The Age of the Universe - Singularity
Record Label: Self Released
Released Date: May 15th, 2014
From the very first moments of “Alive,” the opening track from The Age of the Universe’s new album Singularity, it’s clear that these guys aren’t fucking around. The song absolutely roars out of the gate, with a potent guitar blast immediately setting up the tension of the song. The tune speeds along at the same breakneck pace, using a common time, 4/4 time signature (and an even more common drumbeat) right up until the chorus, where the drums cut into 6/8 for a syncopated rhythmic shift that immediately takes the song to another level.
The other elements at play here, while well executed, don’t grab the same attention. The sludgy, dark guitar riffs are standard issue hard rock fare, while vocalist Isaac Reese takes equal cues from Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses and Matt Bellamy of Muse. Drummer Enrico Canu is undoubtedly the star of the song, though, with his frequent rhythmic changes driving an enjoyable air of progressive unpredictability into the song. It’s a factor that turns “Alive” from forgettable rock lead-off into a song that demands for you to listen the rest of the album, and it’s one that more bands should employ. How much greater could a lot of pop and rock music be with a dynamic drummer like Canu at their center?
Throughout, Singularity stays an engrossing listen, thanks mostly to Canu’s explosive percussion, but also because the band does things musically that other bands in their hard rock vein probably wouldn’t risk. What sounds like a religious chant courses through the undercurrent at the start of the unnerving “The Men on the Edge,” where Reese trades his Muse-meets-Guns N' Roses squeal for something more in common with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant’s potent wail. The melodies are still less interesting than the sounds that surround them, with Reese’s guitar loops and Canu’s drum fills forging a core combo sound that more or less pushes the vocals and lyrics into the back of the band. Bassist Alessandro D’Ascoli provides the song with a grim underbelly, but he’s slightly less essential to its success.
For most of its runtime, Singularity remains what it is during songs like “Alive” and “The Men on the Edge” – loud, grungy, dark, hard rock ‘n’ roll. The latter track, without the rhythmic play of the former, gets a bit repetitious and dull as it goes on, perhaps inspiring a reach toward the skip button two or three minutes in. Something similar happens when the band drops the tempo, such as on the ballad “Far From the Sun.” Musically, the track is quite lovely, with a spacious, atmospheric vibe that feels downright unsettling for how it never seems to hit a melodic cadence. The problem is, when Reese isn’t wailing away like a classic rock ‘n’ roll star, his voice is passable at best, with questionable tuning and a few vocal licks that sound downright amateurish. It’s possible that some of this is intentional: as mentioned previously, the song isn’t written to be predictable from a melodic standpoint, and some of the spots where Reese sounds like he’s singing the wrong notes are probably supposed to clash. His voice is just a bit too light to make such haunting mood pieces really work in the way that someone like Bellamy or Chris Cornell might.
As a result, it’s the slower moments of Singularity that don’t really go anywhere, while the higher tempos allow The Age of the Universe to showcase what really makes them stand out as a band. “Fallen Angel” hits both sides of the coin, with rather slow and dull verse sections offset by pounding guitar choruses where Reese shouts to be heard above the swell of the rest of the band. It’s the best use of his voice on record, turning it into another instrument rather than a leading melodic line, and producing a lush and powerful sound that this band absolutely should try to cultivate more often in the future. For now, we’re stuck with a record that goes back and forth between what the band does terrifically (in-your-face hard rock) with what they don’t do as well (ponderous ballads or mid-tempo tracks), often in the course of a single track. The musicians are talented enough to hold it together, though, and while the album overstays its welcome a bit by crossing the 50 minute mark, it’s still worth a listen for fans of everything from Thrice to Pink Floyd to Foals.