You'd think a band named after Sir Walter Scott's most famous work would tend towards the contemplative (or, at least, the historically literate). But judging by German band Ivanhoe's latest album, that characterization falls several yards beyond the mark. The truth is, there's very little intellectual merit, or even any redeeming value, to be found in Systematrix.
The largest issue with this album is that it sticks so close to prog metal tropes that it really doesn't have anything original to say. The compositions sound entirely too safe to be of anything other than passing interest, and even then, listening to riff after recycled riff can become numbing in its lack of substance. In all honesty, it's also a bit of a misnomer to call it progressive music--the album sounds like a bland regurgitation of heavy metal tracks with the occasional odd time signature thrown in, which supposedly is enough for inclusion in the genre. And while it's not an imperative that every band should seek to push the boundaries of their genre, the overwhelming dearth of progress or risk in this music only serves to heighten awareness of uninspired it is. There just isn't anything to find interesting about this album.
To make matters worse, the mixing gives absolutely no thought to context whatsoever. No matter what is going on--anthemic choruses, difficult buildup, or even passable soloing--it all gets mixed with the same treatment, resulting in an album that's dull, staid, and lacking in any kind of expressive power. Musical quality aside, the entire work takes a dip in quality from the pervasive feeling of malaise that coats even the most euphorically composed of its passages. Between the terrible mixing and the lack of variety in the songwriting, the album becomes this muddled afterimage of what could've been an enjoyable work.
Listening to the album is an exercise in patience, and one whose only payoff is a dull husk of what could've been. Ivanhoe have a few excellent ideas, but between the quantity of chaff and the pallid sound, Systematrix is far from what a band over twenty years old should be capable of. I am searching for something about this album to make this conclusion a bit less mean-spirited, but I'm coming up empty. I can honestly say that listening to this album accomplished nothing for me, intellectually nor emotionally, and I think it's a clear indicator of quality if the best thing I can say about an album is that it didn't cause me physical pain.
3.0 / 10
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