Album Review: "Full Spectrum" (2021) by The Chronicles of Manimal and Samara
Full Spectrum, TCOMAS's debut album, was released on February 26, 2021. The duo's music represents a turning point in the progressive metal genre. With bands such as Leprous, we have already seen some crossover of electronic music and progressive metal. However, TCOMAS puts this infusion center and front. You can finally headbang to sounds you can hear in Berlin's techno clubs. The lyrics are pieces of spoken word poetry that combine and transcend literature, history, and art. With these tools, the album takes us through dark corners of our shared experiences and emotions.
1. Atoms (5:09)
As being the intellectually satisfying band as they are, TCOMAS opens their album with an existentialist track that will endure time and space. The song starts with a drone note, while the guitar adds the melodies and chords with time. This slow progression and structure resemble the song's lyrics, making a whole musical and lyrical tasteful piece. The lyrics start with references to the creation myth that is apparent in many religions and beliefs, but the first reference is made to the Bible—the most alluded source of humanity: "In the beginning/There was darkness/A formless blackness". Just as The Prima Materia turning to everything that exists today, the song does a left turn with a dynamic change in the guitars and drums. With the atmospheric guitar riff entering(as if the big bang had occurred), the song comes to a point where "Form and matter joined/A ray shines, with no pause/From its coming to its being". Their ability to structure and compose a song that could relate to the lyrics is certainly reminiscent of many good story-teller musicians, one of them being their main influences: TOOL.
Although the song makes references to many literary works, "Atoms" is mainly about hope and the idea of rising like a phoenix from the ashes. The initial darkness is a metaphor of overcoming theşr troubles to realize and achieve their full potentials. As this idea is released to the listeners with the lines "If we are to progress/We must not cease from mental fight/Till we have built Jerusalem", we hear the tribal and electric influences of the band—until to song reaches its full potential with its strong rock finally.
Just the way the track has started, it all came to an end—an endless cycle of building and deconstruction: "And in the end/There was darkness/A formless blackness".
2. Psychopath's Monologue (9:38)
"Psychopath's Monologue" depicts a post-apocalyptic landscape through a series of dark, groovy and industrial beats. The song is full-on techno, with layered distortion guitars that sound like synths. For the first 2 minutes, through Ang's poetry and the moaning in the background, we hear a sexual atmosphere developing. The bass almost sounds like heartbeats, supporting this theme. From there on, there is a constant four-on-the-floor tension. At 6:30, the song comes to a stop, and a deep sound cuts through the silence at short intervals. This signals a huge shift, a modulation. There is a certain feeling associated with this part and the part with the heartbeat-like sounds in the beginning. Both feature tribal drumming, perhaps inspired by TOOL. Similarly, the lyrics have imagery of ancient times, such as "a pagan awaiting the feared deity." The psychopath expresses a kind of hopelessness, instead seeking answers from a "deaf god" who is "indifferent" and "nonchalant." The ancient imagery comes into play as a way of showing this hopeless wait for god to answer prayers. The post-apocalyptic society decides to sacrifice humans. This is presented as a natural consequence of god's indifference, as can be seen from the lines, "The dumb deity / Corroding beings and intestines."
A thousand scars Festering wounds Isn’t decomposition an innately beautiful thing? Fertile soils to sow the seeds of regeneration
The glorification of death here and in previous lines is perhaps why the song is called a psychopath's monologue.
3. Deus Ex Machina (3:52)
In contrast to the previous track, "Deus Ex Machina" is a full-on prog metal song. It is about the classic Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. The play is about a king that commits patricide and marries his mother, by a complete accident of fate. The song starts by describing the end of the play, when Oedipus carves out his own eyes. Referring to him as a cursed man, the tragedy is slowly unveiled throughout the verse. In the background, before the lyrics start, we hear a distorted guitar riff, which is repeated in a clean tone when lyrics enter. The chorus is the same distorted riff, with lyrics on top highlighting Oedipus's fatal flaw of hubris as he denies his fate. What's interesting about it is that it is chanted like a classical theatre chorus.
The part after the first chorus always strikes me as having a banjo-like sound. It is reminiscent of the banjo part in Porcupine Tree's Trains. After another chorus, the same guitar returns for a solo, and surprisingly it fits very well into a distorted-base context. In the end, the guitar runs through a scale, but glitches out through the higher notes. Some notes are not in the scale, and some are a bit bent to achieve a very dissonant microtone. When it finally ends, you can literally feel the tension exiting your body.
4. Mata Hari (3:28)
Just as the band stated, "Mata Hari" reimagines the sound of the ‘80s in the year 2080. The story is told from the view of an artist that paints to express himself. So good so far, but mainly the futuristic 80s sound just purposefully carries the story along with it till the end of the story. The band TCOMAS used a high variety of electronic equipment and sounds on this short track—while creating a Dubstep-style industrial synth riff that has been a highlight of their debut record. Drums were also programmed, along with the vocal and synth samples—all contributing to the futuristic and authentic feel of the song.
"Mata Hari/Pagi Bintang/With you I burn so bright/Incandescent light". Although the lyrics are somewhat open-ended, but it can be interpreted as the stream of consciousness of the narrator-the painter- of the whole event. The painter ends up thinking about the "Mata Hari", the sun and she/he is rather going through a trance that will consume his feelings and thoughts to take him/her in a loop, while his/her consciousness ends as abruptly as the song's ending.
5. The Descent (6:14)
The fifth track of the album is another conceptual song: it is told from the perspective of Mother Earth, which explains the calmness and aggression that coexist within the song. The song mainly uses faint electronic sounds in the background for the first 2:30 minutes, putting the lyrics into the spotlight. Here, a world without mankind is depicted, and a reference to the Hindu god of Sun, Surya, is made to talk about the warmness and comfort brought by the disappearance of man.
