Spastic Ink - 'Ink Compatible'
Review by Marco Van Leeuwen

Spastic Ink is back! For quite a few serious progressive music fans, this is a Big Deal. And the fans can take comfort in the knowledge that 'Ink Compatible' meets the high expectations - of course, the contingency that it would not, given the talent of the people involved in this project, was almost Ink Conceivable...

As was the case with the first Spastic Ink album, 'Ink Complete', this music is obviously not for the novice listener - it takes time and effort to appreciate the polyphonic carnival ride head Inker Ron Jarzombek and his friends take us on. This is characteristic Ink, and the impressive musicianship and odd but infectuous sense of humour is once again offered in spades, but some things are different this time around.

Firstly, the increase in heaviness from Jarzombek's solo disc ('Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confiment') carried over to this album. Secondly, most songs on 'Ink Compatible' have lyrics, penned by Jarzombek, whereas 'Ink Complete' was wholly instrumental (if we don't count Squeakie's mutterings). With these words, he explores our multifaceted interaction with computers and technology in a thoughtful and eloquent fashion, making this album a concept piece of sorts. A peculiar balance of optimistic silliness and melancholy with a touch of estrangement pervades the lyrics, which sounds fittingly post-modern (with perhaps some faint resonance with the sweet/sour views of thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard and Hubert Dreyfus on technology).

Thirdly, and in a musical sense most importantly, with the vocals of Jason McMaster (of Jarzombek's 'other band', Watchtower) to anchour the rhythmic pyrotechnics this time around, we are presented with song structures on some of the tracks that are more traditional than anything to be heard on 'Ink Complete' or 'Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confinement', at times (unsurprisingly) harkening back to the Watchtower vibe, but divorced from that band's stylistic 1980's trappings and updated for the current era. For a very effective merger of vocal performance and melody, instrumental acuity and touching lyrics, the track 'In Memory Of...' is a good example. In a better world, this would make a moderately successful single.

The word 'traditional', utilised as above in a description of a new album by musicians whose previous releases demonstrate that they appear to be on a perpetual quest to push boundaries - and transcend them if even the slightest bit possible - might suggest a prospective listener, hardened by excessive exposure to the polyrhythmic excentricities of the math-metal sub-genre, is headed for a mild disappointment. I can assuage the reader's fears by emphatically stating this is not the case: there are enough mouthwatering twists, turns, sudden stops and melodic non-sequiturs to keep even the listener with the most severe attention deficit disorder on the edge of his seat, and not just during the instrumentals. McMaster truly adds something to the Ink sound - the addition of vocals infuses the mathematical accuracy of Jarzombek's trademarked tech-metal with a little bit of soul, more often than on his previous outings resulting in melodically fluid and organic songs rather than extended shredders' showcases (which, don't misunderstand me, can also be utterly satisfying if done right - the entire 'Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confiment' album is a prime example). Still, with the nods to what came before (both in the form of direct quotes from previous songs, as well as stylistic echoes), complexity-junkies will find plenty that will shania their twain all throughout the album.

'A Chaotic Realisation Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood' - or 'ACRONYM', as the track so conveniently allows itself to be denoted - is the main course of this album, and it manages to captivate the listener's attention all throughout its twelve-minute running length. The long instrumental intro builds and builds, conjuring up and continuing to add to an exciting musical tension, and features a great contribution by Marty Friedman on guitar. And it comes as no surprise that the drumming throughout the album is stellar, with Bobby Jarzombek once again turning in a wonderful performance on six of the album's nine tracks - but Jeff Eber's work on ACRONYM deserves special mention.

Amongst its contributors, the album numbers several entries from the official 'Who's Who in the World of Prog', with (amongst others) Daniel Gildenlow, Jens Johansson, Sean Malone and Michael Manring lending a hand (or vocal chord) - some of their contributions might appear small, but they all add to the many textures of 'Ink Compatible'.

The litmus test for that most precious of albums - the multilayered kind that yields its secrets over time to the tenacious listener - is when you've gotten to the end and the question 'what just happened?' forces itself on you... and even when the last notes still trace their resonating presence in your thoughts, all you can do is press 'play' again to dig even deeper into that wonderful pile of weird and whimsy. 'Ink Compatible' is addictive like that, and that's one of the highest compliments I can think of.

Bottom Line: musically impressive and at times very clever and amusing, with a hint of sadness (which often makes for the best art) - Jarzombek has produced yet another essential release for adventurous prog metal fans everywhere.

- 'Go git dah shotgun - ah'm blowin' it away...' -

-Marco van Leeuwen

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