Becoming the Lion started as the solo project of Ross Blomgren in 2009 and evolved from an instrumental progressive-post metal style to a full band in 2018 with reworked songs and vocals. The Milwaukee native is back to working alone on his latest EP with a move towards alternative and post-rock soundscapes. This should fill you with doubt, but Turning Point reveals a strong songwriting sensibility and a welcome clarity in its emotive outlook.
Dreamy guitar arpeggios in opener, ‘Intentional Liar’, leap like salmons in a minor key melancholia as Blomgren stretches the smoothness of his voice with a strain of anxiety. There’s a definite post-rock feel to this music in the way the guitars often take second place to the importance of the vocals, yet the progressive layering and structuring allow all instruments to fight for your attention. The rhythms creep on the backfoot like velociraptors circling their prey from the side. Riffs become more syncopated as the vocals threaten an aggressive gear change, but there’s no resolution after the dynamic climax.
Agitated tom drums and burrowing basslines in ‘Great Escape’ set the foundations for a catchy vocal line to take the lead. Here, subtle offbeats hide among the drums and bass like algae beneath snow. This is what we mean when we describe music as mature – it feels like Becoming the Lion are doing the world of rock a favour by choosing to inhabit its world for their emotive art. In other words, the high-brow art magazines can like this as much as they fawn over math rock because its progenitors often hold progressive political views. ‘Foolish Chameleon’ is progressive rock with the same sense of melody as Karnivool and the anguish of Porcupine Tree. Doom rock formations clog up the rhythms in a clever piece of posturing invested with ethereal guitar effects. Blomgren eschews down-tuned axemanship in favour of high-gain vibrations and sizzling melodies. Fans of Oceansize and Buffy Clyro will enjoy this song. Perhaps only the vocals are predictable. These could dare to be more dramatic and playful rather than stuck in the same animated pitch as Karnivool’s Ian Kenny.
As the multi-instrumentalist, even Blomgren realises that it’s better to hire a studio drummer than program them for an EP of strong dynamic shifts. Mystical guitar strumming and prog bass movements mediate on an offbeat in ‘Stone’s Throw’. It’s the type of music Chris Cornell would appreciate if still alive. The textures are bright enough to induce optimism but blurred enough to make you doubt the source of your hope. You can picture Blomgren as a passenger on a bus with his head leaning against the window in a pensive frown.
Will Becoming the Lion be as gratifying on a live stage as they are on record? You can wander with no great burden on your shoulders when listening to this music in your headphones, but it will be harder to convey these emotions on stage. Post-rock is notorious for its pedestrian live presence. Those that enjoyed Cave In’s dalliance with alternative rock will like the closing title-track. The plectrum strokes of the bass guitar vibrate like a meat grinder. “I’m stealing my life from the clutches you used to hold with these rusted restraints,” declares Blomgren, in a moment of self-empowerment.
Ross Blomgren negotiates the turning point of his musical career like a self-assured artist with bountiful ideas for the future. Those of you with progressive and post-rock tastes should take note of the name.
Release Date: 19/01/2024
Record Label: Self-released
Standout tracks: Foolish Chameleon, Turning Point
Suggested Further Listening: Porcupine Tree – Lightbulb Sun (2000), Karnivool – Asymmetry (2013), Core of iO – Part I: iO (2023)