Album Review: Head with Wings, “Comfort in Illusion”

When I am asked to think of independent bands or artists that genuinely try to deliver the best product they possibly can, one of the first bands that comes to mind is Head with Wings.  Perhaps one of the cleanest metal bands in terms of both guitar tones and overall production, the Connecticut quintet has developed a reputation in delivering a modern sound with progressive rock elements that are subtle and refreshing.  The amount of work that this band puts in to composition, production, and distribution is professional and immensely encouraging to see in the independent prog-metal community.

Comfort in Illusion begins with an abrupt crash into clean, melodic mysticism that is not far from the style brought previously from the band.  Much of Head with Wings’ music has always centered around guitarists Brandon Cousino and Mike Short exchanging arpeggios with the distortion turned down; but, the gloominess and heaviness of both the lyrical content and the production gives way to a sound that I can only describe as “clean metal.”  And to tell you the truth, after hearing just the first couple minutes of “Of Certainty,” I am certain when I say that they have mastered this style.  Packed into just seven minutes, the first track on the EP could be seen as a modern epic dealing with lyrical themes of doubt and depression.  One thing to note are the multiple movement transitions in this song, one of which leads to a section where the dismal first verse is reprised lyrically while the band hunkers down and turns up the gain considerably (and boy, does it get freaking groovy there for a second).  The grit turns down as the end of the track nears, closing with an uplifting message that differs from the previous six minutes.

The shortest number belongs to the second track, “Contemplating the Loop.”  Another song driven by arpeggiated guitar melodies, the tempo and mood changes often associated with Head with Wings lasts only for short bursts.  The chorus of the song almost has two identities, flipping back and forth from the familiar slow tempo to an upbeat dance.  One little thing I love is a little lick that Mike Short does at the end of the first chorus; I only guess it is him due to his contributions with another Connecticut-based band, Black River Union.  On this middle track, vocalist Joshua Corum pens lyrics that truly open up the album’s concept.  The character from the first track seems to make their way to this one, the depression and doubtfulness now leading to cynicism and eventually recklessness.  A scary story soaked in potential reality, one wonders what is to come of the last track.

So, how did these guys end the EP? Well, with the first song they released for it, “In a House Without Clocks.” The grit is truly honed in this song, with a majority of it consisting of high-gain, shimmering guitar playing. From huge chords, to legato melodies complementing the vocals, to a Maiden-esque bridge, this song is just freaking metal. But do not let all of that distract you from the booming bass coming from Steve Hill, as well as drummer Adam Testa’s most dynamic drumming on the album. Lyrically, the story takes as much a bombastic turn as the music, highlighting a heinous crime about to be committed in the perspective of the perpetrator. Perhaps Corum wrote this whole album as more of a metaphor, but the lyrics beckon you toward something quite literal. The ultimate climax to the album’s narrative comes with an immense bang, and quickly concludes the 18-minute story.

The EP itself is a cohesive listen packed into under 20 minutes, but Head with Wings decided to go an extra step for the release. On the day of the release, the band also brought us an expanded edition of the EP, triple the length of the standard version. Included in this are cinematic renditions of each of the three tracks featuring pianist/keyboardist and composer Vikram Shankar (Silent Skies, Lux Terminus, Redemption), as well as instrumental versions of the three EP tracks. Listening to this in its entirety is a must, as each EP track is followed by their appropriate Shankar remix, making the album a more sonically dynamic listening experience. After hearing one of the songs from the EP, you’re brought into a fresh atmosphere that reminisces on what you just listened to, while amazingly not sounding redundant. The instrumental tracks round out the last third of the album, and a clever decision was made to change the track listing for the these tracks, as the vocal-less version of “Contemplating the Loop” precedes “Of Certainty.” It is rather hard to explain, but once you hear it, it makes complete sense. That minor song swap, along with Vikram Shankar’s efforts, helped make this extended EP a truly captivating hour of modern progressive music.

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