Vicinity – VIII


Norwegian prog metal unit, Vicinity, started work on their current album as early as 2020. Naturally, Covid-19 delayed things, but the band’s existential threat came in 2022 when founding vocalist, Alexander K. Lykke, quit the band. Searching for a new singer in the middle of a record is not ideal, but the group scouted Erling Malm (Endolith) on the Trondheim live circuit and co-opted him into the line-up after witnessing his stage performance. VIII is not album number eight but represents only the third LP in Vicinity’s career. It’s also their most ambitious and yet most predictable.

Vicinity’s problem is a simple one – how can they escape from the cunning shadow of Dream Theater? They know how to write a melody and can also describe it to you in a theoretical language if you dare to enquire. Opener, ‘Promised Paradise’, is dazzling enough to hold your attention for the first minute until you recognise its similarities with John Petrucci and the boys. Here, Vicinity fly straight into the mid-range scale riffing with drums operating at full power. Only the keyboardist receives the honour of a stage-managed introduction. There’s nothing pompous about Erling Malm’s vocals, yet a power metal approach might enhance the experience. Can something be faultless but flawed? The first meditation at 03:15 could be ‘Trial of Tears’ by Dream Theater, which is a compliment to the Norwegian group’s ability but not to their zest for originality. Nonetheless, the drummer deserves praise for the way he follows every modulation like an expert rifleman hitting every target put in front of him with minimal fuss. Listen to the dramatic staccato build up at 07:30 as the band power through two magnificent metal riffs like prime era Metallica – the sound engineering is crisp and clear with perfect instrument separation. As mentioned, “faultless” is the overriding word that comes to mind.

‘Distance’ is the first chance for the guitarists and drummer to show off their advanced grasp of offbeats. They’re a prog band – it’s what they do. In this setting, melodies glow like the symmetry of corn marigolds in a summer meadow. Malm’s voice resonates somewhere between Sammy Hagar and Ray Alder (Fates Warning). You’d assume Vicinity had a deal with Inside Out Music after five minutes of listening to this record. This music sounds expensive – the equipment, the studio rent, the recording hardware and software, the mastering process. Clearly, the quintet are perfectionists, which saps a lot of the energy and life out of their art. ‘Purpose’ continues in this vein. It lacks aggression and vitality, but its timbres are multi-coloured and its melodies superb in their embroidery – that is the paradox of Vicinity’s music. The moments of release feel as uplifting as an ice-cold drink after an afternoon mowing the summer lawn. Let’s be clear – this music is not pretty or catchy, but its grasp of melody is rich and sophisticated.

Perhaps a better way to view it is through the prism of AOR. In which case, it becomes music for the early retiree who enjoys his fifties and sixties living on the edge of a lagoon under the comfort blanket of an anti-materialist ideology. The vocals need to be more sinister to suit the mood of ‘Confusion Reactor’. Instead, they’re as self-satisfied as a Sting composition. This is a shame because a crunchy groove metal riff carries the first section as confidently as Armored Saint at their heaviest. Likewise, the axemen show a fierce determination to drag the last third of ‘The Singularity’ into a maze of chunky rhythms aimed at a NAMM audience. Perhaps, the one thing this band neglect is a feel for memorable vocal lines.

You might reach the closing track, ‘Face the Rain’, and read its title as a dare. But can you be bothered to sit through twelve minutes and fifty-eight seconds of virtuoso perfectionism?  Would you have time to listen to this album on repeat in Vicinity’s imagined haven of blissful harmony? Yes.  But in the daily grind of a capitalist society? No.

If this is a metal album, where is the thrill of the unknown and the undercurrent of a character-shaping darkness? VIII is what a Westerner discovering his new identity in a Buddhist lifestyle sounds like in musical form. The permanent smiles and gratitude for being alive are nothing but irksome after four songs.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 08/03/2024

Record Label: Uprising! Records

Standout tracks: Promised Paradise, The Singularity, DKE

Suggested Further Listening: Dream Theater – Awake (1994), Philosophobia – Philosophobia (2022), Advocacy – The Path of Decoherence (2024)