All music is a kind of storytelling. But it’s 2017, and you’d be forgiven for being tired of hearing stories.
Lately, words can feel totally meaningless and status updates rule the land. For many reasons, the basic act of telling a story can be a hard sell. Attentive audiences are hard to come by. Stories are often deployed to move products. The ubiquity of data and search capabilities make it possible to fact-check every single plotline. Or, simply, they’re boring.
But imagine a story where it’s acceptable to embellish, whisper, emote, yell, and thrash without actually lying? Because that’s what the world of instrumental post-rock fantasy metal affords you. Untethered from traditional narrative arc, political context, and anything resembling the dreary truth of reality, the members of Portland progressive metal four-piece Capture the Sun spin an impressive yarn in their second full-length album, the bombastic, fantastical Terra Ignota.
Written over three years, the young wizards of this quartet fully inhabit the fantasy world of their creation, showing us how lush and warm it can be. Save the occasional blastbeat or two (somehow still a frightening element of modern music), Terra Ignota exhibits a type of fantasy metal as inclusive to audiences as it is relentless. These long, desultory tracks could easily be deployed as soundtracks to an RPG. Even putting it on to do the dishes feels a little epic.
Through advancements in studio capabilities, today’s progressive metal isn’t quite as off-putting to mainstream ears as it once was. Listening to Terra Ignota reinforces this. The guitar leads are smooth, slick, and clean, as lyrical as any vocalist and no less emotionally resonant. When Aaron and Jordan of Portland black metal minions Falls of Rauros enter as guest vocalists on “Tides,” a cathartic metal moment seven tracks into the record, the brutality feels almost out of place.
Mostly, the world Capture the Sun create on the album is inhabitable for all walks of life. It's hardly a crime to flee the aggressive and sometimes antisocial affects of metal, and there's something to be said for making stuff like this sound accessible without getting corny. The winding, tortuous guitars on “Carving the Atmosphere” give way to a shimmering ambient passage. The four-minute “Cloudless” and its lovely resplendent intro recalls the folk guitar of Mark Knopfler before settling into a brainy syncopated rhythm that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Don Caballero epic. It never sounds tedious, but at an hour long, some of the album can sort of blur into the atmosphere. After a nifty 6/8 intro to “Artificial Landscapes,” the soaring lead that enters a minute into the eight-minute track six feels somewhat more formulaic than emotionally driven. For the listener, it’s just some slight fantasy fatigue; if Terra Ignota shows any weaknesses, it’s the band’s affinity for peaks.
In genre terms, Terra Ignota is very much a fantasy prog metal album. To these ears, it sooner tilts toward a kind of refined, slicked-up guitar jazz as often as it goofs with post-hardcore or math-rock breakdowns. But there are surprises. There’s a dueling lead guitar section halfway through the title track that’s on par with contemporary melodic black metal, and the chiller, ambient moments are more than gestural, offering needed reflection and contemplation.
And in cultural terms, the vocabulary of fantasy metal is hardly something to be hidden in the basement, and this album shows why. Identifying as a “gamer” these days is a mainstream act, particularly for young men in the U.S., and the seven-year reign of certain HBO dramas have repositioned mythological narratives as the terra firma of mainstream American discourse. In fact, the timeline of the latter fits Capture the Sun’s own arc neatly. There’s only scant vocal work on this album, but track one of the band’s first album, released in 2012, is titled “A War is Coming to This Island.” Per the band, Terra Ignota tells the story of the creation of a planet, and the various societies that dwell within it. In an era where most young men are encouraged to learn finance or how to code for Fortune 500 companies, we should appreciate that some would rather build this world instead.
Capture the Sun | Terra Ignota album release | with Destination: Void + Objet | Thu August 10, 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | $7 | www.portlandempire.com
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