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“The Incredible Machine,” the first song on “Justify & Reason” is an absolutely huge opener. A bombastic six minute track, it’s a rich and sprawling effort that manages to combine catchy riffs and a big chorus with thought-provoking lyrics. It revolves around the workings of the human brain, dealing in both the physical and philosophical and is unafraid to ask complex questions. Is free will only an illusion? Are we destined to behave in a certain way, walking along a predetermined path as part of our biological make-up, or are we truly exercising our own choices as we go through life? So yeah, as you can probably guess, SYNAPTIK are a Prog band. They’re also a damn good one and “Justify & Reason” is excellent. You won’t choose to listen with your mouth hanging open, it is unavoidable, it is your destiny.
Based out of Norwich in the UK, the band started 2017 by re-releasing their debut “The Mechanisms Of Consequence.” That first effort is decent if unspectacular, but this sequel is not so much stepping up the ladder as leaping off it with a jet-pack and rocketing away into the heavens. It combines elements of Prog, Djent and even a touch of Metalcore (check out the breakdown on “Esc Ctrl”) into a head-spinning whirlwind. At times they come across like an easy-going DREAM THEATRE, at others they have a TESSERACT vibe about them, but SYNAPTIK are their own band and while the influences are obvious, they have a distinct sound all their own.
For one thing, they’ve managed to create Prog that’ll appeal to first-timers as much as seasoned KING CRIMSON devotees. These songs have an ample supply of memorable hooks and crunchy guitars to latch onto, but they’ve also been constructed in a decidedly off-kilter way. They never dip below six minutes in length, are full to the brim with clever musicianship and have a tendency to go off on tangents when you least expect them. In spite of this though, they never outstay their welcome and it’s clear the band have worked for hours on each one. These are epics that have been finely-tuned until they are lean, effective and on-point, not a single second is wasted.
“Consequences” for example starts as a firey Power Thrash headbanger which swiftly turns into a stomping anthem straight out of the Djent textbook before morphing again into a NEVERMORE-esque effort halfway in. It’s a remarkable song that demonstrates how effective changing gears can be when selected carefully. The magnificent “White Circles” is equally good, tackling the quiet-verse-LOUD-CHORUS dynamic in a shamelessly Prog way. Singer John Knight really demonstrates his range here, crooning like your Nan’s favourite X-Factor contestant one moment then showing off some anguished Warrel Dane-style cries the next. The whole thing is trippy enough to feel a bit like hiding in a serene asteroid field, only to suddenly realize that the cave is collapsing and isn’t really a cave at all. The guitar work is killer too.
Downsides? Well, anyone that’s shelled out for their previous work might be disappointed to find the last three songs have simply been lifted from the first album, but they’re more bonus tracks than part of the project as a whole. They’re not as impressive as the main body of “Justify & Reason,” but as a glimpse into their formative years they’re an interesting curio. Besides, even with only five new songs it still comes across as a complete work and it doesn’t suffer for their inclusion. Album of the year then? It’s definitely a contender. There have been some tremendous releases so far in 2017 and we still have eight months left to enjoy, but SYNAPTIK have thrown the gauntlet down with this one. “Justify & Reason” is a masterpiece, end of.