It’s amazing to think about how much heavy metal has changed since it originally boomed out of Birmingham in the late ’60s. Oh, and for the sake of the argument, I’m suggesting Black Sabbath was the first ever heavy metal group. Deal with it. That said, the evolution of the genre has ever since been propelled by the scavenger-like artists who lurk within its realms, forever picking and ripping at other musical styles, before scurrying back to mother distortion with their loot in tow. The result: the birth of hundreds of subgenres which today barely resembles heavy metal’s blues rock foundations.
Of course, included in this endless transformation are Italian progressive metallers Element of Chaos. Their debut album, ‘Utopia’, features a smorgasbord of unlikely influences, ranging from mathcore and black metal to hip hop – often all being executed within a single track. However, as ambitious as the Italian lads might be to push their style into something that’s undoubtedly unique, their eclectic amalgamation of such a large variety of musical styles often serves as a vice rather than a virtue.
Take the album’s opening track, ‘Our Grace,’ for example. It’s an aural blast of Meshuggah-like riffs, symphonic keys and some of the most violent-sounding vocals imaginable. Oh, and that description only begins to scratch the surface. Undercurrents of pummelled distortion roar beneath its blaring melodic choruses. Virtuous lead licks then scream up and down the fretboard. And its recurring epileptic screaming fits extirpates the very notion of control. While it’s not that Element of Chaos does all of this poorly; to the contrary: the band’s line-up are all adept musicians. However, it often sounds like there’s simply too much going on to establish a true sense of harmony.
With that said, there are plenty of other examples on ‘Utopia’ which are more representative of Element of Control’s grandiose progressions. ‘The Witch of the East’ – part one of the Witch Trilogy – is a nightmarish offering of sci-fi post-apocalyptic samples, relentless distortion, and the kind of screams you’d imagine the Cerberus of Greek mythology would bark when in pursuit of an escaping prisoner. Then, Element of Chaos executes a seamless transition to ‘Oz’ – a hellish instrumental jam which demonstrates how far the band has mastered their instruments. The sextet then wraps up the Witch Trilogy with ‘Witch of the West’ – a menacing assault of complex guitar grooves which recalls the likes of Between the Buried and Me.
Element of Chaos’s debut album is a difficult one to judge. Yes, it’s evident by ‘Utopia’ that the Italian metallers can play their instruments to the highest degree of technicality, and the myriad popular music styles the band melds with their devilish brand of progressive metal is impressive. However, sometimes the band overdoes the whole experimentation thing and their structures suffer because of it.