Album Title: Aria
Label: The Artisan Era
Date of Release: 10 December 2021
Just when I thought I’d completed all my reviews for 2021, I’m presented with another promo that I simply could not ignore. The album is entitled ‘Aria’, and it’s the fourth album from the mind and hands of US musician, Alex Haddad. That’s right, Dessiderium is a one-man project from the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. When I received the email for this record, I was unaware of the fact that Dessiderium was a solo affair and, after hearing it several times through, it is still hard to believe if I’m honest. What drew me in to having a listen was the cover artwork and the fact that it is released via The Artisan Era label. What has kept me interested is the music – just as it should be.
Not content with performing most of the music himself, ‘Aria’ is comprised of just five tracks but together span over an hour of music. In anyone’s language, this is ambitious to say the least. These are not short, simple tracks; they are long, multi-layered, detailed affairs, that cover a lot of ground, ranging from gentle progressive rock, to blasts of extreme metal, and many genres in between.
The opening intro to ‘White Morning In A World She Knows’ is utterly gorgeous, and it sets the tone for the entire record perfectly. Gently picked guitar notes are underlaid by subtle synths and the sounds of birds and nature. Haddad’s voice is equally gentle, hushed, and soothing, accenting the fragile melodies perfectly. As the song develops, in come heavier guitar tones, strong virtuoso percussion, and a resonant bass. I’m not entirely sure whether the drums are organic or synthetic such is the quality on offer; if I was a betting man, I’d say that they are programmed because they sound just a little too polished, but if I can’t really tell, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
It actually takes over six minutes before there’s an explosion of more extreme metal, comprised of some fast-paced riffs and pleasing mid-range aggressive growls from Haddad. But he then laces the heavier material with his clean approach, enabling the melodies to shine through even more strongly. And it is with the melodies where Haddad really excels. If I’m faced with a fifteen-minute opener, I want it to hold my attention for as much as possible. One way to do this is with excellent musicianship, which Haddad clearly has. The other is with melody, hooks, or something memorable that makes me want to return with regularity. And this opening epic is laced with beautiful passages, an ebb and flow that is rather enthralling, and some very strong melodies. Flitting between technical death metal, progressive metal, blackened death, and more modern ingredients like djent, it’s an absolute feast for the ears.
However, as good as the opening track is, I would argue that the follow-up, ‘Pale’ is even better. And the reason for this is that it has an even stronger melodic vein that runs through its core. From the opening sparkling, effervescent guitar notes, more reminiscent of a prog rock/fusion track, you know that you’re listening to the real deal. Blistering drumming is accented by soothing vocals before all hell breaks loose and I’m surrounded by extreme metal brutality. But even then, there’s a majestic undercurrent that is then let loose before too long via a reprise of the opening melody albeit joined by an irresistible groove and intensity, a groove that reappears later in the piece to great effect.
From there, the remaining three songs follow a similar pattern although they are very much their own songs. The title track is probably my pick of the three, but it’s a close-run thing in all honesty, such is the consistency on offer, as well as the sheer quality. I really enjoy the stop-start djent style riffing and groove that the title track deploys, as well as the incredibly deft use of light and shade, going from full-on attack to almost complete silence, all the while able to demonstrate Haddad’s skills with both the guitar and from a compositional point of view. ‘Aria’ also makes great use of orchestral, cinematic atmospheres, that give it another strong element.
Having said that, you can’t ignore the all-out black metal exuberance of ‘Moon Lust Delirium’, especially at the beginning of the song, where the drumming approaches warp speed, whilst the guitars aren’t far behind. And yet, for all its extremity, there’s an abundance of elegant melody to be discovered, and which becomes more pronounced the more you care to listen. Neither should you ignore the rousing, almost euphoric feel that closer ‘The Persecution Complex’ brings with it, as well as yet more catchy melody and plenty of keyboard-driven atmosphere.
Speaking very personally, I would perhaps have enjoyed the album more if it had been broken down into more succinct pieces, rather than five gargantuan compositions. And I’m not saying this because I have a short attention span; it has more to do with the fact that, just occasionally, a clever idea or interesting passage threatens to get a little lost within the sheer breadth of music. And if I’m being incredibly picky, the production would have benefitted from a touch more separation and low-end bass. But these are the only vaguely negative comments that I have to make.
Overall, I find ‘Aria’ to be a very enjoyable and rewarding listening experience. This is pure progressive metal, but progressive metal with bite and a healthy dose of heaviness and aggression. If your idea of progressive metal is ‘The Astonishing’ by Dream Theater, then ‘Aria’ may not be for you. If, however, you enjoy well crafted and intelligently constructed progressive metal with an uncompromisingly heavy and extreme edge, I can do nothing other than recommend Dessiderium to you, even if I find the abundant talents of musicians like Alex Haddad irritating and a touch vulgar – couldn’t they have left a little talent for the rest of us?!
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: