Seattle based quartet Seven Against Thebes first formed in 2007 and has two previous studio recordings under their belt, 2011’s EP Equilibrium and a self-titled full length debut, and their new collection Art of Deception features a baker’s dozen worth of songs reminiscent of the band’s previous work, but more its effects are more refined and the songwriting’s seeming personal bent memorably contrasts with the band’s layered and muscular guitar-driven arrangements.
Seven Against Thebes, from a songwriting point of view, has a rather dim take on humanity, but the music has a physically invigorating edge cutting through the dark introspection and never allowing the performances to sink under the weight of their sentiments.
The ominous riffing opening “MMXXII” has an abrasive, buzzsaw like quality and Cyrus Rhodes’ phased, echo-laden melodies in the second half of the instrumental possess a melancholic, disjointed eloquence. “’Til Death Do Us Part” is a bitter reflection on a failed marriage, but doesn’t brood over it – instead, the attitude here is defiance, and vocalist Rusty Hoyle stands out thanks to how he brings a number of voices to bear on a great vocal melody. He hits soulful heights during the song as well, his impassioned bray giving an even deeper voice to the pain running through this cut. The whip-tight grind of Rhodes’ riffing turns the song into a real bulldozer, but he contributes fiery lead work as well.The uptempo charge of “Killing Time” has a punchy, simple guitar riff pushing its way out of the speakers leading the way, but drummer Bruce Burgess matches the energy with spot on playing that never brings more to the song than it needs. The effective tempo shifts scattered throughout the song are well chosen, if no other reason than it brings a needed variety to what otherwise might have seemed like a one note riffer. “Mastervision” plays with audience’s expectations with Mr. Black’s wildly distorted bass sound early on, but it soon settles into a lean menacing groove with continued effects bringing just the right amount of extra atmosphere to the recording. Hoyle does an excellent job here underplaying his vocal to great effect.
The album’s longest tune “Ashes 2 Ashes” opens with bass guitar as well and a light smattering of ambient effects accentuating the music. The hushed, bare bones arrangement introduces vocals but remains resolutely minimalist throughout the entirety of the song. This is a track that achieves its final effect through accumulation rather than some up front melody or grand chorus crystallizing the performance for listeners. It features the album’s best lyric, arguably, though it’s a rather bleak listen. Exotic strands intertwining with electric guitar and visceral production kicks off another of Art of Deception’s most idiosyncratic tunes, “Fly Paper”. No one is writing and recording music like this. Hoyle’s voice is manipulated in countless ways, but never loses any of its compelling bite and Rhodes brings some especially memorable guitar playing into the mix.
The album’s title song begins life as another fast paced riff workout and the ferocious clip they cop coming into this song doesn’t show a hint of relenting. Rhodes knows how to blend meaningful flourishes into even the simplest riffs and once again illustrates his skill for adapting his style when the chorus briefly slows things down. He fills those moments with ample nuance. There’s a stronger presence of electronic music in the finale “Yama”, but the final track is arguably the finest soundscape the band offers on Art of Deception and conjures up palpable atmospherics over the course of its six minutes forty four seconds. It’s a highly individual close for an equally individualistic band that, definitely, sports some obvious influences, but they are talented enough to transform those influences into a force informing their own musical vision