Utopia – Stalker (APF Records)
What do Welsh singer Aled Jones and US mathcore pioneers The Dillinger Escape Plan have in common?
Well, not a hell of a lot.
Unless you count John Bailey, whose worlds have collided spectacularly on this kaleidoscopic, hyper-intense album.
Bailey – an accomplished jazz guitarist who tours with Jones and classical tenor Russell Watson – has teamed up with Corrupt Moral Altar vocalist Chris Reese for Utopia, a project born from his love of metal’s avantgarde adventurers.
And he is joined on Stalker by former TDEP drummer Billy Rymer, Leprous sticksman Baard Kolstad, Dream Troll’s Si Blakelock and De Profundis bassist Arran McSporran – among others – for a jarring journey into metal’s outer limits.
Bailey certainly doesn’t hold back.
The Yorkshireman’s flowing, jazz-inflected compositions staddle multiple lanes of left-field music, while simultaneously coalescing around a defined identity.
Yes, there are shades of Dillinger, Strapping Young Lad and Ephel Duath across Utopia’s debut.
But Stalker – which was heavily inspired by Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky – is no pastiche.
And that’s because Bailey, with a slew of jazz records to his name, is blessed with a breathtaking skill set…
Yes, his fretwork is sublime – check out the delicate flourishes which caress Full Length Biography or the contorted, jagged riffery of Happiness – but it’s his ability to provoke deeper emotional responses, while navigating through the sonic carnage, which really stands out.
Moscow Holiday – one of the album’s more accessible tracks – is a stunning exercise in ghostly atmospherics and sinewy tension, while What About Me, which features a dazzling performance from Kolstad, unleashes a flurry of rhythmic spasms, before powering down and drifting off into the cosmos.
Reese’s contribution is startling too.
Applying a wider range than we’ve heard before, he screams and roars from the depths of his gut, plugging a primal power source into Utopia’s brain stem.
And he does it over music that’s arguably more violent than that created by his ‘main’ band, music that often feels like it’s going to tear the air part.
Indeed, Utopia’s first album will be a challenge to those brave enough to face its maelstrom.
Beautiful and brutal, calming and cacophonous, Stalker is extreme… in the truest sense of the word.