Oh man; heavy, instrumental rock music, played with distant-eyed earnestness and a ridiculously epic backstory…. hellooo Lady Prog! We’re talking tidal waves of keyboards and gale force blasts of clashing, chordal guitar that rises sky high before smashing down onto the shores of some fantastical otherworld. Yup, Kylver’s second album, The Island delivers all that by the time opening track “The Great Storm of 1703” is but a couple of minutes old.
The story, tossed out by this svelte 4-piece outfit, involves the survivor of a shipwreck who finds himself marooned on a strange shore, armed only with a pendant. Said trinket (as these things often tend to) holds the key to another realm populated by a race of highly evolved overseers who kind of sound like the aliens in Kubrick’s head-melter 2001: A Space Odyssey. But who needs originality when the concept comes backed with Mastodon-esque guitar topped off with fully bearded Hammond organ piped direct from the 70’s! It’s as appealing as it sounds and when The Island works best – as in the finale of “Monolith” – it can literally make the hairs on the back of your neck rise.
And they all lived happily ever after. End of review. Sadly no. There is a little more to the story than that.
The five tracks that make up The Island are highly evocative and, combined with the backstory, do put its general themes across. But we should be clear that this voyage is primarily one of rhythm and mood and those looking for the role of a vocalist to be replaced by guitar and keyboard melodies to convey a sense of lyricism, will be disappointed. Kylver paint basic brush strokes via quiet introspection through throbbing build-ups to shimmering epic plateaus and driving percussion, but they leave your imagination to fill in the finer details. As impressive as this might initially be, it does get old; The Island delivering fine mood music but failing to hold your attention. Though there are plenty of interesting time signatures, flourishes and dynamics, it’s all ponderously mid paced and with the Opeth-sized length of the songs, pretty soon there is little to tell them apart. It’s almost as though the story in it’s entirety could apply equally to each and every track.
We get what Kylver are doing and – criticism aside – we are with them all the way. They recall Mastodon’s Crack the Skye; an exercise in expertly played, challenging music with an intellectual (ish) backstory. The difference is Mastodon had the narrative glue of a vocalist and a bunch of chaotic guitar leads to stick the whole thing together. Kylver don’t and as a result it feels as though something vital is missing. As “The Great Race” draws to a close the overriding feeling is one of frustration because The Island is a story we’d like told in much more detail. 6/10