Imminent Sonic Destruction Unleashes Brutally Gorgeous Third Album
The metal masters' third album, "The Sun Will Always Set," is their best so far.
Hello and thanks once again for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. My hope is that I’m helping someone out there find new music to enjoy, whether that’s from an artist of whom they were previously unaware or an artist they’ve known for a long time but perhaps didn’t know had new music to share.
Today we’re going to talk about the marriage of progressive rock and heavy metal. In a strange turn, I spoke this week to an artist I’ve known in an online capacity for more than a decade but have never met in person. That person is guitarist/vocalist Tony Piccoli of Imminent Sonic Destruction. Let’s get to that story.
The story of Michigan progressive metal band Imminent Sonic Destruction began with some homemade demo tracks by guitarist/vocalist Tony Piccoli. One of those demo songs, “Driving Home” (under the band name Mellotron, stylized as mellotrön_), was released as part of a 2005 charity album called The Tsunami Projekt, which raised money for people affected by the 2004 Asian tsunami. That was an effort driven by members of the comment forum at the official Spock’s Beard website and the album featured tracks donated by notable progressive rock artists such as IQ, Nick D’Virgilio of Spock’s Beard, former Beard front man Neal Morse, IZZ, Rick Wakeman (performing with Ajalon), and two-thirds of Rocket Scientists — Mark McCrite and Don Schiff. It also featured a lot of original music from bands who had members who frequented the Spock’s Beard forum.
“Driving Home,” a demo recorded by Piccoli at age 19 at his dad’s house, was one of 28 tracks across the two-CD set. At more than nine minutes, it was the longest song among the submissions that made the final release, and it was among the best.
A friend of Piccoli’s through the Ytse Jam message board, John “Koggie” Kotzian, introduced Piccoli’s music to several musicians that he knew from that forum and encouraged them all to make something happen together, because the songs, even in demo form, were good. Piccoli knew Bryan Paxton (bass) and former Tiles drummer Pat DeLeon prior, and knew of Pete Hopersberger (keys, vocals) through Pete’s band, Space Nelson. Along with Scott Thompson (guitar), they all kind of knew each other, but with Kotzian’s help, they came together.
“I knew them, but I didn’t really know them,” Piccoli said. “We knew each other because of the forum (Ytse Jam), DreamTheater.net and all those early pre-Facebook forums. I knew Bryan forever ago. He was in a band called JustDefy and I jammed with them once or twice.”
The five musicians took to each other quickly and gelled as a band. The lineup has been together since 2007 and Piccoli describes the other four as “brothers.”
The band’s And Go EP came out in 2008, featuring five tracks and about a 35-minute total run time. One of those tracks was “Driving Home.” The song once again was one of the highlights, along with “With Death, This Story Ends.”
As with most bands with members who have “normal jobs,” mellotrön_ played live when it could, while crafting material for their first full-length album. But before the band could release Recurring Themes in 2012 — led off by a fuller, more polished version of “Driving Home” — mellotrön_ was forced to undergo a name change.
“So, there were a couple years there when we were operating as mellotrön_,” Piccoli said. “We even released an EP. And that was just like the name I came up with forever ago, before the band was even a real band. And I was just like, ‘Yeah, this is awesome,’ because it's one of my favorite instruments, and so we carried that name on. While we were doing that, our good buddy and friend (Kotzian) emailed the guy who owns the copyright for the name ‘Mellotron,’ and said, ‘Hey, just want to get your blessing and make sure this is cool.’ And three years passed when he finally responded. And his response…it was mean. He didn’t just say no, he said fuck no and threatened to sue us, and just said, ‘This is really stupid. I can’t believe anyone would do that.’ Way over the top.”
True to the band’s sense of humor, the guys had a little fun in the wake of the cease and desist order.
The band became Imminent Sonic Destruction — a moniker that fit the music and which the band had already been using as a tag line on t-shirts and marketing materials. They were letting people know right up front that their music was going to melt your face off and threaten the very integrity of the buildings in which they were performing. They had already been playing with concepts of destruction in their previous marketing materials and even to this day they use hashtags like #YourFaceWillGrowBack in reference to the power of their music and live performances.
Channeling the band’s combined love of progressive rock, heavy metal, and extreme metal, ISD took elements of various bands and mixed them together, binding those ingredients with excellent songwriting, skilled playing chops, and a thirst for experimentation. There are influences in their music from bands such as Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Meshuggah, Genesis, Strapping Young Lad, the Devin Townsend Band, Tool, Pantera, and Rush, among many others.
