The Fragile Art of Existence: Special Re-Issue
Available Tuesday October, 26 2010
Review By Staff Writer, Lucy Leitner
The reason Control Denied’s 1999 album The Fragile Art of Existence sounds so familiar is because it is exactly such. Familiar. Composed of highly skilled members of Death, Iced Earth and Testament, among others, the late Chuck Schuldiner-led fringe supergroup is fairly standard progressive metal that with an element of grit.
Relapse Records’ reissue of Control Denied’s sole full-length album includes the original eight songs, along with a second CD that includes even rougher demo versions of the coarse finished tracks. By fusing the speed and pounding drums of death metal with, thankfully, the vocals and technical skill of power metal, Control Denied is the heavy, bearded, black-tee shirt clad older brother of the more refined, symphonic progressive metal of today. There are no operatic leanings, but also none of that half shouting, half projectile vomiting sound that the headbanging populous has been bamboozled to believe is singing. Tim Aymar’s vocals alternate from soaring to evil, from bitterness to conviction.
Commonplace in progressive metal is the feeling that lyrics are an afterthought, a mere extra element of a dense sound meant for showcasing instrumental talent. On The Fragile Art, this genre characteristic manifests itself into odd tempo shifts in which the Aymar cannot keep up with Schuldiner and Shannon Hamm’s fast riffs. That is, until the rhythm section deliberately assumes the speed of a Lincoln seemingly driving itself through a Boca Raton retirement community with the turn signal on. Specifically, “Believe” features an overly conscious effort to time the slowed guitar riffs with Aymar singing the near cliche, “There are things in life worth fighting for. And some things are better off let go.” The pacing at this point is so deliberately timed with the lyrics that is seems awkward. There are few instances on the album that the singing actually seems to fit with the music and that’s when it is lost, when it blends with the music rather than precariously perching atop of it.
The sound is uneven with Richard Christy’s big thumping drum beats and crashing riffs when suddenly a high octave guitar solo comes out of nowhere like a wind-chime amidst a massive thunderstorm. The most interesting aspect of the instrumentation is the prominence of Steve DiGiorgio’s fretless bass lines that emerge distinctly, stealing attention from the lengthy, often conventional guitar solos. In a genre where the bass tends to become buried amidst dense, down-tuned sound, DiGiorgio’s plucks are easily heard, rising above blistering audio onslaught.
The Fragile Art of Existence is not new enough to be cutting edge and, since it still feels consistent with today’s styles, it is not old enough to be retro. It’s just there, existing in a safe and timeless bubble. Tempo changes are plentiful, which aids in showcasing the band members’ musical ability, but makes all the songs run together, leaving none particularly distinct. Though crafting hooky, catchy songs for the radio is not the goal here, songs that differentiate themselves from one another are always welcome. Control Denied doesn’t have the polish of Stratovarius or Symphony X, the songwriting abilities of Savatage or the inexplicable ability of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force to turn virtuoso prog metal into montage music for an ‘80s underdog sports movie. Instead they have grit and muscle. They are the Broad Street Bullies of progressive metal. But it does not necessarily translate into the technical arena.
Control Denied is not as decidedly epic as Iced Earth and they do not have any songs on this album about swords or dragons. They stem organically from death metal’s rather unique base in reality, differentiating it from many other branches of the genre that focus on themes relevant to immigrants from Middle Earth. The Fragile Art is about the eternal metal feel-good theme of perseverance with the allegorical blood and evil thrown in for the conventional macabre symbolism of the genre. The band does not have the most extensive vocabulary as, even in the eight unique songs on the album, they noticeably reuse words like soul, shatter, truth, evil and trapped. The lyrics don’t rhyme and, unlike in other progressive metal albums, are noticeably lacking poetic elements, as evidenced in the “Breaking the Broken” line, “You speak in killing words, the kind that crush and kill. No mercy your pleasure to taste the blood you bled.”
The album has the grace of a linebacker doing ballet. Death metal meets the classical influences of progressive metal and stumbles, landing on its feet in an interesting niche between the two worlds of technical brilliance and raw angst. It’s good with coffee in the morning for the death metal enthusiast nursing a massive Jager hangover, yet just as effective at happy hour with a beer for the symphonic metal fan who wants it a bit heavier on the scale.