A LIFE ONCE LOST's forced hiatus in recent years (initiated by bike-riding guitarist Doug Sabolick's freak collision with a car in 2009) nearly spelled the band's demise, opening the door for erstwhile bandmates to gradually wander off to pastures new amid the downtime (drummer Justin Graves, most interestingly, launching a new career in physical fitness!), and leaving only vocalist Bob Meadows to share the load with Sabolick.
Then came a business separation with the band's longtime label home, Ferret Records, followed by a new deal with Season of Mist, and, at last, proof of life via the release of A LIFE ONCE LOST's sixth album overall, 2012's tellingly named "Ecstatic Trance". In a development that's actually all too fitting for a band diced down to its original singer and guitarist, but otherwise supported by probably part-time henchmen, the rhythm section appears to be pretty much coming along for the ride across the bulk of "Ecstatic Trance"'s material.
Song after song here centers on repetitive riff patterns imbued with an almost industrial recording discipline, powered by irregular drum patters, and backed with howling phantasmagorical textures meandering between tonality and atonality. At best, the songs are hypnotic, helped along by serpentine guitar leads often alluding to modal or even Eastern music flavors that make standouts of "Something Awful", "Madness is God", and "People Stare".
At worst they're simply mind-numbingly dull ("The Blues", "I See, I Hear"); but invariably, highlights and lowlights alike bear the clear influence of MESHUGGAH like a newly carved (and possibly regret-bound) tattoo - especially when the supporting percussion gets a little wonky and Bob Meadows' vocals particularly discordant (see "Miracle Worker", "I Sit Still").
If any one song lingers in the memory banks after just one listen, it may be "Empty Form", thanks to Sabolick's distinctively psychedelic lead work. If any leads to increased head scratching, it's the flawed and disorienting "Gnawing Lisp", which sounds like metalcore hobbling along with a pronounced limp.
The same comparison could be applied to A LIFE ONCE LOST's resurrected career prospects, come to think of it. But give the 'band' some credit for bouncing back and delivering this belated sixth album under any circumstance, not to mention trying to keep things interesting in the process. Whether the sonic evolution involved gives the band new life or nails their coffin shut, it sure beats treading water.
Time will tell.
- Eduardo Rivadavia