The Cancer Conspiracy - Ω (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Cancer Conspiracy

Ω (2008)

Radar / Gilead Media

The phrase "prog-rock" brings up dreaded thoughts of bloated, 70-minute-plus albums full of guitar masturbation and songs long enough for DJs to spin one track while taking a bathroom and snack break. Maybe that's why the Cancer Conspiracy's Ω, full of lively and gripping yet hardly overbearing arrangements and a comparatively meager 37-minute running time via 8 tracks, is so refreshing.

When the Cancer Conspiracy originally formed seven or eight years ago, two of its members had derived from the Vermont hardcore scene, and perhaps that's why Ω is such a comparatively concise release considering the genre's usual marathon lengths. Like their last full-length, 2002's The Audio Medium, Ω is a release that may garner comparisons to prog-rock behemoths of yesteryear -- namely, King Crimson (a surefire influence on the band). However, not once does Ω reek of thick pot smoke, bad retro-fitting or snoozeworthy worship. Ω still would have sounded drastically out of place in the 1970s, and not only because it wields Matt Squire's shiny -- yet, for once, modest (see the Receiving End of Sirens' Between the Heart and the Synapse for a counterpart) -- 21st century production, but because it stylistically draws from differing pools.

With no vocalist, the Cancer Conspiracy tends to find an apt replacement for a commanding centerpiece. In "i," it's a pleasing horn accompaniment that makes for a brief, easily pulling intro. In "ii," it's a strong guitar lead that really drives the song, with mathy, gently winding textures to boot.

Further songs find the band dabbling in different subgenres, with subtle traces of Hydra Head-style hardcore/metal and Don Cab-lended math rock creating a varied and tasty palette. Formidable crescendos from the mix and careful programming layers (see "iv") really complete the meal. Check out the contrast of jagged against more layered, wandering riffs in "v," too.

Ω took so long to see the light of day that the Cancer Conspiracy decided to bow out with this as their gravestone, which is rather unfortunate. Ω certainly isn't an everyday listen, but it's a curious, clever and compelling one that proves the Cancer Conspiracy were ambitious (and successful) undertakers.