Artist: Chest Rockwell
Album: Mentis Oculi
Label: Snow Wolf Records
Release Date: 04/10/2022
Location: Bowling Green, Kentucky
Written by Alfred C. Key IV
Hailing from Bowling Green Kentucky, Chest Rockwell has produced a piece of music that abandons the Kyuss and Sleep worship of the genre. They have traded Black Sabbath drone for melodies more akin to nineteen seventies psychedelia. The album opens with The Styris of His Patrimony which produces vocals that abandons the generic masculine delivery of bands like Down for what can only be described as a call to prayer style. The guitars on this track are progressive but not to the degree that only someone with a physics major and a passion for theory can understand. The drums on this track are not attention grabbing but rather incidental allowing for vocal subtleties to be heard.
The second track on the album is steeped in Mastodon style vocals but rather than having the heaviness of Remission it floats rather than smashes. The lyrics of the second track paints the picture of Icarus’ flight to the sun. It falls in line with the escapism and poetry we have all come to know and love in progressive and psychedelic music. The story of a god falling from the sky to humanity falls in line with later tracks that state the gods have no time for us. The nihilism and almost Nietzsche-esque delivery on the album’s lyrics gives the impression that singer Josh Hines’ view on humanity’s interaction with the divine is one of enslavement rather than a mutual relationship that modern pagans like to profess. He sings in dulcet tones “as humans we endure the anger of the gods” and as we the audience stare down Demiter with him we are musically taking on the philosophical question: is there really the divine? A question only the listener can answer.
With all its subtleties and voyages through the musical unknown it can be repetitive at points. The guitar melodies are similar on all the tracks to the point one could feel that they are listening to a concept album. They do not abandon Black Sabbath entirely on the tracks Homunculus and The Old Man and the Mountain we are steeped in a psychedelic soup of sludgy distortion and double kick drums. I was surprised when comparing this album to their older records. The Existentialist chugs along with little to no mind-altering guitar parts. Mentis Oculi on the other hand embraces space rock.
When discovering the album was produced entirely by Josh Hines, I was shocked because it does not have the pretension of some other self-produced albums. All in all, this album was an enjoyable listen and has its place in the genre. When listening to this piece of music I can sense the growing trend of artists to completely abandon the math driven progressive music of the early 2000’s for a more spaced-out aesthetic. What do I think of this open inward rebellion? It has its place but in the future, I feel a conflict brewing between atmosphere and musical virtuosity between technical skill and musical saturation. Or the difference between storytelling and feel in lyrics. This conflict has become more distinct with this band. Rather than having lyrics of space flight and future dystopia we have lyrics that profess feelings of words.
This band’s new album almost completely abandons musical oddities of progressive music like odd time signatures for a straight four four beat that pushes the person into a trip. With this said rather than having to sit up and pay attention to musical virtuosity we the audience are covered into tone. This band like other bands in the genre are pushing out the tenor which has been in every prog band from Queensryche and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to The Mars Volta and Yes. With this said we are moving back to Pink Floyd style vocals and who knows maybe the writing will be totally about the psychopathy of the mind rather than the future or words that sound good. Bands need to decide whether the future of music will be matched with shrieking vocals or drone with dulcet baritones. In the end the fans will decide what will become the sound of progressive music in the next ten years.
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