Back in 2015, Irish-based progressive rock band The Dystopian Project released their debut album, Death Leaves an Echo. I had mixed feelings about it… It was promising, but failed to grasp my interest and illuminate my imagination with a firm hand and a brilliant light. Two years later, almost day for day, Dublin’s quintet comes back with Paradigm, their sophomore album. Will they succeed or will this be their second strike?
The first thing that hit me is that the cover art for the album is much more enticing. DLAE’s brown, blurry, and amateurish artwork certainly didn’t draw eyes, and I think it might subconsciously have worked towards a worse impression of the album than the music alone would’ve left. For their new opus, they sought the pen of The Iron Parasite, an Irish illustrator, and that’s certainly a worthy investment. While nothing that will leave you agape, the new cover has an infinitely better colour scheme, and portrays an interesting scene. Apparently, it’s an astronaut on fire hitting the water. It leaves us with questions that need answering, and that’s good, that makes us want to go further into this album. Well, let’s dive in!
The four tracks on record are more similar to earlier progressive rock albums than most of what comes out today: three songs of medium length and an epic, twenty-minute closing act. The project is also fronted by male and female voices, in about the same proportions, which makes for a nice duality of timbres and more flexibility in the sound department than a band with only one of the two. The band plays what I would describe as progressive hard rock, it’s definitely harder-hitting than what we usually refer to as progressive rock, but it’s certainly not metal either, except a few instances that could be labeled as such. They definitely walk the fine line. Their compositions are usually rather guitar-heavy, with a few keyboard moments played by a guest musician on this album.
The songs are all rather well executed and are exemplarily recorded and produced, but there’s still nothing here that grips me and puts the album in a special place in my mind. I can’t put my finger exactly on it… Maybe it’s the band relying too heavily on preconceived formulas embedded in the hearts and minds of prog rock musicians looking back and still dreaming about the golden age of prog. Maybe it’s a fear of change, or of alienating a certain fanbase that is thought of as wanting the same bowl of soup at each every meal; however good the cook, some will tire of the recipe. The Dystopian Project have their feet stuck in the cement of their predecessors, and it shows. Whether it is out of nostalgia, pride, or respect, Paradigm is an album that enters the stage looking back. With potent musicianship and a undeniable knowledge of music theory, The Dystopian Project have more potential than ever to create something defiant and amazing, but they stick to asininity and flavourlessness. The album will appeal to those who never get enough of ‘that one good soup recipe’, but to people looking for interesting material, this comforting full-length won’t.