How I had yet to discover Malpractice—a Finnish act featuring members of Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium—is beyond me, but thankfully their impressive Sensory Records-released fourth album, Turning Tides, managed to cross my path recently.
To my recollection, I had never even heard of Malpractice when I received a promotional email touting a 26-minute documentary about the making of Turning Tides, and the six-year gap since the band's prior outing, 2008's Triangular. Nothing about the email particularly grabbed my attention, but I happened to have some time on my hands, and tend to enjoy behind the scenes featurettes, so I gave it a shot.
Right away, I was intrigued. The album seemed promising. But then, just shy of four minutes into the documentary, it happened: if the email itself had failed to truly grab my attention, the band's music succeeded. Big time. That riff (which turned out to be the opening from "Weight of the World"):
Holy shit! It was like Rust in Peace meets Racer X! And according to the documentary, the band's prior record label wasn't even interested in hearing these tracks at all!? Fucking hysterical! Are they deaf!?
That was it. I was sold. I had to hear this album immediately.
My initial reaction turned out to be a pretty solid point of reference for the album as a whole: Rust in Peace meets Racer X with Dream Theater occasionally interrupting the conversation. With Turning Tides, Malpractice delivers seven tracks/44 minutes of superb, thrash-laden progressive metal that's overflowing with top-notch riffs and fluid, memorable songwriting—not to mention loads of gorgeous vocal harmonies and well-crafted guitar solos that perfectly balance flair with substance. All in all it's misleadingly catchy and immediate, which obscures the fact that there's quite a bit of technicality and high-level musicianship involved.
The way "Best Kept Secret" opens piece by piece with right guitar, left guitar, then bass immediately followed by drums is a sure sign that the album's a winner, right off the bat. And that opening riff from "Weight of the World," as cited above? Fucking incredible. That's gotta be one of the single best riffs I've heard since the early-'90s. Just mind-blowingly ripping.
A similar approach kicks off the awesomely high-energy "State Within a State," which has a little bit of a (far less annoying) "Sweating Bullets" thing goin' on during the verses, but otherwise turns out to provide one of my favorite vocal performances of the album; and the epic 15-minute title track opens with finger-picked acoustic guitar over a wash of synths and subtle field recordings, building into a more consistently midpaced composition whose length aids its presence as one of the most obviously narrative pieces in the album's overall theme.
Pretty much every song's a keeper, from the darkly dissonant melodies of "Irony Tower," to the zippy bounce and catchy chorus of "Out." I could do without the instrumental, "Symphony of Urban Discomfort," which leans in a harsher and more chaotic direction, but still touches on some Spiral Architect-like runs (to bring up another glowing Sensory Records masterpiece); and I do understand its purpose within the context of the album's concept.
Speaking of which, I haven't seen the lyrics yet because I still need to grab a physical copy of the CD, and there's no sense in paraphrasing the band; so, in their own words:
The lyrical theme of the album is about a guy who is very well-educated. In fact so educated and talented that he can't land a job for himself due to over-education. He kind of falls in between things and ends up in the suburbs, unemployed and frustrated. He is "the best kept secret," since no one wants to hire him. His life and sanity starts to fall apart due to his frustration and depression. He tries to fight the system but always ends up deeper and deeper in apathy. The story can be somewhat related to Malpractice's struggle to make it for two decades already. The question is: "Is the guy me? You? Or every one of us?"
Turning Tides was expertly recorded by the band as well. Guitars and vocals are central; with warm, natural drum tones (god damn, how I wish all bands would follow this example) and just enough bass pulsing away at the core of the mix. Much like the songwriting, there's a certain feeling of stripped down simplicity to the production that counters all of the subtle intricacies involved—loads of complex panning and layering and careful details that will continue to reveal themselves over time—and everything comes across shockingly crisp and clear. Very impressive.
I really need to pick up Malpractice's prior albums now, 'cause Turning Tides is absolutely excellent. It's rare—especially these days—for a band to strike such a nice balance between technicality and quality songwriting, but this material is never complex just for the hell of it, the progressive elements aren't bloated, and its catchiness never feels out of place.
Easily one of the best metal albums of the year, it will be a crime if it flies under the radar. I'm so damn glad Sensory/Laser's Edge picked this up, as it would've been an absolute disgrace to music if the band had given up the fight and this album went unheard. I haven't been this excited about a contemporary metal album in a long, long time, and can't recommend this highly enough.