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A Life Once Lost: Ecstatic Trance
There are a good number of albums due out before the end of 2012 I am really looking forward to. Both big name bands and smaller known ones litter the list, and every passing day I sit and wait anxiously for them to hit my inbox. One such release is the new A Life Once Lost album, Ecstatic Trance, which I was even more hungry to devour considering their signing to Season of Mist, a label who’s releases tend to be of a certain darker atmosphere, and more along the Black Metal, Death Metal, and Doom Metal genres. Did this mean A Life Once Lost changed their style around again to no longer sounded like typical Pantera and Lamb of God worship? I hoped like hell for this to be true.

I couldn’t wait for this album. I even wrote my PR contact at the label to make sure it was going to be serviced to media outlets prior to its release today (Tuesday, October 23rd). In my defense, it was only a few days before it was to be released, so a general concern was obvious to have. I learned another team was also working it, which is why it took so long for the review copies to go out. But, here I sit with it, blasting through the speakers, and cursing that the good speakers are still broken, leaving me unable to give it the review it so rightly deserves. But, that’s not going to stop me from talking about this album in any way, instead deciding to do this very discussion album on the experience, which now seems like the proper thing to have done.

The moment “Something Awful” exploded from the speakers, I had feared there wouldn’t be anything too unique to the album, and wondered if Season of Mist picked the band up largely due to their popularity and to have their own popular modern Groove Metal and Metalcore act on their roster. But, as it picked up, the song did start to change from another carbon copy clone, to something a little more unique, best summed up as Droning groove riffs that could become something a little more trance enducing. The heavier atmosphere still came through despite the poor bass output on my end, and I found myself headbanging along a lot more than I did at the start. While this wasn’t the most awe-inspiring of all the songs, it definitely made me pay attention and expect a little more from A Life Once Lost than I did with their previous effort, Iron Gag, an album I wasn’t too fond of over their other previous recordings.

“Gnawing Lisp” solidified this for me, ushering in more of a Meshuggah driven sound, but at the same time incorporated some lead chords slightly askew from the beat present, which added a whole new layer to distract me from the simpler droning riffs that seemed more like background noise. I was sad to see the song not even last three minutes, but was seriously ready to tackle the rest of the album if it had more like these, and it did. “Madness is God” threw some similar “Gnawing Lisp” leads my way in the chorus, which helped to distract from the largely Lamb of God performance in the main verses. Again, the heavier intensity and anger came through with as much of a commanding presence as my technical limitations allowed it to, still getting my blood pumping the more the tighter timing of the rhythm guitar riffs pounded away at me.

I was hooked just by the first few tracks, and it kept pulling me in the deeper I got. My surroundings didn’t really matter after a while, especially when “Miracle Worker” kicked in. The ecclectic chords, especially the guitar solo and the slight distortion used that made it a little more muffled, really stood out the most at that time. The song had a dominating sound that commanded my obedience, and the leads really helped to add a chaotic sense to the performance. I banged my head along to the slower paced drumming without question, like a brainwashed zombie among the masses, and it felt good.

Upon the climax of “Miracle Worker,” I felt a great burden lifted off me, a sensation that remained during “Empty Form.” The start was nowhere near as hostile. In fact, this one actually had a little more emotion, and was distinctively lighter all around. The Groove Metal riffs had a depressing vibe, and the cleaner leads really fed into that atmosphere with a bit of an aquatic tone, and even an early Stoner Rock sound given the later distortion, all the while slowly building the tension up. It wasn’t exactly the most engaging, leaving me to feel as if I was just drug along for the ride, something I could also say about the firty-five second long interlude instrumental “I Am,” though that one was far from anything pleasant or memorable, even when acting as a bridge into “The Blues.”

Unfortunately, that is also when my curiosity started to get lost. “The Blues” was a good song in it’s own right, taking on some Stoner Rock influences I had heard before to a more Occult Rock manner, also shifting into a Southern direction. It all kept a lighter sound to the music that really wasn’t as commanding, pulling me out of that brainwashed state to one that made me more aware of my surroundings. This left me quite pleased when it ended, and “People Stare” kicked up with that additional edge and heavier intensity once more. Things felt a little more emotional as far as the lead chords were concerned, though the backing rhythm was a somewhat more aggressive one, conflicting between the two. At first it was hard to stomach, but as it went on, it was if an internal stuggle had been given its own score, conflicted between passive and concerned. At least, that’s how I interpreted it to be…

“I See, I Hear” was a dismal offering whos heavier sound came through well, throwing back to the earlier tracks of the album. The enthusiastic vocal performance here was able to shine thorugh a lot more thanks to the much darker tone, and the cleaner leads really rang through, diverting my attention once more without completely drowning the underlying repetition of the song’s foundation. The trance-enducing drums set a commanding landscape that I could only hopelessly obey by banging my head along to every beat while shouting along to some of the lyrics in the chorus that were easier to remember by the second time that specific passage hit.

“I Sit Ill” felt as if I were listening to a musical form of a televangelist. The leads would slowly pull you out of a despair-ridden world into a more hopeful atmosphere, which was actually quite addicting with how it played on your senses. The guitar solo felt as if I were being lifted high towards the heavens on the arms of a higher fictional deity that only the band spoke for, communicated with, and possibly even controlled. As it continued on, things became a little more chaotic, feeling as I had been s
purned for some reason, it’s back turning to me as I was dropped and left falling from my metaphorical bliss-filled haven. This made a suitable conflusion to such a powerful album, keeping my hands away from the stop and eject buttons, and allowing it start from the beginning once more. At least, it would had there not been one more song.

Surprisingly, the cover of Killing Joke‘s “Asteroid” fit the album nicely. But, looking at the bonus track tag in the song list, it becomes obvious that it was an additional entry that wasn’t meant to be part of the final pressing, at least at first. This is far from a bad thing, as that atmosphere from the rest of the release is still as present as possible. The vocals don’t quite match the Groove Metal performance, and the leads are far more subtle with a richer, somewhat more complex and less droning rhythm performance that doesn’t come off as if meant to be in the background. It was a nice snap back to reality, and while my head didn’t necessarily bang along, it was still an enjoyable experience that made me want to seek out the original version despite my not being a big fan of Killing Joke to begin with.

I don’t really need to write a full review to tell you that this album is a unique, kick ass experience. I loved every second with it the first time through, and wrapping up my third run from start to finish has been as equally pleasant. Ecstatic Trance, in one night, has reached the number one position of my must have albums, and, right now, I suggest it be on the top of yours too if you’re just a Groove Metal fan, or even devoted veteran. This is a whole new side to A Life Once Lost, and while yes, there is a strong Meshuggah presence that is pretty obvious to pick out, there’s no denying this doesn’t at least stand on the same legitimate ground as any of that group’s modern entries, and deserves to be respected as a seperate entity.

A Life Once Lost (band)
A Life Once Lost
Digital copy of this release provided by Season of Mist Records.