Experimentation is perhaps one of the most polarizing features within metal and its related genres; some audiences will, of course, welcome unconventional influences and off-kilter side-projects, while others are more than content to see bands release reiterations of the same album. Fortunately, fans of Dan Tompkins are no stranger to his explorations outside of metal; the Skyharbor/ex-Tesseract singer has several pop/rock-inspired projects to his name, such as In Colour and Absent Hearts, which make use of his highly-acclaimed vocals. White Moth Black Butterfly, however, is something beyond that. Described as “experimental electronic classical”, this project sees Dan taking influences such as Massive Attack, Sigur Rós and Olafur Arnalds, and blending them in a swirling concoction. Be warned, dear readers, “One Thousand Wings” may be far from metal, but you are bound to be sucked in by its fragile beauty regardless.
Catchiness is one of the buzzwords for “One Thousand Wings”; the pop-inspired choruses of ‘The World Won’t Sleep’ or ‘Paradise’ are such examples, although each track has something that sticks in the listener’s mind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the main focal point of this album is Dan‘s vocals. Possessing a range of three-and-a-half octaves at the top end of the scale, he certainly puts on a jaw-dropping display across the course of the album. Proof is embodied in the heart-wrenching piano ballad ‘Rose’; just listening to the note he hits on the word “soul” is simply goosebump-raising.
As a result of Dan being a studio perfectionist, this album hums with a vibrant energy and crystal-clear production. Every element, from tinkling piano and floating ambient soundscapes to acoustic guitar and muted drumming, has its rightful place in the mix, carefully placed by Dan and fellow Skyharbor bandmate Keshav Dhar. He also accommodates other vocalists to great effect, particularly on the penultimate track ‘Faith’. Guest Jordan Bethany, whose breathy voice was previously introduced on its own in ‘Tired Eyes’, weaves in glorious interplay with Dan to create an infectious chorus.
If any criticism can be levelled at “One Thousand Wings”, it is this: while the songs themselves are cohesive and well-planned experimentations, the overall result is somewhat unfocused. Taken as an end product, “One Thousand Wings” feels more like a collection than an album. Considering the jump from cinematic strings to ambient trip-hop to the black sheep ‘Omen’ and back, it’s a bit much to adjust to. ‘Omen’ is the weak link, as it unexpectedly swings to the other side of the electro scale, holding an almost accusatory tone with the industrial atmosphere, crunchy manipulated guitars and lines like “Oh, give me a reason to trust in your word”.
That all said, White Moth Black Butterfly has created some phenomenal content that is polarizing in the best way possible; too catchy to stay in the shadows, but too experimental to feel like a crafted pop album. Above all, the impression that “One Thousand Wings” gives is one of talented musicianship and a desire for sonic exploration, resulting in quite a hypnotic and memorable experience. If the names mentioned above make your ears prick up, then this album will be a sure-fire hit. One only hopes the rest of the world catches wind of it too.