I’ve been into instrumental albums lately, so I’m going to throw another recommendation your way. I received a submission to the site after my Symphony X post last month, an instrumental progressive rock band that I can easily hear influences of Animals As Leaders, Hibernal, and TesseracT. In my conversation with the bassist/guitarist Phil Kalas, he reflected on his displeasure with rhythm sections taking a step back from the lead instruments in much of rock and metal music. In response to this trend, he created an album with his band Asleep In The Stars, the very bass-heavy “Stasis,” which was released this Monday.
Defined as a period of equilibrium, stasis is a great title for this album. There is indeed stasis between all the instruments involved on the album, a balance between the lowest of lows and highest of highs. To find a progressive rock album so dedicated to its rhythm is like finding a needle in a haystack. Although there might not be any outlandish solos, the amazingly catchy and technical rhythm sections more than make up for it. I especially love the incorporation of synthesizers to prevent the album from being continuously low, a sound provided by Brian Peters. The song “Day Night Cycles” is the perfect example of the incorporation of the softer, delicate notes of the synthesizer with the lower clean rhythms of the bass and guitar. The keyboard presence throughout the album allows the listener to feel as if they are traveling through space, as the album cover suggests. It’s a great change of pace for the album, something I love to hear incorporated with progressive rock songs. I love my instrumentals spacey.
What I have a hard time enjoying in most instrumental rock albums is the use of a drum machine over a live drummer. Luckily, Asleep In The Stars uses the brilliant workmanship of Jim Benton. It’s very easy to tell when an album chooses to use a computer program for the drum tracks, which always result in a more manufactured and fake sound. This is not the case, as Benton provides a mixture of technical and groovy fills to add character to every track. The song “Energy Harvesting” contains some of Benton’s hardest moments of double-timed bass pedals and snare drums, while “Contested Transmissions” lures the listener with its slower, military-esque drum beats. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that a real drummer played on “Stasis,” something I wish would occur more often in instrumental albums.
Despite the brilliant keyboard arrangements and impressionable drum beats, Phil Kalas provides amazing orchestrations on both the lead/rhythm guitar and bass guitar. During my conversation with Phil, he also mentioned that he used this project to teach himself guitar. Spending three years, he was able to create a very complex album, not only rhythmically but also thematically. Hearing this album, I would have never guessed that Phil had never played the guitar before “Stasis.” The orchestrations are intricate, but not showy. Listening to this album casually will result in a completely different experience than listening to it closely. The perfect example is the song “Solar Sails,” a song with a relatively simple rhythm at first glance, but is so much more complex than it leads on. At one point I could count three different guitar rhythms happening simultaneously, all adjusting to the numerous time signature changes. That’s not even including the bass guitar! Being primarily a bassist before this project, one can easily hear Phil’s tremendous talent. The same song also provides amazing bass guitar licks that are focused half way through the song. “Gliese” also allows the bass guitar to shine, especially during the breakdown halfway through the song. The fact that the bass guitar is highlighted allows “Stasis” to stand out from other instrumental albums.
Overall, I enjoyed this album. The rhythm section has a chance to step beyond the shadow cast by lead guitars and vocals. The tone of the album is very spacey, which perfectly complements the video game that was also created for the album (You can play it here). You can support this band by checking out “Stasis” on Bandcamp, and by following them on Facebook for the latest news. I look forward to future project by Asleep In The Stars, and hope for more rhythm-centric rock to add to my collection.