Chester experimentalists, Disconnected Souls, received notable bewilderment from critics and consumers alike with the release of their 2020 debut EP, Warring Elements. SBR fell in with the consensus after listening to it. This group ‘have the potential for great things, but their attempts at originality are disjointed,’ we commented. ‘Nevertheless, their scope and ambition should see them realise their vision on their next release. This is a band to watch.’ We did not expect an album of one hour and two minutes of gratuitous ambition to be their next move. It seems their aims are to write the blueprint for the as-yet-unclaimed genre of cinematic metal. Are they of sound mind or destined to fail in a blaze of glory?
Those that recognised the overflow of imagination and incoherent ideas of the 2020 EP will wonder if this is the same band. The audio engineering is more expansive, sharper, and pompous in its reach. Instruments announce their presence in the mix like important agents on a radar screen. A square bass effect sketches the main guitar riff in tandem with a synth arpeggiator in opener, ‘Delirium’, to make way for a vein-ripping wave of aggression. Syncopated guitars thump like heavy artillery rounds, yet an angelic female undercurrent of melody shadows the male violence. The next part is like Jinjer under the spell of Bring Me the Horizon. You can hear a clear Meshuggah influence in the rhythmic precision and untamed aggression, yet the main hooks come in the form of trance loops. Synthesisers are not innocuous channels of atmosphere in this music. Instead, they’re at the forefront. Indeed, four out of the five band members receive credit for playing keyboards and synthesisers on this record.
If track one ends like Fear Factory with a fondness for progressive techno and the vocal pathos of the Pet Shop Boys, its successor, ‘Dissonant Whispers’ is the complete opposite. Spine-tingling piano silhouettes and elegant female vocals dance through the snow as a male baritone responds to the calls of the former. Layers of atmospheric keyboards and programmed synths mesh with staccato guitars as the rhythms work towards a dual vocal chorus. Disconnected Souls have a developed sense of melody and drama that you’d expect to find in a Nightwish record. Winter beasts harangue your citadel, waiting to pounce on you when you leave the door.
You’ll reach the end of the fourth song and wonder if you’ve passed the halfway mark of the album. But you haven’t. The multi-harmony vocal arrangements of ‘Plague Rats’ ooze confidence and enlightenment in the intro. How do the band merge dubstep and metallic riffing with such ease? Listen to the tension of the different layers in the music – the vocals roar under the shadow of celestial synths, pianos, and distorted guitar punches. You might call it gothic trance with a mid-tempo streak of aggression. The Nine Inch Nails segue in the middle-eight is thrilling enough to keep you on edge as the circular voice manipulations produce the main counter hook to the guitars. ‘Petrichor’ is electronic goth metal with heavy syncopation and bubbling nutcracker synths. This settles into a winter wonderland of sorrow and survival built around the drip-drop of piano notes and pensive female vocals. The luscious melodies sparkle like brave animals resigned to a dignified death. Björk’s Medulla album achieves something similar in its more introspective moments.
At the heart of these arrangements is chief composer Matthew Simon Fletcher, and it’s a pleasure to witness a bedroom musician transcend his self-imposed limitations. Fletch has no shortage of self-belief in his purpose. ‘Kintsukuroi’ shows admirable stubbornness in pushing through the vocal line from its creator’s brain into the main flow of the song. It’s catchy enough to overlook the shaky foundations of voice, just as you would with an Anathema album. Even here, you think it’ll be a simple ballad, but the composition evolves into a complex layering of agitated percussion with winter synth glows and female counter vocals. Only one reservation appears here – the main vocals sound like a metalcore band trying to be taken seriously as songwriters. The intended pathos stumbles into unintended self-pity.
Disconnected Souls want to transport you to a fantasy world, and it’s easy to believe you’re in Narnia for most of this album’s journey. Spooky keyboards and contralto female vocals combine in a hesitant alliance of defensive necessity in ‘Human Error’. You can enter at your peril. Holly Royle’s brooding sparkle of voice hides the pain inside until you get closer to it. Fletch embraces the minor keys like a Medieval alchemist with access to the Periodic Table. You can imagine yourself alone among the fauna of a parallel world where the animals talk like humans and articulate their pleas to be saved from extinction. ‘Silence of the Doves’ uses squelch bass and mystical keyboard atmospherics to walk you through the enchanted winter forest. ‘Fragments’ is like an overwhelming condensation produced by an Autumn drizzle. Holly Royle exudes a wide-eyed appreciation of the simple things that can satisfy us if we withdraw from the noise of modern life. Maybe we don’t see the real beauty of the world around us? The thawing pianos and soprano melodies in ‘Monachopsis (A Waltz at the End of the World)’ converse with a male baritone voice as saxophones and a growling bass guitar groove carve their way into its sorrowful eco-system.
Risk is at the heart of everything this band do. Listen how they formulate a synth loop by bending the pitch of a vocal harmony and chopping it into a techno riff on standout track, ‘Loveless’. They half-expect a backlash against their experiments, but they undervalue the clarity and purpose of their efforts. With trepidation comes excitement, and this album excites despite running beyond the one-hour mark. That is its greatest achievement.
Disconnected Souls used to be pretenders. Now they’re players in a new game of their creation.
Release Date: 19/01/2024
Record Label: Self-released
Standout tracks: Delirium, Plague Rats, Loveless
Suggested Further Listening: Pulse – Adjusting the Space (2020), No Terror in the Bang – Heal (2024), Drip Fed Empire – Revolutionist (2024)