Greetings, prog metal fans of all sorts! Today I have very special treat for you, a review of the latest musical venture by the exceedingly talented folks of Bad Salad, whom you may remember I covered a little while ago in a review of their fantastic debut album “Uncivilized“.
Vocals: Denis Oliveira
Guitar: Thiago Campos
Bass: Felipe Campos
Keyboards: Junghwan Kim (guest)
Drums: Caco Gonçalves
Now, I present to you my second review of their work, which has me very excited, as they currently have a three-track EP in the works, entitled “Puzzled”. They announced this via their Facebook page and have been giving almost daily updates to the project since then, as well as setting up a donation drive on PledgeMusic.com to entice their fans to donate to further the EP’s development.
A fantastic idea, I think. It was to be an extensive and expensive undertaking, and they had to do it fast, too – the keyboardist, Junghwan Kim, flew to Brazil from South Korea especially to be a part of the writing and recording process for the EP, and could only stay for two months. The band then reached out to their fans to help them make the project a reality. It’s great to see bands, especially those of this amount of talent, using the internet to such great advantage like this.
As a pledger to the project myself, I was eligible for the sneak preview of the tracks the band offered, and I also volunteered to offer them feedback as a reviewer before the EP’s official release. So with all that said, let us proceed with it!
Let’s take a look at the artwork, first off.
Interesting. What kind of pigeon is that? Whatever it is, it itself looks puzzled. Or horrified. Or perhaps incredibly angry, it’s kind of difficult to tell. Most puzzling.
Also GAHHHH THE LOOSE PIECE DOESN’T FIT. (We are assured by the band that this is not a mistake, but rather a subtle little niggle to provide just a little extra discord to the art. And presumably to drive people with OCD up the wall.)
Let’s take an in-depth look at the tracks themselves, then!
I have to say, this time around, I honestly don’t see all that much Dream Theater bleeding through within these tracks, whereas I was able to liken almost every track on “Uncivilized” to a DT song, some of which were scarily comparable – which to me suggests that the band are developing a musical style all of their own, which is great. I mean, it’s still clear that Dream Theater are one of their primary sources of creative inspiration, but there are fewer direct homages to the band, if any at all, on this record. In fact, this EP is rife with various subtle throwbacks to “Uncivilized”. The first track on “Puzzled” takes me back to the tracks “Nemesis” and “Dawn of the Machine”, bits of the second song are reminiscent of “Mourning” and “Sights from Within”, and I certainly get “Crowded Sky” and “The Second Calling” vibes from the final song. They run the whole gamut of their previous work, and it’s good to see Bad Salad sticking to the old formula that worked so well before – and I somehow suspected from the outset that they would.
Let us begin! There may be only three songs on this release, but there’s still a lot to talk about. Apparently the tracks are subject to a lot of changes still, but let’s see how they hold up currently.
1. Pain That Binds Us (13:37)
We begin the EP with a sombre, syncopated piano intro. This lovely performance from Junghwan oozes melancholy, with not a major chord to be seen – reminiscent of Metallica’s more sombre numbers such as “The Call of Ktulu”. After a couple of minutes, the tempo picks up almost without warning, and Thiago’s electric guitar plays this riff, interspersing 7/4 and 6/4 time into the mix, which is accented wonderfully by Caco’s drumming.
The chords and riff that enter next are reminiscent of Dream Theater’s “In the Presence of Enemies”. Then the verse begins, and we’re pelted by some rapid shredding from Thiago, with intermittent phrygian dominant fills which add wonderful bursts of flavor to the phrase.
Denis finally appears after three minutes of all this instrumental chaos, singing about a backwards society that punishes honesty and rewards the criminal – hey, a bit like our own. Honestly, the lyrics themselves aren’t anything particularly special, but like “Crowded Sky”‘s, they get the points across well enough.
The chorus is thunderous, with Denis performing brilliantly on the vocals, with his screaming high notes and his deadly serious half-growling tenor. The chords used here are simple but very effective, doing a damn fine job of getting the dramatic impact of the chorus across.
