Norman and Tulsa-based Via the Verge is a collective of progressive musicians who not only do what they love, but strive to impact and inspire. Initially formed as an instrumental trio in 2013, the Oklahoma band has become a full-fledged quintet by the addition of vocalist Joseph Kelm and second guitarist Hutton Weaver. Such gelling of the five musicians eventually resulted in a self-titled debut EP, a prog rock concept fortified by electronic foundations, ambient textures, and post-hardcore vitality.
The first track, “Enlightenment,” opportunely begins with an expansive and atmospheric build. Bassist Charles Gafford showcases solid popping grooves while fitting airy guitars and wispy electronic percussion sets the tone for what’s to come. Just when the vibe couldn’t get any more blissful, the lead melodies launch into overdriven attack. Kelm distantly warns “…open your eyes/…open your hollow mind” as if to proclaim that the confines of a utopian dream have been shattered. Around the 2:00 mark, Kelm’s vocal quality mutates into a fluctuating mid-to-high range scream, giving insight into an elusive warfare by unseen forces. During the song’s remainder of less than a minute, the bonding of harmonic foreground and guttural backing is transposed by a clean finish. “Monarch,” the following track, is backed by an edgier clean rhythm section, the transition to heaviness made with just the right amount of impact. Thematic focus reveals those forces previously unseen, by way of realizing the dizzying reality of social oppression. From the lines, “’Welcome’, they say/’Don’t be afraid of this masquerade thrown for us,” the song’s context plays on the ideas of a cult: a falsely idyllic society build upon grooming, repetition, and no real means of escape. These notions are enforced in each phase (“This is your initiation, your absolution”/…This is your reconstruction, your vivification), while bullet-esque double bass drum rhythms provide stellar support. On the third track, “Silenced,” Kelm creates a vivid depiction of sensory deprivation, but in a confident and collected composure. With each buildup, the fluidity of the riffs really brings out his stationary range, bettering the pace for the more intense moments, particularly around 1:50 and 2:35. The subsequent solo persisting for several measures also worked quite well on its own, even while the intensity of the vocals had subsided.
A peak of sorts in melodic presentation is reached on the latter half of the EP with “Elysium.” The song starts out on a surprisingly high-energy and somewhat uplifting note amidst unbridled screaming. This is an ideal representation of mania induced by infatuation. Lines such as “Palpitations from my heart stuttering” and “If I try to walk away, my knees lock right at the joint” demonstrate a solid awareness of profound emotional impact. There is a stimulating structural involvement in how the lead melodies envelop the mix. As the song kicks into gear, the screaming parts are especially well-utilized in a call-and-response fashion. Perhaps the phase of the song that stands out the most is near the end, where only minimally layered instrumentation carries the distantly screamed “You slay me through this love/I transcend through this love”. In an effort to counteract the damage done, the penultimate track, Ascend sees the band charging forward. While melody takes a slight leap over brutality, its general message of rising above peril is sufficiently conveyed nonetheless. showcases new found courage and relentlessness. Harmonized leads, staccato riffs, and subtle background pads shape the song’s drive, elevating Kelm’s equally harmonic vocals. The chorus proves poignant in its bold—and decidedly strained—proclamation of “We are the chosen ones” showcases new found courage and relentlessness. The breakdown around the 3:50 mark not only allowed the listener to experience a more pronounced showcase of those melodies, but also a reiteration of the band’s disenchantment over their circumstances. “EDM” succinctly roots a storm of heaviness—albeit with a blunter approach—in bringing the album to a close. Whereas the previous songs gave more or less theoretical interpretations of deterring predicaments, this song seems to tell all from an in-the-moment perspective. Persistence may have been established, but the air is still irked by frustration and discontent. Prayer for an authentic saving grace is imminent, and while the lyrical delivery sounds defeatist on the surface, there is a determination to move beyond war and succeed—even if solely by endurance.
Overall, Via the Verge’s self-titled EP is a solid introduction to the band’s chapter as a five-piece. The songwriting duties of Kelm and Weaver not only exhibit a stream-of-consciousness eloquence, but honesty in defining the pertinent social unrest that plagues modern society. As a technical unit, Via the Verge utilizes competent skill in balancing the heavier moments from the clean and the electronic. Only time will tell before they are approached by a label that exhibits equal promise and determination as they do.
Highlight track: “Silenced”
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