It is interesting to me to see the renaissance of an old aesthetic, the sounds of yesteryear becoming not only popular once again, but in many ways a trend as well. In the world of progressive rock, there is a conscious shift occurring, bringing back many of the feelings and sounds that made the heyday of the genre the influential force it has been. Whether the shifts towards nostalgia performed by Opeth or Porcupine Tree, or wholesale love letters to the past like The Flower Kings, the spirit of the past is alive and well, and being presented to a new generation of fans who may mistakenly think they are hearing something new.
It's in this spirit of reinterpreting the past that The Chant brings us “A Healing Place”, their third album of old-fashioned progressive rock that doesn't care much for coloring outside the lines. With seven members in tow, there are few spots where the music is not densely layered with texture, filling the sonic space as much as possible, even in the more subdued moments of the songs. Balancing so many sounds and instruments can be a challenge, but it is a noose The Chant manages to keep from tying around their own neck. The layers of sound never overpower the song, serving as an enticement to come back for repeated listens, to figure out the clues that passed by on initial listens without being noticed.
During opener “Outlines”, these clues are the majority of the composition, the song itself a loose confederation of instruments that never come together in the way we're accustomed of a band. The song is free-flowing, structurally devoid of the repeated moments that ingrain the songs into listener's minds. Bits and pieces can be latched onto, most notably the smears of saxophone that bubble under the surface, but little else about the song can make much of an impact. It is proficient, but at times emotionless, something that is hard to forgive, especially in music that doesn't burst with energy.
“Spectral Light” tries to right the ship, with a stronger motif and tempo just fast enough to avoid falling into a dirge. The song is stronger melodically as well, giving the vocals more room to breathe. “The Black Corner” builds off a more rhythmic riff, while “Riverbed” adds extra volume, but neither song feels different than the surrounding material. The notes and rhythms change from song to song, but the feeling remains the same, the entire affair seems painted in one color. It does give the album a connected feeling, and it is definitely one piece of art, but it's also too much of the same thing. In the same way that flooding the market with a type of item drives down the price, “A Healing Place” slashes its own value.
There's a striking similarity between “A Healing Place” and last year's mini-masterpiece “Communication Lost” by Wolverine. Both albums were progressive explorations of melancholy and tortured emotion, but the execution rendered them radically different albums. “A Healing Place” is consumed by the sadness the music tries to convey, which does show a level of commitment, but also manages to render the songs a bit mute. The flatness of emotion, the uniformity of tone throughout the album neuters the impact any of the songs could make on its own. When compared to the example set by “Communication Lost”, where the songs were an even balance of heart-wrenching and strikingly melodic, the shortcomings of “A Healing Place” are put into context. “
A Healing Place” isn't a bad album, but it spends so much of its running time treading the same water that it can't fight through the current and make it to shore. The music gets lost in itself, and if it's up to us as listeners to rescue the album, too much is being asked.