Up until now, purchasing an Unexpect record has felt like buying a shiny golden ticket to a nameless theater your friends and family have never heard of. Entering this decaying and dimly lit auditorium, you are greeted by a mechanical usher, who guides you to the center seat. Once the lights go down and the curtain rises, you realize you are alone, and a gruesome spectacle of chaos begins before your eyes.
At times, the play becomes so disorienting and disturbing that part of you wants to leave, but something about this absurdity keeps you glued to your seat. You soon realize that you are simply an observer, and Unexpect’s recital can throw you anything, no matter how beautifully disgusting or confusing, and you can watch from this perfect distance in awe.
For most of Unexpect’s previous material, the inability to really relate to this awesome mess of sound has been its lure. On Fables Of The Sleepless Empire, however, the group explores slightly more relatable sounds. The trademark madness of Unexpect is certainly still present, but at times it takes a different form through more somber and pensive chord progressions and melodies. It is definitely refreshing to hear such a change, although Unexpect’s seemingly more focused approach slightly detracts from what made their sound so immediately intriguing in the first place. Not to say Fables is a weak album by any means, but Unexpect’s greatest strengths still seem to lie in the theatrical and bizarre, and their 2006 release In A Flesh Aquarium emphasized this most consistently. However, the balance achieved between the escapism and the introspection makes Fables Unexpect’s most eclectic album to date, if not their most directly engaging, which is certainly a great feat.
The finest examples of this progression come on highlights like “Words” and “Mechanical Phoenix,” which take a more mournful, yet curious tone than Unexpect’s previous works. The arrangements backing these newly found sonic arenas are still extremely dense and ever changing – the moving parts of Unexpect’s compositions rarely cease to turn (most notably bassist ChaotH’s virtuosic 9-string playing). Rather, they simply transform themselves while in motion, molding to this fresh atmosphere.
Fables hearkens back to older sounds on spastic tracks such as “Silence This Parasite” and “Orange Vigilantes,” both songs using Unexpect’s unique choir of random voices to ensure pandemonium. Although tracks like these certainly seem like the ‘heaviest’ moments, it becomes very difficult to think of Unexpect as a metal band. Of course they use brutal drumming, death growling and other such techniques to drive their sound, but ‘metal’ feels like one tool in a giant bag of tricks. In this way, Unexpect are much more likened to avant-garde bands such as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or the legendary Mr. Bungle, groups whose influences possibly range wider than those of any other.
The introduction to “The Quantum Symphony” immediately recalls the often-criticized Dillinger Escape Plan, but a comparison to such a group is not unwarranted. DEP has undergone many scathing reviews from the metal and hardcore communities, for they root themselves in neither. They experiment with these genres, and many others, such as IDM, jazz and even pop.
Although you’d never mix up the two, Unexpect takes a very similar approach to music, and for that they deserve immense respect. They truly could give a shit about any genres whatsoever. The fantastically eclectic opening track “Unsolved Ideas Of A Distorted Guest” has no problem switching from intensely groovy bass-and-drum interplay, to whimsical symphonic bombast, to trance-like electronica.
Among its bedlam, Fables of the Sleepless Empire occasionally invites the audience to join the extravaganza on stage, rather than watching from a distance for its entirety. The more accessible and emotional harmonies found on this disc certainly capture a personal side rarely found on previous offerings. However, just as having the inner-workings of a play revealed can spoil some of the show’s magic, certain parts of Fables sacrifice that baffling grandeur by musically relating to the listener a bit too much. But it is obvious that this was Unexpect’s intention – even though one might not be as immediately awe-struck as they were with In A Flesh Aquarium, the newly found compositions, with their even richer harmonies and daring arrangements, will surely capture the imagination of any listener open to experimental music.