Deep in the heart of Texas, a multi-instrumental star shines in this LP.
Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):
In more recent days, the musical landscape has reshaped itself into a land of solo recording artists; this phenomenon, driven by the seemingly unyielding collection of maniacs who simultaneously learn all parts of traditional, and non-traditional composition create, arrange, and deliver a heavy payload of music that more often than not flows with a fluidity that is difficult to receive when the sum of the parts don't quite equal up to the whole thing. There's something to be said about solo-artists maintaining a vision that remains resolute from start to finish, and with no one to argue the point or search for a different sound, the product feels whole. That vision is brought to us today by Mr. Nicholas Sarcophagus, with his project DRAINBOW. The fixation of today's review? His first longplay, lovingly entitled The Tower Of Flints.
This album bursts into existence with literal labored breath, curtailed only by the cackling of witches and a powerful apocalyptic intro that steps triumphantly from the gates with a staccato trot. It's called Funeral For An Imaginary Rabbit, and while it's metal to the core, there's an element of progressive psychedelic appeal that creates a much more easy to access atmosphere than most extreme metal packages have to offer. Between bouncy riffs that sound like they were born from a haunted carnival, and sliding avalanches that are met with crashing cymbal and growling vocal, this song strongly resonates with the tone of Gothic metal releases of the past. One of its coolest features is an interlude that is trapped in the middle of the song between chorus and verse, a section of chamber music that fits quite well into a baroque setting. It speaks volumes to the traditional music theory discipline that Nick is phrased in, and can't be understated how well it fits like a glove amidst a punishing onslaught of thumpy measures and sliding scales.
Dragged in by the fingernails, a trippy bass-line dances awkwardly into position as a crooning set of vocals takes flight. This is Lair of the Night Gaunt, and it is immediately a different animal from the phantom rabbit it followed in through the door. This track really sets the man up for success. His vocal range is something to behold, whether listeners are looking for some echoing Altos, some raspy growls with a lingering bite, or even a tribute to KING DIAMOND in the falsetto range, Nick brings a little of it all. Near the halfway marker, a fun choral tone flows mysteriously from the rhythm, interrupted intermittently by kicks from the kit, high and low. It's all brought home in a steeping tremolo fashion that climbs to its grand conclusion as it fades into the distance.
Ominous and foreboding, The Inevitable Tautology of Defeat takes a saturated note that bends it to high heaven, giving way only to the growls. Shortly after two minutes in, the song breaks to give a narrow stream of mellow a chance to bring in a new melody, reminiscent of an ancient Arabian abiance that Nick does so well. It's a welcome addition, and it drones on in overlapping layers while a bass-line echoes the same tune in the deep. At four minutes — as if out of nowhere — an abrupt chaos takes over the composition, throwing caution and melody to the wind in favor of furious frets and descending tremolos that creep into the territory only black metal can exist in. No stranger to sudden change, the song twists once more as a hypnotic melody plays magic carpet to a clever little solo that shows off more of the man's technical prowess. It's both impressive, and well-paced, and can only be heard to be understood.
Fourth Rider stands as a crevice in this musical landscape; it's brief, purely instrumental, and works to ferry listeners on a murky bass through a miasma of hauntingly sustained measures that drift away into a trippy effect that feels like being thrown backwards off a tilt-a-whirl. It's enjoyable, and doesn't overstay its welcome. Perfect balance.
The fifth stop is what we could call the title track on this, and it's a doozy. The Death Owl In The Tower Of Flints trickles in with a surprisingly familiar quote from the gothic fantasy novel, Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake. Spoken as the prose should be in the thick of a rising and falling scales, birds chirp and insects chitter in the background while digital ringing sounds off in syncopation. This song is a delightful benchmark that demonstrates the genius musicianship that Nick has to offer. Funky licks and a calming, if not slightly unsettling ode are at the forefront of this song, if not this album, in a manner that this reviewer likens to classics such as Blackwater Park (2001), or Ghost Reveries (2005). As this album circles back to its beginnings in a much more synthetic atmosphere, it's easy to see that there is so much charm to this album that just can't easily be found elsewhere, nor replicated without genuine inspiration from the arts that come with being a lifelong reader and nerd. It's the spark of innovation that separates those trying from those succeeding at their endeavors, and Nick has a raging inferno hidden between each measure.
The Tower Of Flints is not some fleeting novelty that disappears when you switch playlist or turn a streaming service back on. It's not some cheap gimmick that feels derivative of another work, another artist, a more prominent figure in the scene. It's a raw and thrashing example of sweat and tears, that only comes from years of frustration and re-writes, only to be torn apart daily as an artist strives for that glimmer of creative insight that makes one laugh and hide their notepad. It's a wholly unique take on metal that comes from a lifetime of hearing the things one loves, and attempting to blend them together in some alchemical casserole that would usually spell delusion or failure. This reviewer found himself humming along to memorable segments hours later like some nervous tick had taken hold. It's addictive, fun, and captures the spirit of a man transcribing his dreams, nightmares, and experiences into a score for all metal heads to enjoy.