Phase Transition – Relatively Speaking
This is the first time I’ve heard a band from Portugal. Phase Transition got me intrigued with the spacey colorful cover artwork as well as their genre description of progressive metal with symphonic elements. “Symphonic” is always a word that’ll click a lightbulb in my brain so I couldn’t resist giving it a go. Because, for me, they are ambassadors to their country’s metal and prog scene, I was really hoping they weren’t gonna let me down! They didn’t! Their debut E.P., “Relatively speaking”, was an instant hook for me from the first spin, and a few listens into it, I can’t seem to shake off the hype at all.
The music is built on a pretty strong Dream Theater foundation. All the necessary odd time signatures, complex transitions and intricate, extensive technical passages, as well as the riffs and groove style, make the influence undeniable. But it’s in no way a copy. Phase Transition have a very strong character in their sound that makes them hold their own identity. Influences are there but they are not the defining element of their music. As far as guitar riffs go, there is a LOT of impact. When the first track ‘Shadows of Thought’ kicks off, you’re greeted with a soothing atmospheric clean guitar, only to be suddenly whacked out of nowhere by a nasty, gut-punching head-banger of a riff just a few seconds later. This kind of contrast is a phenomenon that will delightfully batter you several times throughout the stream. The riffs are a superb balance between ungodly heaviness (I’ll assume 7-string guitar at least) and progressive dynamic. While the low frequency and punch is a given, it doesn’t in any way hinder the ability of the guitars to sound fresh, energetic and agile. As a result, the music has both a lot of substance and a lot of spontaneity. It’s also very cohesive and cleverly written, staying directed and engaging through many different changes of pace and flow that you would otherwise expect to get overwhelming. They have this incredible talent to piece weird chunks of musical phrasing together and make them work.
The drums are incredibly punchy. The kick and snare sound especially snaps you out from your seat without a moment’s notice. At this point I also feel the need to mention that the production is very bulky and powerful, allowing for the heavy elements to churn out every bit of weight and energy possible. Drummer Fernando Maia won me over with his playing style, especially with the use of strums. Even the more straightforward beats and patterns are incredibly enhanced when he just decides to throw some kick strums or runs through the snare and toms giving this momentary drill of power. And when that occurs repeatedly, it just sets all your happy-chemical producing glands working overtime. He’s also incredibly skilled with transitioning and connecting various grooves or going on extended techy and complex parts, keeping the listener in anticipation for a while before landing back in a clear beat. Also, can I just express my deepest gratitude for the blast beat in track 2: ‘Singularity’.
Now I did mention a thick and bulky sound, and that means bass! The bass parts are cleverly balanced between support and spotlight. When the band is on full display, the bass generally does its background duties of filling the sound, though not without a dash of intricacy that can be picked up by the more sensitive ear. But when the full ensemble breaks apart for a while, it will show its character. This is what I like to call the “talking bass” because it has so much mood and character that it feels like it’s narrating using notes rather than words, telling a story as a sequence of sensations rather than events. This occurs in the slower track ‘In the Dark’ and in the middle section of ‘Sand and Sea’, which just so happens to be a bass solo! Extra points for bass solos!
And of course, as with any prog metal band, solo sections are essential. The guitar solos throughout this E.P. are very well put together, flashing out nicely while still being connected and rooted into the structure of the song, often feeling like a fiery transition between two phases (pun intended) in the song’s evolution. And if I’m not mistaken, I’m picking up a dash of Symphony X’s Michael Romeo slipping its way in the guitar lead’s tone.
To put it simply, if you want to get instantly hyped by complex songs, this band will absolutely own you. But they’re not in any way aimed at tearing their listeners apart. They balance everything out, and the only reason why they can go to such extremes in certain moments is because they can counterbalance it beautifully. There’s a background of keyboards setting an airy, light and refreshing tone which persists under all the movements of the band, and always comes back in full display when they pause for the cause. And there’s a lyrical element, somewhat supported by guitar leads but primarily resting on vocalist and violinist Sofia Beco. She’s got a soothing, silky and beautiful vocal tone that is weirdly calming, and refreshing. Sometimes she may drop a dash of melancholy, and also pop some energy in there. But for the most part, the vocals contrast immensely with the instrumentation, and yet they feel like a natural piece in the same puzzle. I think the first time I was this satisfied by the contrast between vocals and instruments must have been when hearing Vuur’s “In This Moment We Are Free” album or some of Tesseract’s songs. I don’t mean to compare her to Anneke van Giersbergen or Daniel Tompkins. Her voice is very different. But the effect she creates when placed against that wall of progressive riffage is very much along the same lines. Then there are the violin parts. Sometimes rather somber, sometimes agile and lively. She seems to incorporate classical music as well as some effect of chamber music, giving a powerful, organic and joyous emotional spice to the music. This is particularly unusual in contrast with the modern, high-tech spacey effect that may occur from the processed guitars and synth keyboard sound. Her parts are like a centerpiece that’s easy to follow amidst the swarm of heavy parts crashing against each other.
I love how the E.P. is structured to flow from one song to the next while keeping the tracks well-separated and different in approach. And I must spotlight ‘Sand and Sea’ as an all-encompassing 12-minute journey going through incredible changes and piecing them in a flow of energy that you just get lost in. Is this too much to rant about a four-track E.P.? Well, that may be so, but not about this one. Come to think that it’s a debut release! Phase Transition gained my respect in a matter of minutes and I will certainly be up on my toes in anticipation next time I hear about them working on music!
- Shadows of Thought (04:42)
- Singularity (07:42)
- In The Dark (03:33)
- Sand and Sea (12:53)