Extol’s Reunion Affirms Their Creativity
Each Extol album is invariably questioned at some time: “This is Extol?” Few artists have driven their music in as non-linear a trajectory as have the Norwegian progressive metallers. Despite the band’s consistent lineup, each Extol album has contained radically different music from its predecessor, while simultaneously managing to define Extol as an instantly recognizable pillar of the genre. Extol, the band’s reunion album and their first in eight years, slots somewhere between the extremity of Undeceived and the sculpted ballads of The Blueprint Dives. It’s a compositionally distinctive and an instrumentally creative release, albeit one that’s slightly plagued by the band’s characteristic inconsistencies.
Ole Børud’s unique chordal approach and unconventional note choices have wandered through a variety of styles, but his unpredictability has become more refined. The riffs here are tightly focused, defining memorable compositions and hooks. Though the extreme black and death influences present on Burial and Undeceived have receded, heaviness is still maintained. “A Gift Beyond Human Reach,” one of the best tracks of the album, blends upper-register guitar luminescence with modernized djenty rhythms that Extol hinted at but never fully fleshed out on earlier releases. Børud’s wistful approach to emotion doesn’t dissolve into the contrived ardor of post-metal, especially evident in the melody-rich second half of the album. The leads too are more realized: Michael Keene may have been inspired by early Extol, but it seems that Extol too have been listening to Keene, similar shred patterns reflected in the carefully constructed melodies and runs.
One thing’s stayed relatively consistent throughout the years: David Husvik’s distinctive drum style. Blast beats are almost entirely absent from the album, swept under the rug in favor of curiously insistent skank-beat snare patterns. Those patterns alternate with high-ceilinged cymbal jangling and structurally colossal grooves, which are as paralyzingly infectious as needles in Siberia. Unfortunately, the kick drum is low in the mix, and Extol’s percussion as a whole sounds less emphatic than it could be. Mercifully, the bottom end is reinforced by the bass, which thrums with the sooty tautness of a railway cable.
On past albums, clean vocals have been the weakest part of Extol’s approach. The borderline commercial choruses Extol featured on The Blueprint Dives resurface here as well, but they’ve switched vocalists, and the vocals are far more appreciable than in the past due to Ole’s timbre and tone, which hint at Opeth-esque ethereality. Peter Espevoll’s harsh vocals are Extol’s customary mid-range selection.. Lyrically, Extol toe the line between tolerable and tenuous, but it’s hard to complain about any Christian band that largely declines to extrapolate their metal into oppressive litany.
Considering the band’s frequent genre-hopping and the time between their releases, it’s expected that Extol might occasionally struggle with cohesion and continuity. Opener “Betrayal” is a good example – it feels like it should show up in the middle of the album, and the mid-tempo rush doesn’t transition well into the groove-ridden “Open The Gates.” Extol also has some issues with closure. Tracks like “Ministers” and closer “Unveiling the Obscure” feel like they were gratuitously cut-off when Extol couldn’t figure out more intriguing resolutions. As a result, the album has some sense of finality, but it’s not entirely satisfying: Extol feels like it’s missing some small piece of its personality.
Yet even accounting for the criticisms, there are no poor songs on this album. Extol have significantly increased their song quality by cutting down from twelve tracks to a slim ten, and this record might just be Extol’s best. It’s tough to compare across such broad musical territory, but it’s a guarantee that some fans will find this to be Extol’s most innovative and most intriguing release yet.
Extol is out now in Europe and North America on Indie Recordings. You can find preorder packages here.