Album Title: II
Label: Eclipse Records
Date of Release: 23 April 2021
I’ve had this record for a couple of months at least and yet I’m late bringing this review to you. And the reason is that I have gone back and forth several times, deciding exactly what I think of this album. There is much to like about it, but for the longest time, I felt that there was something stopping me from fully falling for its charms and I couldn’t work out why. But finally, here we are.
In an effort to procrastinate further, I ought to give you a little background about the band, particularly as it is a debut record that we’re dealing with here. Benthos is an Italian quintet comprised of vocalist Gabriele Landillo, guitarists Gabriele Papagni and Enrico Tripodi, bassist Alberto Fiorani, and drummer Alessandro Tagliani, who have been in existence since 2018, building up a name for themselves in underground circles. Such has been the buzz though, that Eclipse Records have signed them up, with ‘II’ being their first foray into the world of full-length albums. I say that, but at 32 minutes, ‘II’ isn’t the longest of affairs and, with just seven tracks, Benthos have clearly gone for the quality over quantity approach.
And there’s certainly no disputing the talent on offer because these guys have some skill with their instruments. Indeed, each of the seven tracks provides an abundance of different ideas, ranging from quiet, atmospheric soundscapes, right through to moments of naked aggression, led by jagged riffing and growled vocals. And for much of the time, the tempos and rhythms are challenging, delivering a complexity that is impressive, whilst there remains an inherent melody to the material that helps to keep the listener’s attention and avoid alienation. The lyrical concept to ‘II’ is an exploration into competing, opposing forces such as life and death, and finite versus infinite concepts meaning that the strongly contrasting musical juxtapositions fit the concept perfectly.
It’s difficult to pinpoint definitive reference points within the music, but I’m certain this record will appeal to fans of bands as diverse as Between The Buried And Me, Coheed And Cambria, and Haken amongst many others. There’s also a smattering of metalcore elements to be heard but coming from someone that’s not the biggest fan of this genre, I can attest to the fact that these moments don’t detract from the overall experience.
It may sound strange coming from me, but I must admit to preferring the quieter, more melodic aspects of ‘II’ over the heavier, more aggressive bursts. Let’s take the track ‘Debris Essence’ as an example of this sentiment. It starts quietly with Landillo singing delicately over a gorgeous rich bass guitar-led section, where the drums and guitars offer gentle punctuation, an approach that reappears throughout to wonderful effect. However, these sections are punctuated by some abrasive angular guitars, and snarling growls which are full of emotion but don’t resonate as strongly with me. I think some of this is down to the chosen sound of the guitars which, to me are a little harsh and trebly for my liking personally.
By the same token, ‘Back And Forth’ is at it’s most beguiling when the instrumentation is minimised, and Landillo’s really nice clean voice is allowed to shine, creating some of the strongest melodies on the record. Admittedly, I really like the entire song, as the heavier moments are much more engaging, with the guitar riffs offering much more immediacy and sense of groove to compliment rather than juxtapose the quieter parts, meaning it’s a much more homogenous composition overall.
I’m also a sucker for the two-minute instrumental interlude at the midway point in the album. Entitled ‘Facing The Deep’, it presents a minimalist soundscape where atmosphere and calm emotion sit at its core. The guitar notes provide a haunting element that’s both enticing and darkly foreboding in equal measure.
However, I’m overall less keen with ‘Talk To Me, Dragonfly!’, simply because I think it almost verges into ‘too much’ territory. It is a furious jazz-infused song that’s strong on technical prowess, but less enjoyable than other compositions simply because it feels a bit more like an experiment to see what was possible. Think Haken at their most adventurous, but add another level entirely. There are flashes of melody within the intense track, but screams, growls, heavily-effected vocals all converge, as do challenging structures and ideas that encroach into discordant territory. Those who enjoy challenging music will certainly find lots to love about this dextrous piece, but it leaves me a little cold if I’m honest. Just because you can do something, doesn’t always mean that you should.
Elsewhere, the opening to the final track, ‘Dissolving Flowers’ reminds me somewhat of recent Caligula’s Horse thanks to some rich textures and slightly unusual melodies. I like also the slower, more laid back feel to the heavier parts, as well as the introduction of a vaguely Latin-hue to the acoustic segment that ensues. Every bit as technically adept as previous songs on ‘II’, its strength is that it takes a little more time to explore the various ideas, leading to heavier segments that build upon the melodies, creating quite an anthemic, euphoric end to the album.
I have my reservations about ‘II’ as you may have already guessed. However, putting aside these relatively small concerns, there is no way that I could do anything other than congratulate Benthos on an impressive first album. Fans of properly progressive music could do an awful lot worse than check out this new Italian band, especially if you don’t mind the growls. ‘II’ is not the finished and polished article, but it demonstrates that the foundations are in place upon which to build with future releases. I’ll certainly keep my eye on Benthos and you should too.
The Score of Much Metal: 80%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: