Tempel’s Debut Deserves Its Own Place of Worship
There’s something about the musicians who choose to play progressive and instrumental metal – something a little bit more aware, a little more focused, a little less hasty than majority of the musicians who choose to play other subgenres. It’s hard to find instrumental metal that can be considered “bad” in the same way that deathcore, black metal, or NWOAHM bands can be “bad.” Instrumental metal has a basis of intelligent composition, and much of it is fastidious and evocative. So it’s difficult to search through the haystack of bands – there are so many artists of such high quality, and few obvious front-runners of the genre. Arizona’s duo Tempel are the proverbial needle in the instrumetal haystack, a band whose debut is meticulous, mature, and above all, fresh, putting a heavy and distinctive spin on well-established themes.
On the Steps of the Temple has been a long time coming. Tempel formed in 2003, but On the Steps is their first full-length release; the album, originally self-released by the band in 2012, took three years to produce. Perhaps that’s why this debut is so mature. The album’s nearly an hour, but it doesn’t feel like it; the tracks’ cohesive composition causes them to flow by in what feels like half the time. Like all good post-metal, Tempel is emotional, but it’s not one-dimensional. Happiness and sadness are mingled, obfuscated; there’s no single emotional quality that branches throughout the album, unlike traditional post-rock stalwarts (Explosions In The Sky,etc). That’s the power of the album – much like Deafheaven‘s original take on post-metal, it’s not choreoegraphed; it allows for individual, subjective interpretation. It doesn’t constantly overdo the emotion, either. Sludgy power chords, harmonic minor wailing, and a ferocious blast beat and double bass assault offer reprieve from the melodies, giving us more time to internalize those bursts of emotion. Each section has been painstakingly constructed: the band practices acupuncture through dissonance, fine needles of contradiction and melancholy inserted in surgically precise locations.
Tempel are heavier than most of their genre mates, taking influence from funeral doom, black metal, and sludge as well as from classic uptempo post-rock melodies and Pelican-style grooves. I can hear fragments of Evoken, Primitive Man, early Jesu, The Ocean, Inter Arma, and Neurosis; needless to say, On the Steps of the Temple possesses impressive mass. The album’s got a keen eye for the proportions of heaviness and introspection, loaded with balanced, organic transitions. And it never once sacrifices a fitting opportunity to express its power – this is cinematic, natural-disaster level music, evoking visions of dust storms, avalanches, and catastrophic weather systems. It’s simply ecstatic to feel the desert-dry twang of “Avaritia” morph into terranean, Mastodonian heft, and to hear the nautical motifs navigate the molasses-thick bog of “Rising From The Abyss.”
On the Steps of the Temple is also curious in that’s one of few instrumental albums which could accommodate numerous vocal styles, but which doesn’t necessitate vocals in its current form. I’d love to hear Pallbearer-esque cleans, Broadrick growls, and hollow Intronaut yells over countless sections of On The Steps, but there’s enough happening here that the lack of vocals isn’t a major detriment. Production-wise, Tempel nearly knock it out of the park. Ryan Wenzel’s guitar tones are lush and full-bodied, while Rich Corle’s skins slap harder than an abusive alcoholic boyfriend. Aside from an all-too-inaudible bass and keyboards that occasionally dip too low in the mix, it’s crisp, dense, and balanced, sonic variation keeping the textures from ever sounding redundant or repetitive. On The Steps Of The Temple is an impressive achievement; only rarely are debut albums this full of good ideas. Even more rarely are debut albums this well thought-through, self-conscious enough to avoid becoming busy or long-winded. In an age where too many albums are constructed with flimsy building materials and shoddy worksmanship, On The Steps of The Temple stands sturdy, structured, and secure.