Imminent Sonic Destruction released its second album, Triumphia, in 2016. The band’s sophomore effort was more cohesive and found the five musicians growing as a unit. Now, six years later, ISD has built a solid following from opening for bands like Fates Warning, Leprous, and Pain of Salvation. The band’s third album, The Sun Will Always Set, will be unleashed on an unsuspecting public tomorrow.
The album represents yet another step forward for the band, which just keeps getting tighter and more cohesive. The harmony vocals are bigger and better than ever, the band continues to push its own previous boundaries, and there is a lot of progressive rock in the progressive metal of the seven songs that make up the album.
Although The Sun Will Always Set is tied together nicely by its opening track, “Arise,” and the album-closing title track, and it has heavy progressive rock influences, there isn’t a concept behind the album. Piccoli said he wanted to tie the end of the album back to the beginning the way Genesis has done in the past on albums like Selling England by the Pound. The album has some dark themes along the way but it isn’t all doom and gloom and is downright hopeful and calming in places.
“You hear, ‘Hey, you know, the sun will rise tomorrow.’ It's this optimism that comes tomorrow. And it's a good thing. We love the sunrise,” Piccoli said. “Well, I mean, the sunset is just as reliable. And just because it's the end of the day, doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing. And it too can be just as comforting. Obviously, the song ‘Arise’ is…it’s life. It's the beginning. And ‘The Sun Will Always Set’…it's the end. It's death. (The Theme is) being comfortable with that, I guess.”
“Arise” is a short, atmospheric, opening track that begins with a simple piano intro. The ethereal guest vocal provided by Lady Luna, along with a slowly building Mellotron choir and backing vocals, lift the song as it goes. More keys, some guest cello by Raphael Weinroth-Browne of Leprous, and bigger harmony backing vocals create a beautiful yet haunting effect.
Weinroth-Browne’s involvement started with Piccoli’s realization that he needed cello on “Arise.” After giving some thought to who he knew that could play cello, he realized he was Facebook friends with Weinroth-Browne.
“I messaged him and he said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ And I sent it to him and he had it to me back to the next day,” Piccoli said. “I didn't really give him much direction. I said, ‘Here's where I want you to play, just kind of do your thing.’”
The beauty of “Arise” gives way to the metallic brutality of “Fledgling,” the album’s first single.
Piccoli’s clean lead vocals almost hide among the band’s instrumental work and then blast into his brief extreme vocal passage before Hopersberger lends some more clean lead vocals during the infectious chorus. Midway through, just after a scorching Piccoli guitar solo bit and DeLeon’s rolling thunder drumming, Hopersberger plays a keyboard part that some might mistake for a guest appearance by ex-Dream Theater member Derek Sherinian. Piccoli assured me that the keyboard section was not actually Sherinian and yes, the band made it sound like him on purpose. It fits the song perfectly and illustrates the band’s Dream Theater influence. Above all, it serves the song.
Despite the presence of some extreme vocals in “Fledgling” and elsewhere on the album, Imminent Sonic Destruction doesn’t overdo it in that area. I’m not big on that vocal style myself, whether the shriek-y type stuff or death metal grunting. That’s just not my wheelhouse, as I prefer more melodic singing. Piccoli, who is also in a death metal band, has an affinity for that type of vocalization. But with ISD, the extreme vocals — both high and low — are used solely for color and emphasis. They are used sparingly (think: slightly less sparingly than how Riverside uses them to punctuate the end of a verse or line), and they don’t overwhelm those of us who prefer clean vocals all the time.
“It's meant to be an exclamation point or like, this part's intense, and so it requires a little bit more,” Piccoli said, adding that he taught himself to sing in those styles while listening to music in the car.
After hearing third track “Source” a few times, I believe the song is mainly in 4/4 (I’m not much for counting out time, and I’m no musician), but there’s so much interesting playing going on that it seems like it’s in an odd time signature. Piccoli laughed when I asked him what time signature it was in, saying he didn’t know off the top of his head and lamenting never having taken music theory lessons.
“We're just doing like the Messhugah thing, where we're doing a guitar part or whatever that's not necessarily in four and the drums are in four. I think that's all it is,” he said.
DeLeon’s drumming is strong, perfectly captured, and interesting throughout TSWAS, but perhaps more so on “Source” than any other track. There are also some interesting panning effects in the left and right channels.
“That was something I wanted to do. I just I love that shit,” Piccoli said about the panning, while having a laugh.
