Vultress, Hypnopompia, 2020
Tracks: 1. Hypnopompia (0:35), 2. Cmdr Hall and wherewithal (4:56), 3. Tether (5:57), 4. Fall Into Then (4:13), 5. L’appel Du Vide (5:07), 6. New Sun (9:51)
It isn’t everyday that I get to feature a band from America’s great Midwest – much less a prog metal band from the Midwest. They hail from Valparaiso, Indiana, a mid-sized town on the far southeastern edge of what could be considered the greater Chicagoland area. The band is comprised of Jordan Gaboian (guitar), Paul Uhrina (drums) and Anthony Capuano (vocals/keys). Hypnopompia is their second album, following 2014’s Distance.
At just over a half-hour long, perhaps Hypnopompia would have been better billed as an EP rather than an album, especially since the album is rather inconsistent. “Tether” and “L’appel Du Vide” are from completely different genres, and “Tether” alone has multiple genres intermingling – some of which work and some which don’t. I also noticed a strong Dream Theater influence on their first album that I don’t notice in their new album.
Someone commented on Bandcamp that Capuano’s voice is reminiscent of both Claudio Sanchez (Coheed and Cambria) and Serj Tankian (System of a Down). This is a pretty fair assessment. Sanchez’s influence is most prevalent on “L’appel du Vide,” while the latter influence can be heard on “Tether.” There is a moment on their first album where it’s clear that he is channeling James Labrie circa 1994 – specifically the distortion Labrie used on “6:00.” Capuano doesn’t do that at all on this album, preferring instead more of a death metal growl in the brief moments when he does decide to use distortion. Most of his singing is clean, and it is pretty good, although it might take a few listens to adjust to it. However I think the music would be best served if he added the warmth from “L’appel du Vide” to their metal moments, like Claudio Sanchez does, and he should go with the mid-90s Labrie-style distortion rather than the growling, since it matches the music better.
I really wanted “Tether” to be my favorite track because it had a unique playfulness and heaviness that fits well with today’s prog-metal scene. It opens with heavy acoustic strumming before pounding into a deep metal riff. All good so far. Capuano mixes up the vocal styling a bit, which works when it’s the Tankian-style high-pitched notes, but it doesn’t work as well with the growls. The middle of the song does a hard shift into a traditional jazz section with saxophone, which the band performs extremely well. This brief section was one of my favorite parts on the album, in fact. However after that they go back into a really heavy drop-tuned section that includes saxophone playing in a less-orderly way than it was during the jazz section. To my ear this doesn’t work as well.
The fifth track, “L’appel du Vide,” is a bit of a surprise. It’s a ballad, which feels out of place on the album. However, Capuano’s voice shines. It has a warmth that could help on the metal tracks. Perhaps if the song morphed into a heavier chorus it wouldn’t feel so out of place, but it’s really a pop ballad without the rock that Dream Theater usually infuse into their ballads. The chorus could shine with electric guitar and drums, kind of like Dream Theater’s “Wither” or Coheed and Cambria’s “Here To Mars.” The song even builds up to that kind of moment, so it is a bit of a letdown when the calm acoustic guitar remains. About 2:45 in we get an electric guitar playing clean highs in the background, but the drums and bass are still playing as if it is a quiet ballad. Yes what I’m proposing is formulaic, but it is a formula that works for prog-metal ballads (see the aforementioned DT and C&C tracks). With a build up to a heavier wall of sound the song would fit a lot better in the album.
“Fall Into Then” is the most consistent song on the album musically and vocally. The style stays the same, and it keeps a heavy tone throughout. It has a really strong driving guitar groove, with some Hammond-style organ highlights thrown in for good measure. Turn this one up – you won’t be disappointed. There is some really good bass drum pedaling along with a thundering bassline.
“New Sun” follows along a similar track, but it includes some weird electronic vocal distortions in the middle that don’t really work. The heavy synth section in the middle works well, even though it slows the pace, but the electronic vocals are really jarring. Apart from that it is an excellent longer-form prog metal song with some nice guitar moments. The keyboard work on this one is a nice touch as well.
Overall I’d have to say I enjoyed the track “A Chord From Heaven” off their first album a lot more than anything off Hypnopompia. Looking at both albums it is abundantly clear that all the pieces are here for something truly special. I think this album detoured a bit from the trajectory the band created with their first album. They could take elements from Hypnopompia and apply it to new music made more in the vein of their first album, and they’d be in great shape. With that said I still recommend you give this a listen.
Check out their first album, as well: