Alternative 4 – The Obscurants – 8.05/10

– Alternative 4 is a band formed by Duncan Patterson, most famous for his involvement with Anathema. The name is a reference to Alternative 4, the last album Duncan played on before leaving Anathema to form the band Antimatter. Musically and lyrically, there are some similarities between this band and his work in Antimatter and Anathema. However, Alternative 4 focuses more so on the quiet moments and dynamics than on the catchy songwriting of the other two bands. This album follows in the path of their first album. That being said, it is an overall stronger album. My problems with the first album were mostly Duncan’s vocals as well as the heavy focus on the quiet moments. It created a weird balance that did not have enough dynamics or louder moments to keep you interested throughout the almost hour long duration. Here, we find a much stronger sounding Duncan with confidence in voice. Instead of sounding like a wannabe Roger Waters or Tim Bowness, he sounds like a guy who is influenced by singers like that but is also able to make his own vocal style well-known. The album starts with a 3 minute intro building up the tension and despair all through a single piano. This track goes straight into my favorite track that Alternative 4 has done so far: “Paracosm”. Duncan begins singing right at the beginning (with excellent backup vocals matching his words an octave higher). The song starts with one guitar and keyboards but adds a second guitar later to build up before the drums finally come in at the 3 minute and 40 second mark. From there, this song has a very Pink Floyd feel as well as sounding very similar to Antimatter. Around 5 minutes and 30 seconds, a dark heavy sounding riff is introduced and the band jams over it nicely (with robotic sounding vocals adding ambiance). In total the track is 11 and a half minutes long with some nice use of jamming and journeying through different bluesy riffs. “Returning the Screw” sounds kind of like No-Man, making use of those Tim Bowness vocals with the darkness of Steven Wilson guitar riffs. It has an excellent climax at the end. “Dina” is a 7 minute ballad with jazzy sounding drums, strings in the background, and some of my favorite lyrics on the album. It definitely reminds of songs from The Wall such as “Vera”. From here, the album continues its slow and soft pace with a couple of tracks called “Lifeline”, “The Tragedy Shield”, and “Mr. Black”. This part of the album drags on the most for me and reminds me how I feel during their first album. But each track does have its high points such as the female vocals in “Lifeline”, the hard drum hits in “The Tragedy Shield” over the Pink Floyd like acoustic guitar and Tangerine Dream like synth sounds, and the surf rock like whammy bar bends during “Mr. Black” with the use of the telephone effect on the vocals. I was worried that they would probably end the album on a soft note and have it all fade away after the strength of the first half, but after 30 seconds of dark piano (like how the album started), “The Closure” takes an electronic route for about half of its 7 minute duration, which is something completely different than they have done before. The song then return to typical form with a Gilmour like guitar melody and the final phrase of the album where Duncan softly says “This is closure”. The song and the album end on a really strong note. The album as a whole drew me into listening to it over and over, unlike the first album which was difficult for me to listen to the whole way through. Duncan has shown progress, and Alternative 4 has a lot more potential now. It was not the best ambient album of the year, but it definitely deserves to be heard.