LOWER 13 – Deception EP

By mixing elements of thrash and prog metal, Lower 13 have always taken a more interesting approach to constructing huge riffs than a lot of bands, but on their ‘Deception’ EP, their aggressive style takes a giant leap forward.

Right from the moment the opening track hits, it’s clear they have no regard for being pigeonholed into one metal subgenre. The brilliant ‘More Time’ kicks off with a wall of tech metal synths before throwing itself into a massive sounding arrangement that blends classic thrash with a metalcore edge. That’s enough to grab the listeners’ attention, but once the verse finds its feet, a huge wave of hardcore vocals increases the aggression to the point where you think the band will implode. As if to diffuse this, the chorus ushers in a massive melody where a more traditional prog metal sound is explored, utilising some excellent harmony vocals over a slow burning hook. Determined to blow everyone away with their aggressive melting pot of sound, they re-introduce the earlier keyboard loops for extra tech-prog coolness during a busy mid section, find time for a huge lead guitar break straight from the Periphery school of prog metal, and even descale the tension by dropping the riffs to allow the melodic chorus vocals more space of their own. In lesser hands, this could’ve been a mess, but Lower 13 are as tight as hell throughout, and the results are superb. The track could be little tiring if not approached in the right mood, but it’s superb nonetheless.

The equally epic ‘You Just Left Her’ places a deep, grinding guitar riff atop pneumatic drums, blending bits of metalcore and djent in a way that, again, brings out the best in the band’s heavier side. The addition of a huge, clean vocal really helps to bring a melodic counterpoint throughout, and the fact that the huge, crying notes often sound like the work of Threshold’s Damian Wilson certainly ensures that huge swathes of this brilliant track fall more squarely within the prog metal bracket. As before, though, Lower 13 aren’t content with leaving the arrangement there – even though it would’ve sustained the relatively simple approach throughout – and they add a middle eight where a different vocal and thin sounding guitars borrow from a Stone Sour-ish influence, before a massively crunchy riff and a huge choir of vocals makes great use of a melody. A deftly played guitar solo hints at a love for peak Symphony X, and a huge build up to an unexpected fade makes great use of pneumatic drums and heavily muted guitar riffs to give the material a brilliantly mechanical feel. In terms of a prog metal/djent/alternative metal fusion, this is another track that is pretty much perfect.

‘Holding On To Misery’ feels a little less proggy at first due to a lack of keys, but a closer ear reveals just as much of a prog metal slant within its riffs, and the strange mismatch between sharp, insanely heavy guitar work and melodic vocal – closer to bands like Bullet For My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold than your typical proggy metal folks – shows just as much desire to push the genre into less familiar territory. As the number progresses, the contrast between aggression and melody continues to impress, especially in the way the band manage to make a huge, melodic voice flow above such a brutal riff and make it sound natural, and once a brief descent into melodic death metal pneumatics uncovers an even more uncompromising sound, the band sound unstoppable. Realising such ferocity could burn out their audience, a retreat into bigger melodies unveils a prog metal riff that sounds like Symphony X channelling Iron Maiden from 1985, before the big vocal hook returns to steer everything towards its inevitable end. This doesn’t match ‘More Time’ for huge musical thrills, but in showing off a few different musical traits from within the Lower 13 arsenal, it does a terrific job.

Elsewhere, ‘Your Love’s A Curse’ mixes brilliant thrash with some spot on hardcore breakdowns, but moving even further into a pure metal sound and it’s the kind of track that’ll attract some different ears, whilst in terms of mixing styles, ‘The One To Blame’ somehow manages to take one of Slayer’s slower riffs, augment it with more of a progressive metal tone, then contrast that with a huge melodic metal vocal and chorus without everything sounding like a giant mess. If anything sticks here, it’s the way in which the number really telegraphs the fact that this band loves a huge, accessible melody, even if it sometimes feels as if their more melodic talents take a back seat at times. There’s very little here that sounds like the same band who shared ‘Your Love’s A Curse’ and ‘More Time’, but the end result is still enjoyable.

Even if this EP sometimes sounds more like a show of musical prowess in lieu of instantly catchy material, then so be it – in terms of pure musicianship, it’s impossible not to be mightily impressed. Lower 13 help progressive metal take stratospheric leaps forward with ‘Deception’. It’s massively technical, insanely heavy in places, and never afraid to mix styles in a way that can feel a little confronting. However, with a massive production sound and some top level, hugely dirty riffs, it’s a release that presents a sound that leaves a world of other progressive metal bands in the dust.

Visit Lower 13 on Facebook here.

October/November 2023