Exeter’s Napoleon have long been a band with a reputation for making progressive tech-metal with passion and groove like no other. Combining Wes Thompson’s impassioned vocals and phenomenal range with the guitar work of Sam Osborn who manages to get through the work of two guitarists in the live arena, these boys have talent! We haven’t even mentioned bassist Jacob Brelsford or drummer James Mendoza who underpin the whole thing yet either! New album “Epiphany” has been a long time coming and something of a struggle, so what is the finished product like?
From the introduction you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a Dance Gavin Dance tune in “Godspeed”. Musically it’s up beat Tech-Metal with a ‘core bass and drum sound. The guitars are melodic in tone, infections and groove ladien and the furious and ferocious vocals layered over the top give such a stark contrast that it’s a real surprise. “Above & Below” starts off with a more traditional Napoleon guitar tone before bringing back that driven, pacey melodic groove. Dabaling with the odd clean vocal passage lifts the whole thing. While the music is uplifting and upbeat, the vocals are quite the opposite. Lyrically caustic in places, there is a message of things being far from great underneath. Around the 3:25 mark, the track false ends and then kicks into what presumably is “Below” for a short and sharp finger pointing exercise that is fun as well as punchy. Debut single from the album “Ignite” keeps things flowing nicely with its pre-chorus spoken word section and tasteful jazz inspired solo bridge. There is a distinct funk sound that is something which not only fits well with the songs big chorus but is also reminiscent of the sound Monuments have on some of their new tunes.
“Epiphany” being the album title track appitomises the albums overall sound to a t, maintaining the driven pace and flow after a melodic intro that then picks up into the track itself. There seems to be some American twang to the vocals in places which works quite well. Using the same intro stylings as the album title track, but adding in a drum layer “Decay To Create” is a slick tune that uses lead guitar flourishes in place of th rhythms in places that bring a beauty to proceedings. In places Napoleon sound like a band with a Post Hardcore vocalist in a Jazz band. The guitar tone is part of the cause of this as the higher register of the guitars balances out the lower barked register of the vocals. “Fantasist” features guest vocals from JT Cavey of Erra which is an interesting choice as with their recently released album “Neon”, the bands now have a very similar sound. That being said, this tune is actually a harder hitting one with a Metalcore inspired Tech-Metal sound. JT Cavey has a far more gravelly quality to his vocals and Napoleon play to that strength, giving one of their finest musical performances on the album.
“Diamond In The Rough” returns us to the faster paced territory, though it introduces patches of heavier guitar tone and highly impressive lead flushes. There are even a few post hardcore isms in the mix, while the vocals have an extra bite in an improved performance. “Zeitgeist” has a wonderful stuccato bridge in its post chorus bridge that allows for a bass solo of sorts to bleed though the layers. As it a lot of the music on “Epiphany”, it’s incredibally intricate and technical to play while managing to balance off against a catchy and hook laiden groove. “Living Ghost” is one that demonstrates how polished the songs are on the album. In places the bass guitar becomes the rhythm sound while the leads playthrough and some off kilter work, stop-start play offs and polyrhythms and simply phenomenal. “Dream Sequence” features Chris Thompson and is a bouncy, funky affair that bridges the gap between some of the tech elements and a more organic sound. A more polished vocal performance adds that little bit much more to what is a slick song.
The tonal changes this time around, particularly with the guitar sound have created a gap between the vocals and the music that wasn’t previously as noticeable. Perhaps the music itself now suits a more soulful voice like Johnny Craig of Slaves (US) in places rather than Wes Thompson’s uncleans. That being said, while it takes a couple of spins to get your head around that, it is a sound that grows on you, particularly with the uplifting and groove laiden music. The album is full of intricate nuances that come of out the wood work with each listen and even after 10 or 12 playthrough’s you aren’t going to have caught it all. There is such a pace and energy to proceedings that it’s a joy to listen to – and that is a sign of its mastery. [8/10]
“Above & Below”
“Decay To Create”
“Fantasist” (Ft. JT Cavey of Erra)
“Diamond In The Rough”
“Dream Sequence” (Ft. Chris Thompson)
“Epiphany” by Napoleon is out now via Basick Records