Artist: Pressure Points
Album Title: The Island
Label: Art Gates Records
Date of Release: 17 March 2023
Way back in 2015, when my website was in its relative infancy, and so were my two children, I heard a band called Pressure Points for the very first time. What I heard, was their second album, entitled ‘False Lights’, and I absolutely loved it. I still do, to be honest, although I don’t get to listen to it as much as I want to. The trials and tribulations of a music reviewer, eh? Truth be told, I thought that the band may have folded because there was no follow-up to be seen to build upon the positivity of a great release. I’m delighted to say that I was wrong though, because eight long years later, the Finnish quintet have finally returned with their third album, ‘The Island’.
In the intervening years, life has been full of ups and downs for all of us and whilst the lengthy gap between releases may have hampered the relative successes of the band, Pressure Points have come out the other end relatively unscathed personnel-wise. The core of the group remains intact, meaning that original trio of drummer Vili Auvinen, bassist Janne Parikka, and guitarist/vocalist Kari Olli still feature, alongside long-time keyboardist Veli-Matti ‘Wellu’ Kyllönen. The only change comes in the form of Juha Tretjakov who joined in 2022 to provide lead vocals. As such, Olli is now only responsible for the growls and gruff vocals alongside his guitar duties.
Albums like this always tear me in two – on the one hand I am excited and elated to listen to music of this quality and I love to dive deep into the music to discover as much about it as I can. On the other, I get quite frustrated and angry that musicians of this quality seem destined to remain within the underground. Music will always be subjective, but I sometimes can’t help but despair. My girls, just this past week, subjected me a song called ‘Rhyme Dust’ by MK & Dom Dolla, a song I have since found out has over 400,000 hits on YouTube alone. It’s awful. It’s barely even music in my opinion. And yet, here we are in a world that would rather listen to that turgid monotony than this wonderful album. I know it was ever thus, and my little rant will not change a thing, but it’s good to occasionally get these things off my chest.
So, ‘The Island’, by Pressure Points – allow me to explain more about why it’s so good, and why it’s a travesty that they are not better known. The first thing that I enjoy about this band and this album is the way in which they will, so effortlessly, appeal to a wide spectrum of listeners. On various pages on the Internet, Pressure Points are described simply as ‘progressive death metal’. However, if I may be so bold, this is a gross oversimplification that’s also erroneous, leading the casual observer to make an incorrect snap decision. Yes, the Finns deploy some growled vocals in their compositions, and yes, there are some passages that are heavier. But for every foray into early Opeth territory, there’s a meander into surroundings much more akin to the likes of Rush, Transatlantic, or even Dream Theater. In addition to this, there are some lush AOR-leaning melodies, and more than just a nod towards progressive rock bands like Frost*.
It might therefore seem like Pressure Points are trying to be all things to all men, spreading their net far and wide in an effort to snare as many listeners as possible. This tactic doesn’t always work and can be fraught with danger, the worst being that the band lack identity or come across as cynical or contrived. Not here though. Listening to ‘The Island’, you instead get the feeling that Pressure Points are simply playing the music that they enjoy. As such, I don’t hear anything remotely contrived, or cynical. I hear seven well-crafted tracks that are alive with creativity, energy, and enthusiasm.
To make this point, I want to start with the penultimate track, ‘Collateral’ which also happens to be my personal favourite on ‘The island’. The opening is far removed from progressive death, thanks to delicate guitar work, and strong, resonant clean vocals. Even when the full band enter, there’s more of a classic prog rock-meets-pop vibe thanks to the vocals, layers of synths, and the dark yet breezy bounce and groove that ensues. The song goes through various transitions, with 70s style synths playing a prominent part, spoken-word elements, and a great ebb and flow between quieter passages, and heavier flourishes, as well as a cracking lead guitar solo around the mid-point. The song takes many distinctive twists and turns and it’s not until just shy of the five-minute mark that we get any gruff vocals. Mind you, when they arrive, they are brilliant, accenting the heavier guitar tones and powerful rhythms perfectly, adding that ‘edge’ to the music that I really enjoy. Regardless, the melodies remain, and the whole song is an utterly vibrant, and glorious seven-minute ride.
‘Collateral’ may be my favourite, but it could so easily have been the opener, ‘Our Constellation’ instead. For a while, it was. It starts the album with a cheeky, up tempo and warm glow, where the musicianship is bang on, as is the production that allows the music to work its subtle magic. The growls are interspersed within the song so as not to overburden it, instead, allowing the big melodies to slowly work their way into the listener’s brain. As with all of Pressure Points’ material, the song veers off in many directions and fully justifies its seven-minute length. There were a few melodic choices that I wasn’t immediately keen on at the outset but, in true prog style, they have wormed their way into my affections. The second half of the track is undeniably heavier, with some thunderous double-pedal drumming making an appearance, and the growls becoming more frequent to justify the prog death tag a little more. However, as it gets heavier, the song also seems to get more epic-sounding, more rousing, and altogether more powerful and alluring for my tastes.
If anything, the chorus to ‘So Ordinary’ borders on AOR territory such is its melodic strength and catchiness. However, it is surrounded by some of the fastest material on the album, both in terms of the bass and drums, but also as far as the guitar riffs and licks are concerned too. Despite the varied nature of almost all the music on ‘The Island’, it is this track that somehow feels the most ‘progressive’, although this might simply be because we’re treated to a keyboard solo in amongst everything else that’s going on. Whatever the reason, it’s another fabulous song.
The bass work at the beginning of ‘Two Moons’ is striking, as are the savage growls that counterpoint delicate tinkling piano notes that float above heavy riffing. It makes for a most intriguing experience, one that I have warmed to with repeated listens. Being a fan of the heavier end of the musical spectrum, I do also like the increased brutality of much of this song, even if it is always kept in check so as not to disrupt the overall flow of the song. And then, out of nowhere, it introduces a soaring melody that just melts me, and even the closing notes that appear to come from the strings of a banjo, just work.
And that’s the story of the entire album, to be honest – it just works. ‘The Island’ is ambitious, multi-layered, multi-faceted, and an utter delight from beginning to end. Some songs take a little longer to make their mark, but when everything clicks, it’s fair to say that there isn’t a weak song on the album. Over 50 minutes in length for seven songs might indicate that a little editing might have been prudent in places. However, when I try to work out where the unnecessary fat exists, I find it hard to locate it, meaning that maybe I’m being entirely unfair to the band. Regardless, it is hard to find much fault with ‘The Island’ at all – if you’re looking for progressive metal with melody, ambition, and a heavier bite, make sure you give Pressure Points your attention, because they thoroughly deserve it.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%