TURBULENCE – Binary Dream

Turbulence’s second album – 2021’s ‘Frontal’ – was a challenging but impressive showcase for some pin-sharp musicianship. The Lebanese prog metal band managed to create a very cerebral sound that took the typical heaviness associated with the genre, and contrast that with some rather grand melodic passages. Experiencing the tuneful guitar parts cutting through parts of ‘Ignite’, or the AOR tinged vocal melodies at the heart of ‘Faceless Man’ helped to give the material a very welcome sense of balance. Although unlikely to appeal to anyone not already well versed in progressive metal, the album offered a window into a work that would just as likely cite Arena and Lalu alongside the more obvious influences from Dream Theater (yawn) and Symphony X (rarrrgh).

This follow up takes things a step further. Actually, it goes much deeper into prog metal, and occasionally explores other even heavier sounds. Some of the tracks – particularly those which centre more around the drums – even flaunt a love of extreme jazz fusion, as if someone within the Turbulence family has overdosed on old Planet X records. As such, ‘Binary Dreams’ is not only out to challenge Turbulence’s extant fans, but seemingly stop anyone else finding an easy way into their music. As a result, this album, although played with the utmost precision, comes with a huge air of elitism, all too often sharing muso explorations at the expense of actual songs and melodies.

This vibe is at its most extreme during the first half of ‘Manifestations’ which takes the core of a Dream Theater-esque/Periphery influenced sound, adds unexpected stops, throws in a few jazz quirks and then constantly lurches between jazz fusion keyboard work and a bog standard metal riff. It then goes even deeper into a djent toned jazz fusion riff overlaid by ugly keys. Chugging through the better part of six minutes in this manner leads to listener fatigue. Similarly difficult in terms of musicianship clouding melody, the bulk of ‘Theta’ clatters uneasily, with speed driven jazz rhythms sitting very uncomfortably against a flowing vocal, and ‘Hybrid’ – despite sharing an absolutely thunderous sound – plays like a heavy handed Symphony X, not only with clanking bass and drums at odds with a vocal melody, but also in the way it presents a muddy guitar tone hell bent on drowning out anything else along the way. There’s challenging, there’s musically complex, and then there’s just pure ugliness. Unfortunately, the core of this piece falls squarely within the latter category. Its six minutes are a massive chore to get through, and the fact that the band chose this as the album’s lead single speaks volumes about how much faith they actually have in their collective musical over-indulgence.

The fifteen minute ‘Binary Dream’ all too often centres around a prog metal by numbers stance, and spends too much time wallowing in self indulgent riffs. The light tenor vocals are really difficult to listen to when juxtaposed with a chunky sound. Making it even harder going, the main riff shows too much of a soulless, mechanical approach, which joined by some absolute wailing results in something that sounds like 90s prog metal regurgitated with no real love. Elsewhere, ‘Time Bridge’ manages to mutate the off-beat elements of Gentle Giant and some bog standard metal to create a jarring noise that few people would genuinely enjoy, especially when there’s a whole world of other music available at the push of a button.

Is there anything here of interest to those tentatively approaching Turbulence for the first time? The insanely heavy riff that opens ‘Theta’ is immense, and bravely injects a nu-metal tone and a massive djent riff into the typical Turbulence complexity, setting up false hope that they’ll be something more interesting afoot. Except in this case, there often isn’t. There’s also a great moment hidden within ‘Manifestations’ when the guitars fall away to reveal a superb funk bass, played with all the style and sass of an old Headhunters recording. A cleaner toned guitar solo buried in the second half of that same track also shows potential greatness, so it’s particularly galling to have such marvellous jazz skills often masked by sludgy and boring prog metal tropes.

Those with slightly more patient ears might notice a vague nod to the Genesis classic ‘Eleventh Earl of Mar’ during the intro to ‘Binary Dream’, and the muscular bass that drives bits of the groove laden arrangement has a really impressive presence. Later in the same track, assuming you’ve not already attempted to claw off your own ears, there’s a solo with a pleasingly clean tone, leaning much further towards classic sounding prog – or at least it would, if only it hadn’t been half buried by more heavy mechanics.

Among the bloat and self indulgence, you’ll find three actual songs, and the first of these (‘Ternary’) is an obvious Porcupine Tree/Pineapple rip off with its half hushed vocal set against a cold melody, before a jazz toned guitar drops some fine soloing over a machine-like rhythm. Despite a lack of originality, it at least isn’t skull-crushingly dull. That’s not to say it’s in any way essential listening – it arrives, ambles, and eventually settles into a heavy-ish riff with a hint of Godsticks, but never really does anything of lasting interest. It isn’t until the eleventh hour that Turbulence actually share anything that feels natural. The double whammy of ‘Corrosion’ and ‘Deerosion’ – used to close the album – explores more of an old style of prog in places. A more spacious approach allows a clean guitar during the former to hint at past works by Ant Phillips in a hugely unexpected twist, and the accompanying vocal takes the style of ‘Tenary’ and expands on that with a more assured performance. A melodic metal/classic prog sound shares something that sounds as if it were pulled from deep within the Arena catalogue, before the brilliant ‘Derosion’ works some soundtrack worthy guitar work in an epic style. Even once the heavier moments kick in on this album closer, the bigger concession to a melodic rock influence really suits the band. The guitar tone is absolutely fabulous, and the orchestral sounding keys lend a grandiosity that – finally – feels really natural. Why couldn’t Turbulence have offered more material of this calibre? It’s great, but it’s unlikely that many listeners will actually make it this far. These flashes of brilliance that call back to earlier Turbulence works suggest there could be some enjoyment to be gleaned from future endeavours, and that the band haven’t been completely derailed by their own musical egos. It’s such a pity that, this time around, their gifts for a strong melody all too often get left behind – or in this case, tucked away at the end of what feels like a very long album – and treated like some kind of inferior afterthought.

This album is difficult at best, and purely ugly at worst. It all too often lacks melodies and isn’t too big on actual songs. There are some superb moments, but these are often buried within a world of metal induced bloat, and there’s little here – at least before ‘Corrosion’ – that manages to sustain a great track from start to finish. To call this record “challenging” would be an understatement. While there’s no doubt these guys can play, and those drums are especially impressive, when faced with something that sounds like prog metal musicians battling against each other interspersed by bits from a skipping CD by Liquid Tension Experiment, this becomes an album that, unfortunately, is for hardened – or maybe even foolhardy – prog metal obsessives only.

Buy the CD here: Turbulence – Binary Dream

January/February 2024