Artist: The Enigma Division
Album Title: The Enigma Division
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 27 January 2023
I needed this. As I return from my extended hiatus at the back end of 2022, it is wonderful to be presented with an album by a new band that gets the magic flowing again. I started this website with the intention of giving as much time and attention to new endeavours as I do to the bigger hitters and more established artists. And here we have a prime example of this, in the shape of The Enigma Division, and their debut, self-titled and independently released full-length album.
Before going any further, I have to tip my hat to a friend I originally met on social media who, with his effusive tweets, led me to checking this record out, having completely missed it until that point. And that, as I have since discovered, would have been an enormous mistake.
The Enigma Division have been around for a while, at least since 2019, when some music of theirs was first teased to an unsuspecting world. The band is comprised of ex-Xerath guitarist Conor McGouran, drummer Ben Wanders (also a well-respected composer and producer), and Ronan Burns, with some notable guest appearances making their presence known on this debut release. Chief among them, Sons Of Apollo’s keyboardist and ex- Dream Theater ivory-tinkler Derek Sherinian, alongside Defences’ William Alex Young and Sam Bell (Mask Of Judas).
The band themselves coin their music as ‘Tech-Noir’, with McGouran explaining that this is because they believe their music “incorporates our love for atmospheric 80’s synth music, film score and science fiction combined with extremely groove laden heavy riffs.”
Or, to directly quote the insightful Chris McGarel of Prog Magazine (@whiterhinotea for those wishing to follow him), this record is “Stellar prog metal debut from Irish band including guest spot from Derek Sherinian. DT/Haken with the melodic sense of VOLA/Sound of Contact. This is exceptional.”
You know what though? Both descriptions are true, and I have to concur, ‘The Enigma Division’ is an exceptional record. I can’t be lazy though, and leave my review there, letting others do the heavy lifting. So let’s explore this album a little more, shall we?
The film score element marries up with the sci-fi atmosphere perfectly via the opening three-minute introductory piece, ‘1977’, an instrumental that is dramatic, intriguing, and full of tension, exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear on the big screen. The latter stages burst forth into a heavy, metallic and progressive affair, acting as a prelude for what’s to come. And what’s to come is ‘The Escapist’, arguably the catchiest and most immediate of all the compositions on the album. The opening sequence is djent-like, calling to mind those Haken references, laced with strong synths and a dextrous, skipping drumbeat. The vocals that emerge are clean, resonant, and melodious, leading us into a killer chorus that’s part prog anthem and part melodic metal beauty. Throughout, the song never misses a beat, and delights throughout, be it with a burst of growled vocals, powerful riffs, and intense heaviness, or with plenty of virtuosic instrumental moments that only enhance, and never detract from the overall direction of the music.
The djent influences are dialled down a smidge for ‘Echoes Of The Deep’, another cracking track, that feels like it’s half as long as it’s near nine-minute duration. After a deliberate intro, the riffs that emerge are inspired, whilst the melodies, no less impressive, worm their way into the psyche a little more insidiously than its predecessor. If anything, there’s even more flamboyance on display here, as the song never sits still, with the swathes of keys in particular reminding me a little of early Pagan’s Mind. It goes without saying that the technical abilities of the musicians involved are out of the very top draw, with all facets of the music delivered cleanly, crisply, and with a certain stylish panache too. The final third, however, introduced by an atmospheric synth-led passage, is where the song delivers its knock-out blow. I’ll let you discover what I mean for yourselves, but it’s incredible.
Commendably consistent, none of the eight compositions let the side down, although naturally I have my favourites. The bright, breezy opening to ‘Afterglow’ is delightful for example, as are the ensuing melodies that have one toe dipped into the pond of AOR to these ears. But I also love the Devin Townsend-esque shouted vocals to add a bit of grit to proceedings. The bass playing on ‘Kaleidoscope’ comes to the fore wonderfully well, whilst the softer, more subtle vocal approach lends a more atmospheric feel to the song, accenting the layers of rich synths expertly.
And then there’s the near twenty-minute finale in the form of ‘1977 – Ad Infinitum’ which closes out the record in suitably ambitious and epic fashion. Classically infused from the outset, it has sci-fi film score written all over it, even when the metallic elements come into play. With a track of this length, you will not be surprised to hear that there is plenty of space devoted to intricate and flamboyant lead instrumental work, particularly with the four-minute lead guitar solo at its heart. Reminiscent of Genesis’ Mike Rutherford at points, it’s melodic, poignant, and incredibly dextrous. But for me, somewhat surprisingly, it is the spoken-word samples that feature, which give the track that something special. Normally, I’m not much of a fan of these, but the monologue which examines the way in which every human being, regardless of background or position in society, calls Earth their home, really strikes a chord with me. The futile, pathetic efforts of some to dominate, and subjugate, are brought into focus by the simple words spoken, sending a shiver down my spine when entwined with the bold, ominous synth soundscape that sits behind.
At over an hour in length, I’d normally say that this record is a little too long. But it is difficult to fault on this occasion, because rarely a moment is wasted throughout, and when listening, the experience seems much shorter than it actually is. That should give you the clearest indication yet, as to how much I like this record. Ambitious, memorable, engaging, and dramatic, ‘The Enigma Division’ is a debut release to be savoured, enjoyed, and absolutely not be passed by. I nearly missed it, but now that I know it exists, I’ll be doing my damnedest to ensure that you don’t.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%