A Backward Glance on a Travel Road
A Backward Glance on a Travel Road

France’s Hypno5e recently stunned experimental metal fans with Des Deux l’une Est l’Autre, a shimmering, pulverizing, kaleidoscopic odyssey of BTBAM-styled insanity. Even with all the dynamics and sprawl packed into the album though, it seems they still have more to say – or at least, they wanted to say it in a different, softer voice.

And so band members Emmanuel Jessua and Thibault Lamy have formed A Backward Glance on a Travel Road, which approaches Hypno5e’s fragmented songcraft from a more acoustic and ambient perspective. And when I say acoustic, I don’t just mean unplugged progressive folk. Right from the get-go, the album wows with “Regular Barbary,” with its syncopated tango of Mediterranean guitars, tribal drumming and lurching, tinkling and stomping piano. It’s like a flamenco dancer paired up with a hunchback as they glide across the dance floor – her lithe movements fusing with his clumsy, dragging footfalls to create a swooping, extravagant display of unlikely grace.

A couple more similar, striking moments bloom on other tracks. Soft woodwinds and deep, sonorous strums work up to a thunderous frenzy on “Johnny Got His Gun.” Furious acoustics, staccato percussion and more flamenco rhythms create sparks in the first half of “Hier Régnant Désert.” As examples of busy, technical and acoustic metal, these passages are surprising and impressive, and I’d love to hear an entire album that pushes this sound.

Unfortunately, this is not really that album. The rest of ABGOATR is a melancholy goulash of ambient drone and mournful, chiming acoustic guitars – all quite sad and pretty, but not terribly exciting and sometimes even drab. Haunting female vocals ebb and flow throughout, and occasionally, a lilting clean male vocal recalls the work of both Riverside and Porcupine Tree. (Just to underscore the influence, tracks 4 and 5 are called “In Absentia, parts I and II.”) There’s also quite a bit of French spoken word, and what I guess are film samples, both of which may add thematic texture and detail if you understand the language. I don’t though, and so they only serve to distract and break up the flow.

It was absolutely miserable out yesterday – the ground a wet, dirty smear of brown and white, and the trees little more than hasty scrawls of brush stroke against the deadened sky. Driving around while listening to this album just made it all look worse. It’s just a real downer and overall nowhere near as electrifying as that initial moment of syncopated splendor. The quality and talent here is terrific, no doubt about that, but I doubt I’ll be returning to this album again. That said, if the band focused more on those really special explosions of multi-instrumental bravado, they’d be worth a lot more than a Backward Glance.

For those of you curious to take this Road yourself though, the album is available as a free download here.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
March 2nd, 2010

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