redg's el cielo has proven to be a confounding album in which to write about. It is at once dense yet inviting, deeply frightening while retaining a certain feeling of hope and constantly underlining its hard rock edge with a supple use of introspective instrumentation. Dredg have made one of the most compelling and haunting records to come out of the major label system in recent years.
el cielo further confounds by being a concept album about sleep paralysis, a rather unique idea to write one song about, much less a whole album. Sleep paralysis is a condition wherein someone wakes up to find they cannot move or even speak, oftentimes inducing hallucinations where the victim believes someone is preventing them from doing so, which is said to be part of where alien abduction theories have developed from. Even if you do not fully grasp the concept, the constant refrains concerning fear and isolation are universally comprehended.
The power in Gavin Hayes' vocals is reason enough to give this album a listen. On "Sanzen", the simple refrain of "hold on", coupled with the band's backing of "we'll be with you soon", sends a chill running down the spine of the listener. The music swells to a spellbinding apex, wringing every last ounce of emotion out of the song in the process. The untitled fifth song, indicated on the album's liner notes as a triangle, is a meditation on the tenuous toehold everyone has on life. Hayes drops his voice down to a near hush to intone, "While it's not impossible for flowers to bloom and grow / next to graves / and babies are born in the same buildings where people go / to pass away". While the album's single, "Same Ol' Road", finds the band at its supreme best musically, from Mark Engles' nimble guitar, to Dino Campanella's fluid drumming and Drew Roulette's mournful, yet solid bass lines. Singing "All you need is a modest house / In a modest neighborhood / In a modest town where honest people dwell", Hayes invests every line on this song the same as he does on the entire album, with refreshingly heartfelt honesty.
The lucid versatility that the band brings to the whole of the album, gives the songs an improvisational feel, or at least the notion that this is a band that is able to read each other at every musical twist and turn. By going beyond the normal conventions and employing stirring string arrangements, middle eastern-style flourishes, gothic overtones and a smattering of heart-wrenching piano, this is not a band to be lumped in with the formulaic garbage that litters the popular hard rock scene of today. Instead, by laying their heart out for all to see and by never settling for less, Dredg are in a small pantheon of modern "heavy" bands that work beyond stereotypical, shallow anger to ask deeper questions about life, death, love and inner conflicts. In doing so, they have resonated greatly with a fervently loyal audience that is sure to follow them to the inevitable success that they will surely be rewarded with.
Reviewed by: Brett Hickman
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01