I’ve been thinking recently that extreme metal could use more clean vocals. Not a popular opinion, I know (I do realize that harsh vocals are at least 50% of what makes extreme metal extreme). And while The DRX does not fit squarely into the category of extreme metal, the avant-bent project’s new album Throughout Within does contain a bunch of super anguished death growls, so bear with me.
Those growls are used as emotional accents or as the crests to the tides of intensity which rise amid the more serene clean vocals of the band’s primary instrumentalist and composer, Dan Romans. A veritable cornucopia of voices adorn this record, but his fragile and emotive crooning is the star of the show.
Romans is not the first to borrow facets of extreme metal to construct progressive chamber orchestrations. For the past five years he has been toiling rather quietly in the shadows of neighboring genre mutants and miscegenetic luminaries. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that he continually exceeds the boundaries of standard rock instrumentation to include woodwinds, strings and choirs. Nor should it come as a surprise, after listening to Throughout Within in full, that it was crafted using members of Kayo Dot, Psalm Zero and Stern. The New York scene from which The DRX has arisen is as incestuous as it is exciting—and the elements that were birthed there are perhaps nowhere as focused as through the eyes of Romans. Like the short-lived Mare (not a New York band but shut up) or Nucleus Torn (also not a NY band, also shut up) or Kayo Dot (NY band, happy now?) before him, he deploys a wide array of instruments to build expansive songs full of shifting hues and conflicting moods. Yet he never goes weird for the sake of weird, and has a keen enough narrative sense to guide even the not-so-adventurous listener safely through these shifts and conflicts.
And though the album is replete with moments of brooding, darkness and violence, there is always a palpable sense of hope. Romans maintains this fundamentally optimistic tone by never shying away from bombastic major key segments, which are often carried by his backing vocal choir, a method which to my ear is used more effectively on Throughout Within than anywhere else I’ve heard it.
Progressive or avant-garde music is often accused (and often rightly so) of being self-indulgent. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-indulgence; if you’re anything like me you find it preferable. On most accounts I don’t believe Throughout Within is a self-indulgent record in the negative sense. For instance, it employs essentially the same instrumentation and tonal palate as any record by Hadean, yet sounds markedly more reserved. That is, until you consider Romans’s clean vocals. Yes, they are emotive. Yes, they provide a coherent through-line for the kaleidoscopic instrumentation. Yes, they sing simple melodies that you will be humming to yourself later. But something about them annoys me, and that sense of annoyance never diminishes, which is strange given how many not-the-greatest vocalists have become my favorites. So I’ll have to chalk it up to a case of these vocals may be for you but they are definitely not for me. More often than not Romans’s voice is embarrassingly earnest, soulful to an overbearing degree. If he had trimmed his clean vocal presence, he might have had a masterpiece on his hands. But on this point, at last, his self-indulgence wins out. It doesn’t sink the ship, but it sure does poke a few holes in the bottom.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell