Try as I might to delve into the subgenre’s labyrinthine pleasures, I’ve just never been much of a prog guy. Even being a fan on a superficial level of contemporary artists who’ve managed to break into the mainstream like Mastodon and Coheed and Cambria, my dives into the operatic provocations of their”deep cut” material have mostly left me scratching my more succinct thrash and hardcore loving head. Which is in part why I’m so pleasantly surprised by “Of Two Minds, Stages 1-2: The Ape And The Cage”, the latest LP from Philly prog metal fusion rockers In The Presence Of Wolves. With a title like that, a neophyte can’t help but be intimidated, but ITPOW blend their space faring aural headtrips with serious songwriting chops, a punky catchiness, satisfying metal crunch and old school rock and roll swagger that make their mind bending sonicscapes more inviting than foreboding.
A serene piano opens “As We Speak (Part 1)”, clean, soaring, slightly melancholy vocals calling to mind not only the aforementioned Coheed but also The Mars Volta/At The Drive In, segueing into a driving, near inspirational rocker, the vague but engrossing lyrics creating an almost cinematic landscape of Meatloaf-quality rock opera. Follow up “The One Who Fell To Earth” is 100% fast paced math metal banger, anchored by a motormouthed, sardonic vocal delivery, “These are my last steps so I’m sorry if I wake you”, closing with the most headbang worthy, hard rockin’-est breakdown I’ve heard in a while.
Maybe that’s the difference maker with ITPOW compared to other heavily prog leaning metallers, their aspirations towards legendary conceptuality are never far away from a seriously earworm-y or fist pump inducing passage. Take “White Noise” for example, where an initial heartfelt vocal and spare guitar part eventually build and build to a crescendo of both high emotion and deft, djent-y cacophony, with whiplash inducing guitar and drum prowess. The record’s title track may be its strongest though, featuring a similar rising tension from the acoustic intro to a screaming, staccato drumming whirlwind of outrage, before “M.U.A. (Manipulation Under Anestesia)” skillfully combines each prior thematic element, lyrically, vocally and instrumentally, into a supremely satisfying denouement. “Wait until the drugs kick in”, indeed.
The expert conceptualization and polished execution of “Of Two Minds…” makes it almost impossible to believe that it’s only ITPOW’s second LP. The myriad of accomplishments presented here are almost too many to mention, creating not only an outstanding gateway “drug” for the typically prog averse, but a singular recorded statement amongst the most complete and accomplished I’ve heard all year, and another epic chapter in the Wolves’ burgeoning canon.
“Of Two Minds, Stages 1-2: The Ape And The Cage” is available now, and In The Presence Of Wolves will be stepping into the worn out Converse of all your favorite 90’s heroes for us at our Alternative and Grunge Sing Along at The Barbary on Friday, August 11th!