Fourth track, “The Core” also plays with balance right off the bat, with guitars starting in the left only and the drums entering on the right. The album truly rewards headphone listeners with some of its studio flourishes. The song features two guest musicians — guitarist Tony Asta from Michigan thrash metal band Battlecross, playing the solo, and vocalist Kevin Wroebel, who sings in Piccoli’s death metal band, Dragged Beneath. Wroebel provides some extreme vocals and “The Core” is the heaviest track on the album with regard to that type of vocal.
Piccoli said Asta and Wroebel are good friends of his, which made them perfect for the song, because of its subject matter. It’s essentially a heavy metal love letter to those to whom he is closest.
“The song ‘The Core’ is about how awesome my friends are, and my family. They are the core,” he said. “So, it’s real obvious and not as metal when you hear it explained like that, but I wanted my friend Kevin to sing on it and I had a part for him and he killed it.”
“Solitude” is a slower paced song that answers the question: How slow can a song be and still be metal, without straying into power ballad territory? This song manages that with gorgeous guitar and keyboard harmony lines and an epic ending. It’s almost orchestral.
“A lot of keyboards, tons of vocals. I think there were like 38 vocal tracks there at the ending,” Piccoli said.
In trying to find a comparison for the end of “Solitude,” it didn’t occur to me, but Piccoli discovered the unintentional analog for the song’s big finish.
“It wasn't on my mind when we recorded it, but just the other day I said to the guys, ‘You know what? This is our ‘Afterglow,’” he said, referring to the Genesis classic. “This is our big ending.”
It’s rare to hear a slow-tempo song with so much crunch and heft, but the band pulls it off with “Solitude,” which is an album highlight for me.
“Nightshade” is the album’s centerpiece epic. This 12-minute rocker feels much shorter than its run time (always the sign of a great epic) and features Piccoli and Hopersberger trading lead vocal sections, some of the band’s best group harmony vocals, and incredible yet subtle bass lines from Paxton. The bassist adds so much to all of the songs but on “Nightshade” his contributions in the quieter sections are sublime.
Piccoli said “Nightshade” was a song that wasn’t working and it was rescued by Thompson, who believed in it and wrote lyrics for it.
“It was kind of crappy. I mean, it had good parts to it, but it just became a mess,” Piccoli said. “It was just instrumental section on top of the instrumental section. It wasn't going anywhere. But Scott loved it so much. He took it home, and he wrote lyrics and melodies to parts. And then he and Pete came over and we recorded a demo version of it with all of us singing. And, obviously, the rest of it got finished after that.”
It was an excellent rescue mission from Thompson, as “Nightshade” features some standout vocals, infectious melodies, dark lyrics and remarkable playing. It hangs together well over the 12 minutes and is an impressive work. It went from a ‘mess’ of a work in progress to one of the album’s highlights. Piccoli had only a title in mind for the song and a vague idea about the dual nature of nightshades, which can either be healthy or poisonous.
“I explained that (basic nightshade concept) to him, and he ran with it in this kind of darker way, which I frickin’ love,” Piccoli said.
The title track closes things out. It’s another of the album’s longer songs at over nine minutes and it may be the best song ISD has written to date. Lyrically and thematically it ties back to “Arise,” telling the person who experienced the spark of life at the beginning of the album to step into a very different light. The repetitive “It’s all right, I’m here now, it’ll be OK, move into the light” lyrics are simultaneously soothing, comforting, and yet heartbreaking. The group harmony vocals are huge and Lady Luna returns to provide a familiar voice.
“Her voice is just angelic and it was perfect for ‘Arise,’” Piccoli said of his guest vocalist, who has her own doom metal band called Lady Luna and the Devil — which includes Wroebel, her boyfriend. “And then, of course, she comes back on the song ‘The Sun Will Always Set.’”
The Sun Will Always Set is a darkly beautiful album, and to me it represents Imminent Sonic Destruction’s best work to date. I think it will appeal to fans of progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater and the heavier periods of Porcupine Tree. Progressive rock fans who don’t mind a little heaviness and the occasional extreme vocal will also find this in their wheelhouse. Those who love Meshuggah, Tool, Pantera, and various Devin Townsend bands will also find a lot to like.
In a perfect world, this self-released album will do well enough for the band to put together some kind of tour to support it. With the band members having regular jobs, a tour is a difficult prospect and requires some up-front costs. Hopefully the band will get the opportunity to bring this album to the stage in some capacity outside of ISD’s upcoming album launch party, because this is an album that deserves it.
The Sun Will Always Set Tracklist:
The Sun Will Always Set
For my full conversation with Tony Piccoli of Imminent Sonic Destruction, check out the video below. We also discussed his first favorite record, his early influences, how he developed as a guitarist, and much more.
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