talk to, it seems a little incongruous that ‘When The Skies Are Grey’ is such a sombre, bleak affair. But bearing in mind the world at large at the moment, and maybe it isn’t as surprising. Regardless, ‘When The Skies Are Grey’ is an excellent blend of technical musicianship, varied influences, and powerful emotions. Altogether, it comes together to create something intelligent, creative, and with a real depth. If progressive metal with djent and post-rock influences sounds like your kind of thing, then A Dying Planet is definitely a band that you need to hear as soon as possible.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: