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Alternative 4 : The Brink

With his new band Alternative 4, Duncan Patterson returns to melancholic Rock after many years - but not quite.

Many must have taken it as some great news that Duncan Patterson (of ex-Anathema, ex-Antimatter and Íon fame) is returning to the scene with a new rock-oriented outfit. His new band is called Alternative 4, a telling name to be sure, directly referring back to Anathema’s masterpiece to which Patterson had made significant contributions in songwriting. And indeed, The Brink is soaked in Patterson’s trademark songwriting from beginning to end: Everything sounds familiar as if it was a continuation of what he has done before, but his new project still seems to mark a strange twist in his style which is hard to spot precisely. So let us see in detail what this album has to offer.

The first proper song, “False Light”, marks a connection to the origin of the band’s name right away, bringing back the memorable echoing drum pattern which dominated “Alternative 4” (the song) back in 1998 – very typical of Patterson, whose tendency to quote himself had already left its mark on some Antimatter tracks. There is some powerful guitar distortion going on in the choruses of “False Light”, backed up by a distinctive string arrangement and a solid rhythm section featuring Argentinian drummer Mauro Frison. The guitar riffing is slow, simple and repetitive, which somewhat justifies the label “Psychedelic Doom Rock” given in the promo sheet (even though the existence of such a genre remains questionable). Later in the song, acoustic guitars, mellotrons and lead guitar lines complete the picture to account for the “psychedelic” tag. All of this, however, does not sound as epic and overblown as the list of elements might suggest – in fact, everything is kept subtle and minimalist.

This is all the more true for the rest of the album. The arrangements are minimalist and repetitive throughout, with a strong focus on the dark, hypnotic atmosphere. This atmosphere as well as the overall songwriting approach have a lot in common with Patterson’s contributions to the first two Antimatter albums, especially with Lights Out. In fact, “Underlooked” with its simplistic, atmospheric piano pattern and “Automata” with its very Patterson-like melodies and female backing vocals would not have been out of place on that album at all, even though “Underlooked” is actually more repetitive and reduced than anything Patterson has ever recorded with his former project. Oftentimes, style and atmosphere of The Brink are reminiscent of his earlier instrumental pieces.

This is also true for the songwriting – there are many extensive instrumental sections and a total of four (almost) instrumental tracks, including the intro. Beginning with the experimental piece “The Dumbing Down”, these tracks accumulate in the second half of the album, slowing down the general pace even more to create a very contemplative mood. The album closes with two such instrumentals in a row, both of which are particularly simple and, unfortunately, also quite long-winded. Especially “The Brink (Reprise)” with its fourteen minutes requires a lot of patience, and the appearance of drums and good bass patterns after seven minutes does not help much. If you thought that instrumentals such as “Terminal” or “EternityPart 24” were too long-winded, Alternative 4 will therefore hardly become your new favourite band.

Naturally, these tendencies do not allow for a very strong emphasis on vocals. In a sense, this is actually an advantage, for the vocals are the primary weakness of the album. Mark Kelson’s (The Eternal) voice lacks expressiveness and emotional impact – aspects which are crucial to Rock with a melancholic edge. In the calmer sections, his singing sounds very dry and powerless, while the choruses expose the lack of emotional colouring and sound a bit like moderate Hard Rock. Those who enjoy Traditional Doom might still find this vocal style enjoyable, but speaking of “Doom Rock”, Kelson is no match for Vincent Cavanagh, Mick Moss or Jonas Renkse at any point. A strong and more fitting vocalist could have exploited the potential of the otherwise good material much better, but as it is, the vocals rather compromise than support the atmosphere. Luckily, Kelson hits the notes well and sings in an “understated” way – that is to say, he does not demand too much attention but gives room for the music to unfold.

It seems like Duncan Patterson has opted for something very similar to what his former partner Mick Moss created without him on the last Antimatter album, Leaving Eden: He combines the different elements he had used in his earlier works and puts them into a more organic and psychedelic context with the help of a band line-up. Therefore, this album is probably more interesting for fans of said project than for those who are only familiar with Anathema. It is entirely a matter of taste whether you prefer Moss’ or Patterson’s development. The Brink focuses on experimentalism and hypnotic arrangements, leaving little room for moments of straight Rock, whereas Leaving Eden opts for a much more immediate, emotional, intimate approach. At any rate, it is clear that Duncan Patterson stays well away from well-trodden musical paths and continues on his very individual quest, taking the Rock genre to its edges and beyond with his vivid experimentalism.

Reviewer's rating: Unrated


Tracklist :
1. The Brink
2. False Light
3. Alternate
4. Underlooked
5. Still Waters
6. The Dumbing Down
7. Automata
8. Autonoma
9. The Brink (Reprise)

Duration : Approx. 57 minutes

Visit the Alternative 4 bandpage.

Reviewed on 2011-11-27 by Dominik Sonders
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