Chimp Spanner - All Roads Lead Here

Say what you will about djent, but at least one thing is undeniable; the movement has done wonders for the advancement of the instrumental cause. As of just a few years ago the idea of consistently listening to metal or rock bands sans-singer seemed pretty far fetched to many, not the least of which was myself (as someone that plays in an instrumental band!). But then along came Animals as Leaders and a collective realization suddenly dawned on the metal community: chosing to play without a vocalist is very different from “lacking” one.

The consideration for instrumental music has now grown to such an extent that it’s become almost commonplace for bands to put out instrumental versions of their releases. Talk about wishy-washy! One man who certainly cannot be stamped with such a dodgy tag is Paul Antonio Ortiz, a.k.a. Chimp Spanner. Chimp Spanner has been at it for long enough to gain stylistic immunity from anyone who might bemoan another Djohnny-come-lately djent release in 2012. But with the mobs of seven-string-wielding, ToonTrack-sponsored forum rats that have come along since Ortiz’s first record in 2004, one has to wonder: is he still relevant?

After listening a number of times to his new EP, I’m still not sure. When I think about so-called “shred bands” few are more tasteful in my mind than Tosin Abasi’s awe-inspiring trio, but even saying that brings forth an important distinction; Chimp Spanner isn’t a shred band. Equal parts Thordendal, Vai, and Swano (particularly in the keyboard department), Ortiz’s solo project is light on the sweep and heavy on the atmosphere. Most people don’t listen to djent for chill vibes, but All Roads Lead Here is some pretty relaxing shit.

The opening ditty, “Dark Age of Technology,” begins in a fairly simplistic verse-chorus form with Spanner’s jazzy solos taking the spotlight. One aspect of the composition that is fairly surprising on first spin is just how listener-friendly it is, at least relative to a number of comparable artists. Sure, we have some odd meters here and there, but there’s nothing seizure-inducing and his lead style places a far greater emphasis on playing the right notes over playing the most notes.

This relative accessibility is also heard on the EP’s centerpiece, Mobius I-III.” The opus traces a simple beat and chord progression across three movements, each with a slightly different mood, ultimately culminating in the glorious synth-washed chug that closes the third piece — simplicity at it’s finest.

That’s all good, but there’s another side I see to this and I’m not sure to what extent Mr. Ortiz would find it flattering: All Roads Lead Here sounds like background music. In addition to being a very prolific artist in the progressive metal realm, Ortiz also makes a living composing for various clients in the fields of television, radio, and gaming. Perhaps some of his trade has rubbed off a little on his creative work. The mix of atmosphere and non-distracting technicality would make Chimp Spanner’s latest release a killer soundtrack to a futuristic FPS or a Scion commercial, but even with the utmost concentration it’s pretty difficult to give it your full attention.

All Roads Lead Here will do nothing to tarnish Ortiz’s stature in the metal community, but it won’t do much to keep his competition in its place.

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(three outta five horns)
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