For something recorded in a bedroom, this 2011 EP by Returning We Hear The Larks has a great amount of oomph behind it. The band isn’t a band at all, but the work of multi-instrumentalist Jak Noble, chiefly a seven stringed guitarist – but listening to this release, he’s gifted in most other aspects of his music too. Granted, the drums are programmed, but when constructed as well as they are here, it doesn’t matter too much. [See also Devin Townsend’s ‘Ziltoid The Omniscient’]. Noble’s chosen style fuses progressive metal and alternative metal; naturally his recordings feature a bias toward the “djent” sound at times [the onomatopoeic sound made by heavy riffing from seven or eight stringed guitars]. For fans of the more aggressive end of progressive metal, Returning We Hear The Larks is a project with a great appeal.

Kicking off a quartet of numbers inspired by The War of The Roses (though the concept appears to be rather loose; a theme rather than a strict narrative), ‘Uprising’ begins with an off-beat rhythm. Its intro builds until the guitars crunch through and Noble’s vocal makes an initial impact. His vocal has a sound somewhere between Devin Townsend at his most shouty and a throaty growl, which although takes a little tuning in, works well throughout the number. It is especially effective when counterbalanced against a clear alternative rock vocal which carries a tiny hint of Faith No More. The heavy bass which runs through the short instrumental ‘Unrest’ has a fantastic presence, while the guitars lay down a repetitive hypnotic riff. For a self-produced, self-financed release, the bottom-end has a great sound.

‘Vendetta’ opens with a piece of music which is the polar opposite of ‘Uprising’, as Noble offers atmospheric, clean-toned guitar lines over a blanket of keyboards and a chugging bass, which naturally gets joined by a similarly aggressive guitar riff. The main riff sustains the next couple of minutes, before falling away to reveal an echoed vocal. Before long, the chugging riff returns with a complimentary heavy vocal. The lighter atmospheres aren’t completely crushed through, and the ring of the clean toned guitar adds a pleasing atmosphere. While the track still falls into the heavy end of progressive metal, there’s a hint of Mushroomhead about its overall construction. The closing moments, with pneumatic drum sounds and screaming vocals present the heaviest aspect of Noble’s work. The muddy tone driving the main riff of ‘Conquest’ has a grinding nu-metal edge due to Noble’s use of seven string guitar. The down-tuned sludge is joined by a similar vocal to that used during ‘Vendetta’s closing moments. However, before long, a choir of clean vocals and keyboards provide an expected contrast, after which Noble returns things to a Pain of Salvation meets Meshuggah vibe, before closing things with a full-on, classic sounding progressive metal riff.

‘Proud England’s only real weakness is its short duration. By the time the last notes of ‘Conquest’ have faded, chances are you’ve just started to really enjoy what’s on offer. There are moments here which aren’t quite as atmospheric as parts of 2010’s predecessor ‘Ypres’, and obviously ‘Proud England’s main difference is the inclusion of vocals. Despite venturing into new territory, those already familiar with Returning We Hear The Larks should not be disappointed.

March 2011