Canvas Solaris: Penumbra Diffuse (2006)

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Canvas Solaris: Penumbra Diffuse
Music is all about growth, and sometimes that can come from the most unlikely places. Canvas Solaris emerged out of Georgia in 1999 as yet another death metal band on a heavily populated scene. While some might argue that the relentless aural assault of the genre makes it a challenge to differentiate many of its players, they would be neglecting the undeniable technical skill required to execute its rapid-fire riffs and frenetic rhythms. After dropping its singer, Canvas Solaris has more recently focused more on complex compositions that retain a frenzied metal edge but also allow the group to experiment with broader textures, moving more into the arena of progressive metal populated by bands like Voivoid and Dream Theater.

Don't trust your first impressions of Penumbra Diffuse. "Panoramic Long-Range Vertigo opens the disc with Nathan Sapp's thrashing guitar lines in full force. But after only a minute, the trio shifts gears suddenly for a brief respite. Sapp's acoustic guitars and Hunter Ginn's hand percussion hint at something more diverse before returning to aggressive irregularly-metered riffs where Sapp is doubled by bassist Ben Simpkins, as often as not.

The eleven-minute "Horizontal Radiant begins with delicate cymbal work and a sequenced synthesizer line. As the band enters Sapp layers a series of clean-toned, chorused guitar patterns—the kind of elliptical counterpoint that has defined King Crimson since the early 1980s, though the main theme is more overtly lyrical than anything Crimson has done in recent years. The overdriven guitars aren't far away, though, and by the four-minute mark it's back to heavily arranged episodic writing with all manner of stops and starts, mood shifts that range from aggressive thrashing to moodier, synthesizer-laden audioscapes, and acoustic guitar-driven passages that build inexorably to sudden leaps back into metal territory.

Like Indukti's S.U.S.A.R. (Laser's Edge, 2005), Penumbra Diffuse requires multiple listens to appreciate its worth, unless you're already a fan of metal-edged music. While the bombast quotient is high, so is a more diverse musical aesthetic. For every "Accounts in Mutual Silence, with its unyielding energy and weighty approach, there's a "Vaihayasa, all acoustic guitars, mandolin, tablas and clay drums sporting a distinctly East Indian vibe. The tracks may seems worlds apart, but they're linked by Canvas Solaris' intricate writing. Individual segments of a tune might suddenly appear to be non sequiturs but then, when taken as a whole, they demonstrate remarkable sense and unassailable logic.

The formidable players in Canvas Solaris also differentiate themselves by almost entirely avoiding excess in the soloing department. The material is so detailed, in fact, that it's hard to tell if there's actually any soloing going on at all.

The problem with extreme genres like death metal is their unrelentingly aggressive nature. By opening up to wider sources, Canvas Solaris has escaped the genre's almost inherent monotony and instead evolved into a more progressive band that will be well worth watching.

Track Listing: Panoramic Long-Range Vertigo; Horizontal Radiant; Accidents in Mutual Silence; Vaihayasa; To Fracture; Psychotropic Resonance; Luminescence.

Personnel: Nathan Sapp: lead/rhythm guitars, 6-string and 12-string acoustic guitars, MicroMoog synthesizer, guitar synthesizer, Korg Poly-61 synthesizer, Yamaha CS-60 synthesizer; Ben Simpkins: lead/rhythm guitars, bass guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, mandolin, Roland RS-50, Korg Poly-61 synthesizer; Hunter Ginn: drums, conga, djembe, doumbek, shaker, tabla, timpani, Moroccan clay drums, gong, guiro, castanets, tambourine, glockenspiel; Jeff Wagner: Yamaha CS-60 synthesizer (7).

Record Label: Sensory Records

Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


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