REVIEW: LETTERS FROM THE COLONY – “Vignette”
Whatever walk of life you care to mention, the paraphrased expression “often imitated; never equalled” is an old saying that will often be used to ascribe greatness to one thing or another. It works by way of elevating an original concept to a revered status, and encourages a typically critical comparison. It’s everywhere in sport, film and, of course, music. In fact, it’s particularly prevalent in music, as every fan, critic, and gormless keyboard warrior is always comparing one band to others in an attempt to suss an influence, describe a sound or lament the good old days. In this instance, Meshuggah are our subject of reverence in what is becoming an all-too-familiar comparison with modern metal.
The Swedes’ penchant for nudging the boundaries of extreme metal with use of clever and complex polyrhythms, innovative drumming and an ever-widening sonic palette has seen a great number of bands in recent times take stock and draft into their own creations. Subsequently, this spawned our beloved genres’ latest Marmite sub in Djent, and another wave of adoration and ire. Despite the more progressive leanings it brings to the table, and the far more intricate minutiae in songwriting, riffing and drumming, it still draws revulsion from a section of the community. So who’s up next to face the music and worship at the altar of Meshuggah? Enter their fellow countrymen, Letters from the Colony.
Now it’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And if that is, indeed, the case, a certain band will be blushing prettily upon listening to ‘Vignette’. There are definitely times when, if one were to do a blind test, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a new cut from the extreme metal masters. But that’s not to say that that’s a bad thing. Often, so many bands try to mirror the formula but fail to hold a candle; it’s a pale imitation. Yet Letters from the Colony have somehow tapped into the same well. Yet while there are similarities, there are also some enjoyably refreshing additions.
From the off, ‘Vignette’ is every bit as intense a piece of modern progressive metal as one could hope for. As the dreamy clean intro to “Galax” segues away, the tight grooves and technical riffage emerge triumphantly and stake their place as the band’s hallmark. The attack with which they strike is equally impressive. Ably assisted by the crisp production, it’s a bludgeoning affair on the ears and really rather rewarding at that. So far, so Meshuggah.
Where Letters from the Colony differ, is in the atmosphere. There’s an overarching sense of warmth that you just don’t get from their fellow Swedes. It primarily comes from the clean sections, at once both jazzy and mellow – tracks like “Glass Palaces” benefit greatly from the resplendent break into the ether; allowing for respite from the intensity, but also maximising the crushing riffs impact upon their return. Additionally, the band’s melodic leanings add a certain emotional hook that threads life through the album. The finale to the aforementioned “Glass Palaces”, and the gorgeous clean/climax to closer “Vignette” are particularly impressive examples of this, living long in the memory after the record finishes.
However, it is in “Sunwise” where everything that makes Letters from the Colony who they are is encapsulated. Aside from sounding like a tagline to a skincare campaign warning us sun-dodgers to look after ourselves, it’s without doubt the highlight of the album. A culmination of heaviness and melodicism, the verse and chorus riffs somehow combine the two to devastating effect. Bar the instrumental “This Creature Will Haunt Us Forever”, it is the album’s shortest track yet it seems to pack the hardest punch. To use yet another well-known phrase, “all good things come in little packages”.
‘Vignette’ does have a few drawbacks – it can occasionally veer into aimless tech riffs or seemingly random jazz excursions, which allows the attention to drop just a little bit. In isolation, they’re pleasant but once or twice it’s a little bit of a sudden change, and that can feel a little jarring. Additionally, one might argue that the aping their polyrhythm-peddling brethren is rather lazy and uninspired, whilst the now common-place honking guitar tone can feel a little insipid. But in the grand scheme of things, these are hardly deal-breakers. Just a few nitpick.
As debuts go, ‘Vignette’ is a hell of an introduction. Letters from the Colony have successfully tapped into that Meshuggah formula, made a few cheeky tweaks here and there and created something to call theirs. The melodicism is a joy to hear and adequately adds an emotional heft to the already-beefy chunks of riffs they peddle – it exemplifies their mastery of songwriting, and gives them their own voice. It feels a little airier than their countrymen, but it’s no less enjoyable.