Lucid Planet - Lucid Planet II (2020)
There comes a time in every prog snob's lifetime where they have to separate the technicality of the music from the actual quality. For far too long, I have found myself being overly favorable to progressive rock/metal albums for the sole purpose of "yep, this doesn't sound anything like what you hear on the radio!" despite the fact that in the lexicon of progressive music, an album may sound formulaic. With that being said, I can honestly say that I have never heard ANYTHING that sounds remotely close to Lucid Planet in my lifetime. The closest comparison that I can make is if you took the psychedelic's and post-metal of early 2000s Tool and combined it with some Orphaned Land and perhaps some of the modern electronic trends that have been plaguing a lot of alternative metal bands in recent years; most notably Bring Me The Horizon, Architects and Bullet For My Valentine. And even then that still does not even scratch the surface!
Lucid Planet II is an intoxicating album which sees the band mess around the spectrum of psychedelic music with a record that never feels like it is confined to the label of "Metal". How appropriate since Tool feels very much the same way. They use sitar, tabla, strings, digeridoo and various other horns throughout the mix. While certain interlude passages incorporate electronic percussion in addition to acoustic parts. The electric guitars are sparse and do not play a super important role as they would on say an early 2000s Opeth record. It all comes together into a nicely fit package that defies the laws of progressive metal, emphasis on the word "metal".
Because unlike many of Lucid Planet's contemporaries, this is a band that cares about their interludes, if you can even call them that. In comparison to songs like "Organic Hard Drive" and "Face the Sun", "Entrancement" "Offer" and "Digital Ritual" are significantly shorter and contain very little of the metal tones that exist on the albums longer tracks. And I'll be damned if they aren't some of the best interludes I've heard on any album in quite some time! "Entrancement" lives up to its title by starting very ambient and peaceful, but gradually building up intensity through dynamics, but also adding significant percussion and vocals to the mix and growing as a whole and never becoming stale. I also really dig "Digital Ritual": while the first half is very ritualistic, the flip of glitchy percussion and bombastic synths on the second half sounds incredible!
But outside of the interludes, the rest of the album is very solid as well. The opener "Anamnesis" splits the difference between Lateralus era Tool and Katatonia, which carries into "Organic Hard Drive". While "Face the Sun" and "Zenith" end the album on a trance induced high note that is quite stunning in its follow through of all of the ideas put forth up to this point, and flowing one into the next without feeling chopped up and poorly balanced together. Another thing that Lucid Planet are able to pull off incredibly well on this album is seamless transitions. Like with a lot of progressive/technical albums with so many uncommon time signatures, it can become very difficult to make moving between themes sound fluent. This album has plenty of moments that will make you wonder "how the hell did we get from point A to point B and I didn't even notice!" The one that I picked up on was the flawless transition from triplets to sixteenth notes on "On the Way".
Where I will knock a couple of points back from Lucid Planet II is that some of the longer songs do not feel as memorable as even some of Tool's longer songs. But where Lucid Planet makes up for that is in the incredible interludes and simple repetitive motifs that persist throughout songs and in some cases, throughout the entire album.
At the beginning, I mentioned how prog snobs need to get over the fact that their music sounds nothing like radio friendly rock/metal and that the technicality does not automatically make an album a classic. With that being said, Lucid Planet's sophomore album is one in which I feel its unique charm plays into its benefit. Nothing else sounds like this and I highly doubt that anything will ever sound like this. It borrows from all over the spectrum of psychedelia and creates a new entity that is just as intoxicating as the sum of its parts. If any of that descriptor interests you, then let Lucid Planet II take you on a journey unlike any other.
Music is such an amazing part of the world in that it can play so many different roles & satisfy so many urges depending on your mood & environment. Sometimes you just want something to throw on in the background in order to fill the space & create an atmosphere while at others you want to fully immerse yourself in the ambition & artistry of the composer by sitting in a dark room with headphones on or attending a live performance. There are times when you want to hear something familiar that doesn’t challenge you too much while the next day you may want to be opened up to something completely foreign. Well trust me when I say that Melbourne-based progressive metal outfit Lucid Planet’s 2020 sophomore effort (simply entitled “Lucid Planet II”) offers so much compositional complexity & musical ambition that you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by not giving it your full focus.
I’d never heard of Lucid Planet before one of our most highly regarded & valued Metal Academy members Xephyr nominated it for The Infinite feature release status a week or so back which is unusual for a band from my homeland & particularly for one of this quality. There hasn’t been a huge amount of buzz in the metal scene around the release of “Lucid Planet II” as far as I’m aware so I had absolutely no idea of what to expect going into it other than the general connections to Tool that seem to be a commonly used reference point. But having now sat through the entire 68 minute duration of the album in full a few times I can honestly say that I’ve been left dumbfounded as to why this artist is not a household name in the world of progressive music in general. Perhaps I’m just still too stuck in my extreme metal bubble to notice but I don’t think that’s the case & it’s left me a little saddened that a record like this one can slip through the cracks as easily as it could have if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by the wonder that is the Metal Academy website (see what I did there? I saw an opening & I took it.) This is a very real reflection of the impatient & unappreciative music market we now have in the age of internet streaming in my opinion although it's hard to deny that the internet has made up for it by drawing me to this release in the end anyway.