The rapid riffage returns, pervading throughout the next few verses in a blaze of mixed rhythms, and this is concluded by some whole-tone scale ripping from Thiago, which is very excellently executed.
After the second chorus, the middle section begins, and sees perhaps the first overtly major chords used in the song – at 6:00 – a very sudden but welcome change-up, bringing out Bad Salad’s slightly softer side and demonstrating their ability to write very beautiful refrains.
The instrumental section begins with a simple drumbeat and a pleasant, comparatively placid interlude, then Junghwan begins his keyboard solo with a funky, ever-morphing piano solo overlaying the original chords played by Thiago, then a cool-as-heck 80s-sounding synth playing all sorts of interesting scales, with Thiago assisting with a solo of his own soon after. After this, we get a repeat of the Systematic Chaos chords from earlier, with some equally Dream Theater guitar work from Thiago and some awesome arpeggios from Junghwan. It’s about two to three epic minutes of solid soloing and I’m thankful for every second I get treated to.
Then things begin to descend into madness as the tempo picks back up. A new section drops in completely out of the blue with some quirkily-placed guitar stabs and insane drumming, overlaid by a crazy series of 16th notes fired out from Thiago’s lead guitar, and some occasional orchestral stabs from Junghwan, then a reprise of the expertly done whole-tone rippage.
Things slow down to allow room for a nutso Rudess-esque keyboard solo, which mounts along with the rhythm guitar. Denis’s backing vocals return too – rather subdued in the mix, if I were to give some criticism – but they’re definitely there. Before long, we get returned in a blaze of insanity back to the chorus, which hits as hard as it did before.
The outro is pretty spectacular, a hard-hitting reprise of the intro riff, with a long sustained power chord overlaid by a wonderful diminished piano flourish to bring things to a fittingly grandiose close.
This is the epic of the EP, almost as long as the other two tracks combined. Honestly, I wonder if Bad Salad are missing a trick by not having this as the album’s closing track instead of the opener. I mean, I can see why they chose this one – it opens with a lengthy passage penned by new keyboardist Junghwan Kim. However, due to the order in which the band uploaded the tracks on PledgeMusic, the EP actually plays for me in reverse order, and that’s another reason why it seems to be the preferable and more logical progression, in my view.
Anyway, just my thoughts there. Moving on!
2. Moonlight (6:52)
A shorter song this time of just under 7 minutes, and we start with a minor-augmented progression in 7/8 time, similar to that in the last track’s intro, but on a sad-sounding flanged guitar. Denis begins singing a delicate soprano over this, and Caco maintains the 7/8 rhythm beautifully all throughout with his impeccable drumming.
Next comes a series of dramatic major guitar chords, once again evoking melancholy but with a distinctly “rockier” feel than the previous track as it goes back to 4/4. Once again the tempo picks up as it progresses to the next verse, and Denis maintains his soprano, singing about being remembered after death, from the perspective of an elderly man slowly losing his grip on reality.
Then enters the beautiful chorus, with strings matching Denis’s vocal melody. After a quick and simple but powerful guitar solo, we get treated to a wonderful after-chorus that somehow seems even sweeter than what came before it.
Thiago’s guitar and Junghwan’s piano play unison for a short while, then Denis sings two lines with his wonderfully velvety soprano again before a quick bass solo, and then the chorus returns. Denis ends this second chorus on an impressive sustained C# to lead us into a great melody-driven solo from Thiago that really highlights the beauty of the chords being played underneath, which ramps up in speed and power gradually, giving us all kinds of arpeggiated melodic deliciousness.
The final instance of the chorus seems even more impactful than the previous two, with that terrific after-chorus extending over a graceful piano solo from Junghwan.
Again, absolutely no faults with the musicianship of the piece. Mix-wise, perhaps the snare was a little loud and trebly, which I noticed on account of Caco’s repeated use of the snare to drive home the 7/8 rhythm, but that’s all in terms of criticism that I could note for this track.
