Although I like to think of myself as having a little bit of knowledge about the underground rock and metal scene, I had never heard of Vertigo Steps until I got asked to review this, their latest album. I had no expectations in coming to this third album of theirs, the charming and atmospheric “Surface/ Light” but I leave converted to their cause and hoping that they will get some wider acclaim for their blend of progressive/atmospheric rock.
Before we go on, it’s probably time for a quick band catch up: they hail from Portugal, have a Finnish vocalist and inhabit that curious space called “progressive”. To be honest, on this new record they sound more like Anathema than, say, Opeth, but they possess both band’s sense of dynamics, the former’s ear for melody and the latter’s sense of drama. There is still an underpinning darkness to the band’s work but there is also a sense of optimism, of light at the end of the tunnel that gives the album a good sense of balance.
The band’s song writing is accomplished and, right across the record, there is an easy warmth and charm; you get a real sense that the band want you to believe in their cause and their story and they build a series of aural soundscapes that enable you to do this with ease and, at times, eagerness.
Each of the thirteen compositions here are evocative and impassioned, conveying a sense of real resonance and personal emotion. Although this doesn’t appear to be a concept album there is certainly a thematic coherence that ties the album together. With a style like theirs, encompassing a range of influences, comparisons with other artists are going to be inevitable. I have already written about Anathema and Opeth but ‘Silent Bliss,’ by way of example, has echoes of Katatonia which, for these ears is very welcome indeed. Elsewhere, the punchy and invigorating ‘Zeppelin on Fire’ again is reminiscent of the Swedes but you also get a nod here and there to the work of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. Illustrious company but the fact that they can hold it plays testimony to their work here.
“Surface/Light” is one of those records that you begin by thinking that you’re probably not going to like it but find yourself playing it repeatedly. It’s an album that has a narrative arc (remember those), has light and shade and is threaded through with emotion and passion. Now, if that’s not what music is about then we’ve all been getting it wrong for a very long time.