It's a fairly rare day as a music reviewer when you can be effusive in priase of something you don't totally understand, and rarer still when that statement is reflexive - that the not understanding is part of why you are being effusive. So it is with this wonderful mystery known as Destrage.
For the first time in my musical life, let alone my reviewing life, I can honestly say that a band reminds me, if only in fleeting moments, of the long-gone Mad Capsule Markets. Of course, that barely scratches the surface. Try and keep up through the list of reminiscent names: Mr. Bungle, Soilwork, Airbourne, Bad Acid Trip, Unearth. Those are just a handful of the hundred or so names that comes to mind when listening to Destrage's "Are You Kidding Me? No." Destrage is all of these bands and yet none of them, maintaining a clear identity all their own. Even the album title contains some idiomatic quirk; it ventures to ask a rhetorical question and then goes ahead and answers it anyway.
Before we get lost taking the red pill, let me highlight the greatest asset this band has going, which is the remarkable guitar tandem of Matteo Di Gioia and Ralph Salati. From the word ‘go’ in the album opener “Destroy Create Transform Sublimate,” these two guys are spinning out one dominant riff and creative fill after another. Even in the songs where Destrage’s fury is tempered, like “Where The Things Have No Colour,” the duo still laces in intricate guitar overlays in the bridges and stanzas. Being honest, it saves that song from being just a space filler in the middle of the record and demonstrates the mastery of concept that Destrage possesses.
Destrage sets the tone from the album’s outset by constantly keeping the listener off balance. It doesn’t really matter which track you’re picking, there’s a positive cornucopia of off-kilter cadences, verses written to the margins in strange metre, bizarre scales and awkward tim signatures. Even in a fairly straightforward song like “Purania” (the album’s best cut, by the way,) there are boomeranging choruses and heavy metal destruction juxtaposed against wandering harmonics. You’re probably getting a picture of this record being akin to something from Dillinger Escape Plan, but Destrage is intentionally undisciplined and more freeform. This leads to the confusion we talked about at the top, and it remains a glorious trip through a scattershot landscape.
I see what you’re saying – well, then, how the hell are we supposed to make sense of this? Don’t worry. The ace up Destrage’s sleeve, and by proxy the real linchpin of the record, is that just when the music goes completely off the deep end, each song is usually within four measures of a big pop chorus that gives an instant hook and gives the listener a foundation they can trust in. Frankly, this is the driving engine that makes “Waterpark Bachelorette” work as one of the album’s more infectious tracks. For all the smashing and twisting and writhing, there’s still this smile-inducing, sing-along chorus. It doesn’t seem like it should make sense, but it ties the piece together.
Naturally, there are parts of "Are You Kidding Me? No.," that don't work, but they are not failures of the album's grand experimental nature. Yes, it doesn't always come together ("Before, After and All Around" by way of example,) but that's just the cost of doing business in this situation and is perfectly acceptable. Rather, the only places the album doesn't measure up is when it doesn't experiment enough. For the occasional piece like "G.O.D", the music sort of descends into nu-metal repetition and doesn't capitalize on the record's promoted ideal. Luckily, there’s only one or two out of the ten manifested here where that applies.
Let’s cut through the praise and get down to brass tacks. It may only be March, but “Are You Kidding Me? No.” is going to be a contender for me for album of the year considerations in December. The sheer creativity evidenced here is hard to find, and even more unusual is the ability to harness that creativity into something evocative without stifling it. There are parts of this record I just plain don’t get, and that’s a piece of why I enjoy it so much. Find it, spin it.