Utopia – Shame (Self-released)
We threw those words around in response to Utopia’s debut, Stalker.
The band’s 2021, lockdown-born opus “straddled multiple lanes of left-field music, while simultaneously coalescing around a defined identity”. Well, that’s what we thought, anyway.
At its heart was supremely talented jazz guitarist John Bailey (who counts Aled Jones and Russell Watson as clients) and his old uni mate, Corrupt Moral Altar’s Chris Reese. With the likes of Leprous drummer Baard Kolstad and De Profundis bassist Arran McSporran in tow, Utopia did some serious tampering with extreme music’s DNA.
Shame, therefore, had a lot to live up to…
In some ways, it’s a more accessible record than Stalker – though we’re not exactly talking Justice vs the black album here.
The mutant sonic architecture of Utopia’s earlier work glistens throughout these 10 songs. The jarring time signatures, jaw-dropping fret-runs and mind-warping musical concepts remain. Opener Machiavelli, feels as physically demanding for the listener as it must have been for the band to record. And the title track – which explores mental health and themes such as confirmation bias and illogical thinking – writhes and contorts.
But there are moments of supreme clarity and passages that envelope your soul, rather than dice up your cerebral cortex.
Waking Visions is a perfect example of this. It’s a simply astonishing piece of work. There are titanic hooks. There are calmer waters to wade in (despite Reese sounding possessed). And the soothing trickle that leads into Sun Damage is just sublime.
Another of Bailey’s gifts is his ability to unnerve and unsettle. Moving Gently Towards The Grave paints the picture of a blissful futurescape, but there’s something dark and dystopian lurking underneath. As the album’s closer, it’s one hell of a statement. It leaves a chasm-deep imprint.
Even in a metal world which embraces experimentation and worships the likes of Meshuggah, Utopia are an outlier.
Where they fit in is anyone’s guess.
They shouldn’t care.
They probably don’t.
This is genuinely extreme music… and will free many minds.