3. Deep Roots (8:25)
After several listen-throughs of this track, I maintain my belief that Pain That Binds Us makes a more fitting closer to EP – and this, the final song on the record, would definitely work equally well, if not moreso, as the opening track. It’s a song that hits you full in the face right from the get-go. We start with an excellent 7/8 groove in the intro, with some thunderous drumming from Caco. We get treated to a bunch of really cool fills and riffs in mostly 4/4 from Thiago, but with some cleverly-interspersed time signature variations that give it that added proggy needless complexity we all love.
All throughout this intro, the drumming is masterfully varied – Caco really puts his heart and soul into it, perhaps because he wrote the lyrics for this one (Thiago penned those of the other two songs). Once the intro finishes, Denis begins singing in a light falsetto, with the lyrics firmly addressing some self-centered power-hungry sociopath on a surefire path towards self-destruction.
The next section arrives abruptly and Denis delivers some aggressive multi-layered lyrics of virtually every vocal timbre conceivable while the lead guitar hammers out some complex 7/8 riffage, until the chorus blitzes in with a jarring unpredictable melody to it, overlaid by some vicious amelodic shouting from Denis. The word “life” is screamed lengthily at the end of the chorus to awesome effect, carrying almost to the next verse.
More verses enter after this, calmer and more melodic than before, but carrying just as much impressive musicianship. Denis’s vocals get growlier and really aggressive, perhaps moreso than the first time, again the last line pushing his trademark growl to its fullest, all the way up to a C5. Then, a second refrain kicks in with some awesome and dramatic string chords being played underneath by Junghwan, which is a precursor to perhaps his finest moment on this EP.
As soon as the instrumental section to this song begins, we’re treated to an absolute joy of a keyboard solo with tribal/Latin elements – all in 4/4, but with some lovely rhythmic mixing up, Thiago’s guitar chords and Caco’s simultaneous drum crashes wonderfully counterpointing the variety of sounds cruising gracefully throughout this segment – cementing my belief that this would serve excellently as the opening track, unless Bad Salad do want to save the absolute best for last.
This all comes to an abrupt halt, however, with Felipe crashing in with a devastating bass solo, then a guitar solo to rival that from Thiago, involving all sorts of clever accidentals and some very neat and smooth key changing, plus some awesome 16th-note shredding at the end. Then a positively frantic keyboard solo in which Junghwan takes full advantage of the instantly recognizable Rudess lead synth sound, using superfast arpeggios and insane pitch slides to full advantage here. Once again, the relentless back-to-back soloing is a ludicrously well-constructed part of this song.
Once the reprise of the 4/4-ish riff opening is over, we get a repeat of the dramatic second refrain, followed by the outro, which slows things down but keeps them impactful, with some excellent drum work underpinning it all along with some frantic melodies from both Thiago and Junghwan that play off each other excellently. The power chords leading to the final major string chord are expertly done.
Again, I can’t really gripe about the mixing, it’s excellent stuff. The guitars do take a bit of a backseat during that devilishly beautiful keyboard solo – they’re almost muddied by everything else going on. Most of the vocal clips all lead into each other fluidly, though there are a couple of points where Denis’s incredibly demanding multi-layered vocal lines require some more obvious “take juggling”, as it were. This is a really minor nitpick, though.
That’s a wrap, then!
Overall Rating: 4.7/5
More truly fantastic stuff from this band, I have to say. I only wish there was more. What they have here is excellent and it would be great if they could have been able to churn out a bonus track or two, but the project was ambitious enough already and I’m very happy with everything that I’ve heard from this EP.
This is going to be a must-have release if you’re any self-respecting fan of progressive metal – the tracks are only “in beta” currently and already they are absolutely excellent overall, both in terms of composition and mixing. I honestly wouldn’t mind if these were the final mixes, the few niggles I did spot I can live with, and the quality of the music speaks for itself even without being finely honed and polished.
Bad Salad, you still rock. Keep up the awesome work, and may you have an exciting and fruitful career ahead of you. I said I’d be keeping close tabs on your future projects and I’m extremely glad to have been a part of this one. I sincerely hope this release is a roaring success for you. 🙂