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A Backward Glance On A Travel Road - "A Backward Glance On A Travel Road" (CD)

A Backward Glance On A Travel Road - "A Backward Glance On A Travel Road" CD cover image

"A Backward Glance On A Travel Road" track listing:

1. Regular Barbary (6:30)
2. Falling (5:07)
3. Johnny Got His Gun (5:44)
4. In Absentia part I (4:45)
5. In Absentia part II (4:21)
6. Hier Regnant Desert (5:44)
7. Approximativement Moi (4:41)

Reviewed by on March 29, 2010

"It does share the depth of emotional hell dive that much of metal strives for. "

France has long been known as a hotbed of abstract thought and art – Dadaism, surrealism, absurdism, and even expressionist painting all drew quite a bit from French culture and philosophy. French extreme metallers Hypno5e have been a part of that tradition, making progressive, extreme, and often downright odd metal music. But one vehicle of musical expression wasn’t enough, and Emmanuel Jessua and Thibault Lamy have branched out into more abstraction, this time on the self-titled full length “A Backward Glance On A Travel Road” (ABGOATR).

Feeling like a dream in a nightmare in a dream, ABGOATR creates small yet immense soundscapes using fairly simple pieces. Standard rock instruments – acoustic and electric guitar, bass guitar and drums – combine with synthesizers, voice-overs and a few samples to make their stupefying mix. Taken at face value the music is fairly simple and straightforward; acoustic guitar chord progressions and picked melodies drive most of it as bass and drums ease along underneath. The voice-overs and vocals add the initial unsettling elements, particularly at the end of “Johnny Got His Gun” and “Approximativement Moi.”

But repeated listens take us farther and farther into the netherworld as the soundscapes continue to expand. The sparse music gives a sense of never ending grasslands, with no way in or out. Trapped in this placid hell, we search frantically, and in vain, for something to make us sane, for some connection the world we know. And we find only pieces of extreme beauty (guitar melodies on “In Absentia part I” and vocal layers on “In Absentia part II”) interrupted by fleeting images of horror (morose voice-overs on “Regular Barbary”).

The music itself owes much to Spanish, flamenco, and classical influences. Lamy’s drums are understated and poised, while Jessua’s acoustic guitar picks and peddles its way to beautiful emotional ruin. But what keeps ABGOATR excellent is the restraint – no song is more than six and a half minutes. Instead of going off on twenty minute Fripp-style flights through rain clouds and thunderheads, ABGOATR opts to keep each piece shorter; cutting off any hope of finding the exit to the maze before the thought even crosses the mind.

The album itself doesn’t have standard heavy metal elements. Distorted guitars, thundering drums and bellowing, shrieking vocals are all absent. But it does share the depth of emotional hell dive that much of metal strives for. Even the blackest of black metal or the most dramatic power metal would be hard pressed to achieve the weight and heft that “A Backward Glance On A Travel Road” get using understated and simple elements. We are trapped and don’t know it – elated and terrified at the same time, if that is possible.

Highs: Both “In Absentia” tracks create unbelievably disturbing beauty.

Lows: Some of the voice-overs work, but a few are awkward and misplaced.

Bottom line: Excellently dark and heavy emotional journey by a French experimental metal side project.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)