Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alternative 4 - The Brink

Alternative 4
The Brink
Avantgarde Music

Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist and song writer Duncan Patterson first came to prominence as a guiding force in doom/death metal outfit Anathema, only to leave the band following the release of ‘Alternative 4’ in 1998 amid disagreements in musical direction, personal issues amongst certain members and Patterson’s growing concerns in regards to carrying the band on almost every level.
Since leaving Anathema, Patterson has maintained a career in music that dwelled solely within the experimental realm, and at times, bordered on the avant-garde.
With Íon now being placed on the backburner (Following the release of ‘Immaculada’ in 2010), and Patterson’s involvement in Antimatter now nothing more than a passing memory (His last release with the band was ‘Planetary Confinement’ back in 2005), it was only a matter of time before Patterson turned his attentions toward something new and different. And sure enough, Alternative 4’s debut effort ‘The Brink’ fits the bill.
With help from fellow band members in ex-Cryptal Darkness/The Eternal’s Mark Kelson (Who provides vocals, lead and rhythm guitar) and ex-Warbreed/Embodiment drummer/percussion Mauro Frison, Patterson has once again managed to produce an album that’s indicative of Patterson’s previous dark and deeply personal offerings, and yet different from anything he’s produced since his parting of ways with Anathema.
The album starts off with the title track ‘The Brink’, which is cinematic in its feel and sound, with haunting piano work and the half whispered/half spoken word providing a suitably creepy atmosphere that lures listeners in. The follow up track ‘False Light’ (Which is the first single released from the album) is by far one of the album’s heavier tracks, with Kelson’s lead vocals and guitar contributions really standing out up front. But while there’s no denying the heavier approach, it doesn’t completely overshadow the sombre tones that we’ve come to expect from Patterson’s song writing, nor the subtle experimentation heard in part by the use of string instruments (Courtesy of Filipa Vale) alongside the heavier doom-like guitar riffs, and the vastness of atmospheric passages to emphasise the use of piano and guitars to create and evoke different moods.
‘Alternate’ is a personal favourite with its delicate blend of guitars, piano and varied vocal approaches from Patterson mixed with elements of dramatic electronic influences and heavier moments, while the lengthy ten minute ‘Underlooked’ is quite a sinister and claustrophobic track that brings to mind No-Man (A project from Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson) at their bleakest.
‘Still Waters’ will no doubt appeal to fans of early era Anathema with its Anathema inspired heavy riffing in the latter half of the song and the use of three way vocals (Patterson, Kelson and Georgina Rios), while the three part suite ‘The Dumbing Down’ (‘I - The Travesty Waltz’, ‘II - Steakknife’s Theme’ and ‘III - Silent Approval’) is a compelling piece of sombre minimalism-based rock with a distinctly Pink Floyd touch with the use of effects.
‘Automata’ is noteworthy for its change of pace (Relying less on darker tones and greater use of piano), and Kelson’s combined vocals with Rios, while its follow-on companion piece ‘Autonoma’ is another personal favourite with its simple and soft piano foundation and use of choir.
Finishing up the album is a rather lengthy reprisal of the title track ‘The Brink’. Although a little on the long side (Running for over fourteen minutes), its hypnotic and reoccurring musical theme, spoken word passages, Morse Code and Rios’ soaring vocals above the choir does give the track an unmistakably haunting and captivating vibe that works in its own peculiar manner.
Patterson isn’t known for delivering the predicable and clichéd, and Alternative 4’s debut is no different in that respect. Odd, experimental and challenging, ‘The Brink’ isn’t the sort of album that is going to appeal to everyone – let alone be the kind of album that everyone will understand.
But for those who do ‘get it’, ‘The Brink’ is undoubtedly a mesmerising piece of avant-garde art, and something that’s sure to be remembered and returned to by Patterson fans in years to come.

For more information on Alternative 4, check out - http://www.alternative4.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly