REVIEW: VEIL OF MAYA – “False Idol”
Veil of Maya have made sure the cosmetic aspects of their new album, ‘False Idol’ don’t give much away. The album cover alone hints at an avant-garde, art rock direction while the song titles are, for the most part, vague and have little to do with the topic of the song in question itself. The average fan will surely be asking “What does this mean?”
In this case, appearances aren’t anything to judge off of. This is undoubtedly another groovy, weaving djent record, the usual fare for the Chicago quartet. However, taking this one for a spin reveals a more aggressive approach for this round. Diving deeper still exposes ‘False Idol’s title as being quite telling in terms of its content, a concept record with a plot detailing the rise and fall of a world leader. While that’s all too easy a topic to touch on right now, that doesn’t change the fact that it works well as a subject that invites as well as incites more of an intense mood.
For being the second VoM record to feature this lineup, ‘False Idol’ showcases an improved chemistry between the four musicians. Guitarist Marc Okubo is still the band’s mastermind and driving force (He and drummer Sam Applebaum take off to tech-death speeds in “Follow Me”, the album’s most insane moment) and the bass work from Danny Hauser still provides pleasantly audible surprises, but the decision to have vocalist Lukas Magyar work one-on-one with a vocal producer was a wise one. Though he primarily growls his way through the entirety of the record, the moments Lukas gets to sing, typically reserved for choruses, are as a whole more favorable to the ears and the production work suits this. Magyar possesses a fine growl, but the fact remains that his range when it comes to singing is much wider and the potential for him to be an incredibly ranged narrator absolutely exists. Just listen to, my personal favorite off the album, “Citadel” with that powerful, remorseful chorus. It’s an important moment in the story too.
For the most part, ‘False Idol’ is all aggressive all the time in the verses but emotional and expressive in the choruses. My favorite example of this is actually the lead single, “Overthrow”. Crushing growled vocal patterns give way to melodic ascents and destructive slams of power. You couldn’t pick too many better vocalists for this routine than Magyar really.
Throughout ‘False Idol’ there is subtle experimentation for Magyar as a singer, specifically in the middle portion of the record. He subdues his usual soaring clean voice for a more tortured and regretful tone in “Whistleblower” as well as “Echo Chamber”. He is great at matching the message in the track at hand and I find that this is a consistent quality on this record. There is also a huge sense of scope here that only Veil of Maya with Lukas can reach due to his abilities in matching the music. The amount of aggression vs. emotion and building up to huge climaxes reminds me of the first time I heard Killswitch Engage’s ‘The End of Heartache’. Much like that record, you’re hearing a band as a unit who are locked in and precise here. There’s also something for fans old & new here. For the heavier moments, look to “Fracture”, “Overthrow”, “Whistleblower”, “Graymail”, “Pool Spray”, “Follow Me”, “Tyrant” and “Livestream”. Meanwhile, the two most melodic numbers, “Manichee” and “Citadel”, are two of the best examples of a somewhat cleaner approach from the band blended with their usual ideas.
In addition to the extra effort put into the vocal approach, a laborious amount of layering and atmosphere are once again a Veil of Maya signature with this record. On the previous outing, ‘Matriarch’, the effects and amount of business worked to create an interesting soundscape but didn’t especially feel necessary. This time, the atmosphere emphasizes the mood rather than being present to fill space. Although, there are still plainly silly electronic bleeps and pulses that could be left out, specifically in “Fracture”. I’m more thrilled by the fact that the creepy electronic/guitar melodies that were present in early Veil of Maya works such as ‘The Common Man’s Collapse’ are returning. “Follow Me” really does do just about everything old-school Veil of Maya did and it’s a fantastic moment that caused me to forget there’s still only one guitarist and instead be marveled by that same fact.
This all brings me to the lyrical content. While it is purposeful and tells a cohesive story, the vocabulary used to tell the tale could be a bit better. I couldn’t help but notice the default suffix for a good 30% of the record was -tion to the point where I thought Max Cavalera co-wrote the script. On this same topic, however, Lukas also has a more twisted state of mind when writing from this character’s state of mind and that makes “Graymail” a most interesting affair (“The wolves will feast on your insides”). Or how about this knock-out punch in “Doublespeak”: “Now your terror is mine to shame, I’ll watch you die afraid”. It seems Lukas put himself in a passionate place to see the concept of the record through. Clearly, he has an attachment to this character and is adept at expressing both his tyranny and his fear which shines through, as stated, very well in the vocal delivery. Conversely, the rise against this leader is also well-voiced and convincing, thanks to the melodies. Notably, the hooks this time are purely vocal which, for a band who used to focus mainly on guitar, is a bit refreshing.
While ‘False Idol’ is slightly more of a streamlined moment for Veil of Maya, it’s also an experimental piece for them, a band who is already rather experimental in their approach. It’ll be difficult to find more of a reliable djent record the remainder of this year and for the (sub)genre, this is a heavy-hitter. Taken on its merits though, it’s quite simply a well-done record with a varied enough approach to keep fans of all manner interested.