I devoured Dredg's El Cielo. I poured through every second of the CD any chance I got. Unfortunately I could only take it second-by-second, and found myself disappointed that I couldn't swallow it whole, be completely enveloped by every minute of this CD at once. And that would be just about my only frustration with the disc.
In contrast with my desire to experience the entire album instantaneously, bleeding it dry in one fell swoop, El Cielo is more of a methodical bloodletting. Singer Gavin Hayes has a love-affair with Thom Yorke's (Radiohead) trademark falsetto throughout most of the album. His voice is celestial, as the name of the CD implies. Throughout the album, Gavin's voice soars miles above the flowing music, but by no means does he hog the spotlight; he has incredible instrumentalists crafting layers of sedimentary music beneath him. The drums are off-time, creative, monumental and boast cymbal work unparalleled since Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West.. The guitars weave together to form complex melodies to enshrine the bass, rarely an overpowering instrument but prominent on El Cielo.
Dredg have been hailed as all sorts of absurd things (nu-metal gods, for example). They are not nu-metal. Think Tool combined with Radiohead. They have the dark, distortion-driven tendencies of Tool, but the despair and spaciousness of Radiohead.
El Cielo is a concept album consisting of a few "movements." These "movements" are separated by five "Brushstrokes." These are shorter interludes, mostly instrumental, and serve as transitions between the varying moods of each "movement." The underlying concept of the album is that of "sleep paralysis." Lots of terms in quotes, I know, but this is "art-rock." Shit, I did it again. Anyway, the entire point of the album, "sleep paralysis", is highlighted in the CD pamphlet; every song is based on a different letter presented in the booklet. The letters are terrifying, and give a real insight into this little-known affliction. It's incredibly interesting; the booklet alone is worth the price for the CD.
The first real (non-Brushstroke) track, "Same Ol' Road", is a moving song with drum-and-base verses, a floating guitar part, and a weightless chorus. "We must march on, though we bleed, we must march on." The album is summed up in one line. Track three, "Sanzen", is another example of Gavin's weightless choruses. Though the verse is hardly memorable, the chorus alone makes the song an instant work of art. "I'm Sorry but It's Over" is a desolate landscape. A distant guitar part soars to peaks and cuts valleys throughout most of the song, only to build up in grand fashion to another chorus that floats miles above the listener. "Convalescent" is about as poppy as the album gets, yet the subject matter screams of the isolation that a victim of sleep paralysis must feel; "Maybe you've never seen it, maybe you've never been through it, it's the only way to understand it." Exotically distorted vocals kick off "Eighteen People Living in Harmony", and the staccato verse contrasts sharply with the flowing chorus. Some tastefully placed orchestration adorns the bridge. "Scissor Lock", despite having a really cool song title, is about as solemn as the record gets. Gavin sounds as if he's singing in a forest, and this is the first time he mentions the subject of the record directly.
"Whoa Is Me" is off-time and somewhat quirky. Omnipresent, the distortion-driven, flying chorus bores its way into the heart and brain. The final track, "The Canyon Behind Her", is a six-plus minute opus, driven at times by piano, at times by power chords. It ranges from the serene to the disturbed to the chaotic, much like the rest of the album or the victim of sleep paralysis. It's triumphant and soaring, and late in the song, the echo effect present ever-so-slightly on Gavin's vocals throughout the record is maxed out, as if he really were singing in a deep canyon. That is a feeling that exists in the caverns of the brain for most of the record, and here it is flung to the forefront. "Does anyone else feel this way?" Chanting monks join Gavin for the final chorus, and continue in solitude to finish off the song and the album. It's a peaceful ending to a chaotic record; the ever-plagued victim of sleep paralysis is finally able to achieve sleep without the fear, the evil presence; this is a resolution where resolutions are expected least. The hopelessness established throughout most of the record is put to rest.
The record is sweeping in effect, thanks in no small part to extremely talented musicians and producers. The production could not be more attuned to the mood of the album; at times it sounds peaceful; at others, it is restless, chaotic. The producers (a few were employed to create variation in the record) must have read up a lot on sleep paralysis. Though the lyrics can sound flat and uninspired at times, having a concrete subject for the entire album keeps them on track. Also, instrumental and vocal moods this deep can mask any lyrical missteps. Even a ten page review couldn't contain this record; El Cielo is an essential addition to any music lover's collection. Just turn off the lights, press play, and make sure you don't fall asleep.
Vocals - 9.1
Instrumentation - 8.9
Production - 9.3
Cover Art/Booklet - 10.0
Overall score (not an average): 9.1