Album Review: The Tangent – “A Spark in the Aether”

the tangent a spark in the aether

So here’s the thing: I listen a lot of extreme metal. My musical interests are rather exclusive. This isn’t due to narrow-mindedness—quite the opposite, actually. I’ve gone through a lot of musical phases in my life…and I’ve listened to a lot of crap along the way. Extreme metal is simply where I’ve settled. Despite all that, for my birthday week, I decided to deviate a little bit…no, I decided to deviate severely. I decided “let’s give all that a break and give something else a try.” So, with that mentality as the driver, I decided to explore The Tangent‘s new full-length album, A Spark in the Aether. And all I can say is…lesson learned.

Some background, er routine: The Tangent isn’t really metal at all; they’re a progressive rock group from northern England that hearkens back to a sound from probably over twenty years ago. Initially conceived by keyboardist Andy Tillison as a one-off project, they’ve somehow ended up releasing seven albums and some additional live material. Tillison is the only member to appear on every album—and yeah, his presence is rather definitive. Don’t bother studying the list of past members, you’ll only give yourself a headache. But what about the music?

I’m sure there are people out there that enjoy this stuff and appreciate it for all its ridiculousness, but I am not one of them. At the outset, I’m reminded a bit of classic, mid-1970s, English progressive rock…but as if taken advantage of by one of those absurd 1980s American one hit wonders. And by “taken advantage of,” I basically mean “sodomy.” Classic prog… good. ’80s pop… amusing. Together? Neither. For the opening four-minute-ish title track, it’s innocent enough. This tune best fits the aforementioned fusion of sounds: it’s lively, it can get you tapping your foot…but I just can’t take it seriously. And it’s those ferociously pronounced keyboards that are the culprit. Maybe if each song was this straightforward, and accepted this direction throughout, we could have something more enjoyable. But no. That’s not what happens.

Somehow, The Tangent stretches this sound into the almost-13-minute “Codpieces and Capes,” and then into a far more aggressive 22 minute…something…called “The Celluloid Road.” The longer tracks show off a lot of variety in song writing and sound, so there’s creativity and talent at hand. We get some heavier leads, more pronounced percussion, so on and so forth. Basically, it’s not all the same show the band gave us on the opener and the early stages of “Codpieces.” There are some decent solos…if you’re into less-than-cohesive runs all over the fretboard. But hey, this is prog, so it’s totally fine, right?

No. Sorry. I still don’t care.

“Clearing the Attic” kind of sounds like elevator music…or something you’d hear while waiting on hold with your bank’s 800 number. I will say that I did like the instrumental “Aftereugene” the most. The acoustic touch was nice, and the addition of a saxophone part reminded me of Pink Floyd in its prime—think “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” for instance. And that is very alright with me. But the rest? I’m sorry, I can’t do it.

Have you ever felt the need to wash your ears out after listening to something you kind of wish you hadn’t? Of course you have. For me, this was that kind of experience. I’m sure this album isn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be; there some solid standalone elements and the production certainly does each aspect of the music justice. But personally, I’m left asking myself what year I’m actually in. The progressiveness isn’t interesting…it’s comically goofy. Oh well. I learned my lesson. I like what I like for a reason—so maybe this was worth it on that level if nothing else.

“Ein Bier… bitte.”


A Spark in the Aether is available now on InsideOut Music. For more information on The Tangent, visit the band’s official website.

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