BRAINDANCE – Fear Itself

When I first heard this band back in the mid-nineties, they sounded like the most intense, frenzied and adventurous band to be associated with the progressive metal scene. Back then, aside from a handful of American bands breaking through (spearheaded as always by the mighty Dream Theater), it was still a very much niche subgenre.

Obviously, since that time, the prog-metal scene has become huge, with lots of bands springing up; mostly from mainland Europe and mostly with female singers fusing progessive metal roots with gothic metal and neo-operatic influences. In 1995, one of the first bands I heard doing anything similar were Braindance and over a decade later, they still remain somehow more inventive than any of their contemporaries.

Hailing from NYC, Braindance aren’t your typical prog-metal band. Progressive metal it may be, but the band bill themselves as ‘cinematic new romantic progressive new age gothic metal fusion’. Intrigued? Slightly confused? (Anyone who says ‘no’ is a liar).

Aside from their refusal to be musically pigeon-holed, they also create a mystique around themselves. According to an early press release from the mid-nineties, their then bassist, Eiki Matsumoko, claimed to be ‘a multi-disciplined warrior transplanted from Japan, who proceeds with a focused attack unparalleled in the realm of electric energy’. It would appear that everyday sanity is all but a past luxury for this man. Based upon his work on the earlier Braindance releases, he is, however, an excellent bassist; as you’d imagine, his complicated bass parts compliment the work of Braindance’s drumming bod, Notorious (who remained with the band until 1998), perfectly. Notorious (I’ll bet his real name is Lionel), plays a combination of acoustic and electronic drums and by the time I discovered Braindance, he’d been playing in bands on the NY club scene for over a decade. His style of playing is strong, but occasionally erratic, as you’d expect from someone specializing in this style of progressive metal.

Sebastian Elliot (vocals), is a singer with a fantastic range. Sounding like a cross between Queensryche’s Geoff Tate and the late Geoff Mann of UK cult prog-pop heroes Twelfth Night, would ensure that he would be a great front man for many prog outfits; for Braindance, however, this is not enough. For maximum effect, he also sings in a very deep baritone, bringing in a strong goth-metal influence (Type O Negative spring to mind regularly).

Vora Vor is the band’s guitarist and by 1995 was a veteran of the NY rock club scene and classical concert stage. Her playing can only be described as amazing. Playing heavy, crunching riffs interspersed with fast, widdly (technical term) solos, she gives the band a serious cutting edge. Left with the difficult task of holding the band together is Robynne Naylor (the last to join the band in 1996), who creates a blanket of swirly keyboards for Vora to play over.

The first commercial release for Braindance was the cassette only EP, ‘Shadows’, in 1994. Boasting five tracks in over 40 minutes, the band
takes the listener through a variety of moods, each one as intense as the one before. The opening number, ‘Awareness’, kicks in with a woman screaming followed by a chunky Dream Theater style riff, followed by trippy keyboard work. This mixture of light and heavy is typical of the band’s work on this early release (which finally became available as mp3s in 2008).

Of the other songs featured on the EP, ‘To Live In Shadow’ carries on from where ‘Awareness’ finished; ‘All Fall Down’ has to be Braindance’s answer to Queensyche’s ‘Silent Lucidity’ (so that’ll appeal to the soppies among you) and ‘Tears’ is a six minute soundscape of keyboards, which is preferable to it being a cover of that crappy song from Rush’s ‘2112’.

That brings us up to speed and Braindance’s debut full length CD, ‘Fear Itself’. While there are lots of elements here which are similar to the ‘Shadows’ EP, for this album the band have opted for a far more goth-metal approach, with the Type O Negative influences more upfront.
The album begins with a man giving a huge speech regarding aliens landing on Earth and throughout the album, samples are used to great effect. There are samples here of Darth Vader (yay!) and Richard Briers. How did a goth-prog-metal fusion band from New York end up with a Richard Briers sample?!

‘Crime & Punishment’ focuses on the bands electronica influnces. A keyboard led piece, it manages to feel both cinematic and ambient.
With only a keyboard, a pulse beat and samples to carry it, you’d think it’d drag and feel like filler, but somehow it holds the listener’s attention and provides respite from the more intense moments of ‘Fear Itself’. This leads into ‘One’, a brooding ballad which sounds like Pete Steele fronting Dream Theater. The mid section, featuring chorus vocals works excellently with both male and female voices. The only downside is that is rather brief. The title track is mostly instrumental and has a pulsing nature on the slower sections. While essentially a showcase for Vor’s guitar, it features brief, Yes-inspired vocals.
‘Compound Fracture’ is a very much a centrepiece for ‘Fear Itself’. This thirteen minute epic features some fantastic guitar work. Rhythmically, it’s one of the album’s most complex pieces.

For me, the true standout moments include the slightly arabic feel on the vocal melodies of ‘Only A Moment’ and the goth-pop of ‘Voices Are Calling’, which turns all neo-progressive rock at the end, like a hybrid of Shadow Gallery and classic Yes (reprising the vocal section from the title track). In reality, though, ‘Fear Itself’ is a disc with something to offer most fans of progressive metal.

If you’d like to know more about Braindance, visit their website.

January 2010 (Some material written for Fastlane magazine, late 1996)