The human voice is such a key part of music. Great icons of our time have laid down words that resonate through the ages with deft and considered measures of written, sung and spoken language, a skill in woefully short supply today. But the notes alone can do that; all that’s needed is the right approach.
Canadian mostly-duo The Dead Centuries are defiantly instrumental, writing, recording and producing Race Against Time themselves. The nimble digits of Adam Tremblett on guitar, bass and programming with the quick, attentive hands of Bryant McNamara on drums have created a riot of a record that eschews vocals completely in favour of proper melodic histrionics. Aided in the live arena by Jacob McSheffrey – completing this trio of impossibly Canadian names – they harmonise and fluidly crusade toward a neon horizon.
The press release openly mentions the likes of Periphery, Paul Gilbert and Protest The Hero, but there’s just as much A7X in those rampant harmonies, which for the first time in this writer’s life is not a bad thing. From the opening sprint of Freddy Lounds and the sinewy chase of Gotham, Race Against Time does this instrumental business correctly. The riffs have been genuinely thought out, long enough to let you in but without hanging around so much that they stagnate. It should be obvious from the tones used at the outset what sort of guitar playing this record contains and indeed this turns out to be the case, but tracks like the almost arrogantly precise Blood Dragon demonstrate how unimportant a factor this is.
You see, this band used to have a singer, and a bassist. I’ve seen the footage of that band while researching them, and while you can chuck a vocal line on top of this sort of music, it seems a bit senseless when there’s so much going on underneath. Quite how a singer would work their way into material this dense I’m not entirely sure, nor does it matter. The style being utilised here that was laid down by their 8-string-toting forebears has a certain studied, expensive feel which can seem terribly exclusive, but by clearly enjoying themselves and still writing songs rather than technical exercises, tracks like the djenty Attack Of The Mutant sound exciting and fun rather than cold and aloof.
There’s moments of genuine softness too; the end of Gotham puts its face in the rain for sure, as does the swords-down opening to personal favourite Venus Gospel before it morphs into wild slashing. There’s two guest solos, one from Jeff Tremblett on Attack Of The Mutant and one from James Krul of Mandroid Echostar on the modern Outrun soundtrack of Overdrive; the only complaint being that because this is an instrumental, guitar-heavy record it’s hard to tell that they’re guest spots. A shift in tone and some truly outrageous speed heralds the arrival of Mr. Krul, but poor old Jeff blends into the maelstrom like rice into snow.
This is a very minor downside on a record that I genuinely enjoyed listening to from start to finish. Every corner yielded a pleasant surprise, and despite the extremely involved guitar work there’s a welcome lack of indulgent shredding. I shall be totally honest and say that when I tracked down the release tracks on YouTube I was worried this might be a Dream-Theater-does-Luther-Vandross like Intervals or a mental agility test like Animals As Leaders, but what makes The Dead Centuries different is that they’re not here to show you their muscles, but to share their record collection with you through a bright, pacey, grinning album that deserves every spin. Ace.