The more aggressive side of Mother Earth is seen when the electric guitar enters the scene, and when the vocals become more and more threatening. The chromatic descending guitar line used near the 3:20 minute-mark create a sense of tension that will soon be released in the last minute of the song. The descriptions here, which are directed to mankind also symbolize this tension: “Gasping for air as your flounder and flail/Your face pressed against a glass ceiling” The sound coming from the tabla reminds the listener of Tool’s "The Pot" or "Fear Inoculum", and when the electric guitar solo plays through fast and angsty riffs during the last minute of the song, the listener can see the source of inspiration clearly. This guitar solo is also a perfect example of the anger of Mother Earth, specifically her anger towards men for casting a deaf ear towards her.
6. Message for the King (1:05)
The next track is more of a theatrical performance: it is about a messenger bringing the news of a bad omen to his majesty, and struggling to tell him that he “will die a tragic death.” Meanwhile, sounds from people coughing can be heard in the background, and the sounds are again mixed with the electronic sound effects TCOMAS often uses. This piece may symbolize the cowardice of the politicians to tell or hear the hard truth, and how the powerful are also affected by the doom that’s awaiting them. This signals to the pandemic as understood from the coughing in the background.
7. Love in the Time of Pestilence (7:41)
One of the most streamed songs of the duo, "Love in the Time of Pestilence" starts with the signature electronic sound of TCOMAS combined with the heavy sound from the electric guitar. Not long after, the lyrics enter alongside the 4/4 beat of percussion. The stable pattern of music in the background and the lyrics together create a tone of despair and gloom. As the lyrics progress, talking about the isolation caused by the pandemic and the way it has affected the modern world, the music in the background becomes louder and louder with the addition of sound effects to the percussion and guitar combination.
The sudden shift of focus turns the listener’s attention to the electric guitar riff, and the lyrics follow this shift by mentioning the doom that’s awaiting humanity caused by the interconnectedness of its people. The song is certainly fit to be called a progressive metal song, and the growls that enter on the 3:10 mark are clear evidence. This fast paced metal section of the song is followed by a calmer section as a more emotional guitar solo enters. These highs and lows in terms of the sound and pace of the song symbolize its theme: the Covid pandemic and its sudden surges, and the progression of the pandemic in 2020.
The duo, apart from being skillful in combining different genres of music, is also successful in integrating literary elements into music. By using Nietzsche’s quote “The world is beautiful, but has a disease called mankind,” and quoting Orwell’s 1984 by saying “in the face of pain, there are no heroes,” the song describes the dystopian situation the world is in, caused by the ignorance and negligence of society, and shows how history is repeated time and time again: “Will no one pause to listen to the words of our forebears/They remind us like clockwork/We died so you won't make the same mistakes again.”
8. Tcomas S01 E01 (7:06)
Having a background narrator rather than a singer is certainly a progressive approach to music creating, which is the signature of TCOMAS. As well as it enables the artists to create a more structured song over the stories, it is also harder for the band to create differences between the songs since there is no melody. This authenticity in-between the tracks is most apparent in this song, as the lyricist and pianist of the band Daphne Ang wrote the whole story emphasizing her own life and delivered the story in the most exciting way possible. Monotonous and robotic as she always is, this time we get a glimpse of more emotions from her voice; and as the song develops into a more tensioned section, you can feel the tension also in her voice.
Although the song doesn't dramatically resolve as we would expect from the other TCOMAS songs, it definitely follows the same structure as other ones. A simple piano riff develops with synths and other techno soundscapes to become one with the story of the young girl escaping from public life to a jungle. As the story develops rather fantastically, the band uses futuristic and metal music sounds to represent the mood needed, along with replicating animal noises with certain samples.
9. Full Spectrum (16:19)
By far the longest track of the album, "Full Spectrum" indeed presents a full spectrum of sounds and effects in front of the listener without a compromise from the electronic and encompassing atmosphere. Synths that spawn a variety of enticing sounds into our ears slowly lead us to a beating kick drum that you can feel in your soul. It is a fairly simple 4/4 beat but still achieves to keep our interest with the slight variation at the end of every two beats. By the time the 808 drum enters with all its might, you can start to understand where the song is going.
With each section adding something unique to the table while still preserving groovy 4/4 rhythm (trust us, you won't stop nodding your head throughout the song). Even the calmer sections carry a tense feeling with the aid of glassy synth sounds, making the overall experience soothing yet full of goosebumps.
Even though it is an "electronic song", you can see the progressive influences sprinkled throughout with eccentric solos, soundscapes, and the sheer length of the track. We've got to admit that it is hard to keep an audience engaged with a 16-minute, instrumental, electronic song, but the very fact that we sat through and enjoyed this artwork shows that there is a potential here to fuse electronic music with prog in a new and meaningful way. So the only thing we can suggest is for the band to be even more experimental to achieve their full potential.
10. At the Worlds End (4:59)
'The start of "At the Worlds End" emphasizes the poetic lyrics that are a trademark of the act. The electronic sound effects and the sparse contribution of the guitar form the atmosphere that helps the listener appreciate these lyrics more: said lyrics are about the final remarks of two lovers who are living their last day on earth. Thus it's natural that the first minute of the song is melancholic and nostalgic as the lovers talk about their first encounter, and the inspiration from Sylvia Plath can clearly be felt from the short but dramatic descriptions...'
We already did a full review of this stellar single, check it out!