Seven deadly sins. Seven ways to win. Seven holy paths to Bergen and your trip begins. Seven suits for misquoting Iron Maiden. Seven bloody years of waitin’ for seven (minus one) dudes to finally return. Seven Impale are on the Summit, back again!
But how long are seven years anyway? For the Norwegian Jazz / Progressive Metal group these seven years since their second album certainly didn’t feel as long as for the fan having nothing else to do than to wait for the madness to continue. While they never shut down the band completely, the members were just all busy with other stuff in life: Families, education and most noticeable their keyboardist becoming a member of Enslaved as well as their guitarist / vocalist starting an international career as an Opera singer. As you do when the days turn short in Scandinavia, right? No big deal.
Actually seven years probably aren’t that much more than seven weeks. With the band picking things up very close to where they left off it certainly feels that way. Did they even take a noticeable break at all? Band logo is the same, the cover artwork looks like a crossing of their 2014 and 2016 albums, so there’s already a visible continuation. Structurally the four long tracks with an average length of eleven minutes seem closer to the debut City Of The Sun, while the short song titles “Hunter”, “Hydra”, “Ikaros” and “Sisyphus” call back to “Languor”, “Helix”, “Phoenix” etc. from the double album Contrapasso. (So again Seven Impale don’t even attempt to scratch on the genius of their theme song’s title “God Left Us For A Black-Dressed Woman”. But I’ll actually get back to that one in a bit!)
But in the sad yet statistically likely case that you have no idea who Seven Impale even are, let me very quickly bring you up to speed: The band started in 2010 with the intention of playing Metal, but grandiosely failed at that attempt. Instead their debut, while indeed being grounded in modern Prog Metal akin to pre-Djenty Haken, went far beyond that with Post Rock, classic Prog and Jazz Fusion vibes, effortlessly flowing from Weather Report and Passport (that saxophone is a key element!) to Pink Floyd, Steven Wilson and Meshuggah. Besides their instrumental complexity, which was embedded into equally sophisticated, often surprising yet also sometimes outright catchy songwriting, especially the dramatic vocal performance of Stian Økland stood out. On their sophomore work they became quirkier, adding more Mike Patton-esque avant-garde circus vibes and an overall eerier atmosphere, while also allowing the individual players to shine more in an environment which felt much looser and like a counterdraft to the often very micro-organized world of contemporary Prog Metal.
And where are Seven Impale now? Have they really reached the Summit with their long-legged third step?
As already noticed this is a continuation. Everything which made their previous albums lighthouses towering above most of the release flood is still in play. But they are giving their ideas and movements more room to breathe now. Especially the opener “Hunter” which keeps returning to a base you could call Seven Impale’s version of Doom Metal, shows lots of restraint – until it doesn’t. The climax however isn’t only fast chaotic Prog wizardry, but also displays an even greater sense of dramatic dynamics, as the band suddenly adds that extra step of volume and intensity in a way that is very reminiscent of Motorpsycho.
“Hydra” has the floatiest feel of the lot, with many playful sax, guitar and keyboard licks interweaving with each other and generally the most Psychedelic vibe. At the end the song morphs into a gentle version of Seven Impale’s main theme from the aforementioned “God Left Us For A Black-Dressed Woman”, which links all of the band’s releases so far.
From here on things only get wilder as “Ikaros” juxtaposes playful Prog arrangements and majestic vocal harmonies to much gnarlier undertones. In its second half influences from the world of Free Jazz and Classical Music are also invited to the party. Probably the hardest track for most listeners to get into – which could very well be the very reason these maniacs had chosen it as the album’s advance promo track.
But of course there weren’t that many songs to choose from in the first place. And I get that you don’t want to play your most sensational card first, which would be the finale “Sisyphus”. This rollercoaster basically showcases everything the band can do and has done so far – and even adds new elements on top. Their most light-foot Jazz is directly attacked by their most brutal Noise attacks, the horn blows over blast beats - which neither sounds like White Ward nor Naked City - and the excellent songwriting makes no move to let itself be bullied by those shenanigans. It’s simpy brilliant!
Even though the album decidedly does not contain actual Opera vocals, the singer leaves no doubt that he could pull them off at any given time. And in the power and self-confidence of his performance he isn’t alone. Summit bursts with the determination of a band that exactly knows that it exists in a rather tiny niché of public interest, but will give those in the know the greatest spectacle possible. Since its predecessors had - at least - seven years to grow on me, it’s impossible to bindingly rank all three albums yet. But I can say for sure that Summit - at least – holds the established standards. So it’s a masterpiece. And it’s certainly on the forefront of releases rekindling my love for Prog right now.
Just one thing, guys: Shouldn’t you update your official website? It still says your new album’s working title is Sisyphus Climbing and the release date is TBA. You had seven years for Ikaros’ sake!