While looking at the album cover before pressing play for the first time, I was intrigued as to what image & identity it was trying to portray because it combines a number of disparate elements that shouldn’t really work together but somehow do. You’ve got the eye of “Lateralus”-era Tool, a band name that’s very much aligned with an ethno-ambient aesthetic & a highly complex & psychedelic image of a tunnel into a world that’s simultaneously both organic & alien. It seemed very strange for a metal release at first but after sitting through the album a couple of times it all seemed to come together beautifully & now I look at the same image in amazement at just how perfectly it has sums up the musical experience the album has in store for you.
You see, although “Lucid Planet II” is generally referred to as a progressive metal record, metal is only a piece of a much larger puzzle. Sure, it forms the basis for Lucid Planet to build their expansive array of ideas around but you certainly don’t have to be a metal fan to enjoy this record. In fact, I’d suggest that ANY fan of high quality, cerebral music & art in general should find interest in it, regardless of taste or demographic. It offers a superbly devised concept that’s been stunningly executed with the result seeing the listener taken on a journey through numerous fascinating & exotic landscapes without ever feeling unfocused or self-indulgent. It’s really fucking impressive that a relatively unknown band from Melbourne have been able to pull this off actually & I’ve been well impressed to say the least.
As I suggested earlier, the basis of the Lucid Planet sound is built around the rhythmically complex riffage of Tool & you won’t struggle to hear their trademark alternative metal crunch at numerous times across the tracklisting. But unlike most Tool copy-cats, it’s worth noting that Lucid Planet also have a good understanding of the art of tension & release & this sees them being able to build atmospheres slowly over time before reaching well-timed crescendos of significant weight. But at the same time, almost all of the eight tracks on “Lucid Planet II” incorporate a diverse palate of influences. The sounds of the natural world clearly hold a strong place in the hearts of the band because there’s a noticeably organic feel to most of this material with the tribal ambience of artists like Dead Can Dance & Steve Roach popping up time & time again, particularly on “Entrancement” which is made up almost entirely of this sound. The production style is super crisp & bright which may not highlight the heavier aspects of Lucid Planet’s sound but it certainly accentuates the psychedelic elements at play & often reminds me of artists from the electronic music scene. Just check out the second half of “Organic Hard Drive” for example where Lucid Planet don’t even try to hide their passion for psychedelic psytrance artists like Atmos & Andromeda. But the amazing thing about this is that they’ve managed to match their influences in terms of quality while also integrating the influence into their sound so beautifully that it not only sounds entirely natural (despite having likely never been attempted before) but becomes a highlight of the piece in general. “Digital Ritual” is another example of this as it wouldn’t sound out of place on an album from psybient artists like Carbon Based Lifeforms or Shpongle but also sounds quite natural when presented in the context of a tracklisting that includes melodic prog rock tunes like “Offer” which sounds more like Porcupine Tree than it does Tool but still manages to take a brief dalliance with the sort of dub that Leftfield liked to experiment with on their classic “Leftism” album. It’s astounding that Lucid Planet have been able to achieve this really, particularly given that they’re a band from my country that I’ve never even heard of & one that’s only on their second album. The ambition & musicianship here is nothing short of astonishing.
The vocal skills of front man Luke Turner probably aren’t anything truly special when viewed in isolation if I’m being honest & that could be viewed as a weakness but I think that would be a harsh assessment. Not everyone can possess a truly captivating voice as that requires a level of x-factor that really doesn’t have all that much to do with the ability to sing in key. But even though Luke may not reside in the elite tier of prog vocalists, Lucid Planet have managed to accentuate & enhance his contribution through some incredibly precise doubling & harmonizing in the studio & this proves to be somewhat of a master stroke. In fact, when combined with the addition of the gorgeous backup vocals of Jade Alice it becomes very easy to forget those initial feelings of skepticism & by the end of my second listen I was already finding Luke’s vocals to be a lot more endearing.
Overall, I simply can’t fault “Lucid Planet II”. It’s a complete musical experience that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. The tracklisting is very consistent & it’s only the fact that the couple of the more ambient works (see “Entrancement” & “Digital Ritual”) probably don’t tick my boxes quite as much as the more substantial & heavier tracks that stops me from awarding full marks but trust me when I say that it was definitely something I considered & I don’t say that lightly. Epic pieces like “Anamnesis”, “On The Way” & “Zenith” represent perfect examples of heavy progressive music in my opinion & I challenge any member of our The Infinite clan to find a way not to love this album after giving it the repeat listens required in order to fully understand its unique charms.
For fans of Tool, Karnivool & Soen.
A Bio-Mechanical World
Progressive Metal used to be my genre growing up, but I feel as if I have to go elsewhere nowadays to get the same sorts of twists and turns that used to excite me. Thirty-ish years into the genre’s supposed inception the label itself is becoming a bit disingenuous, leading listeners into a likely trap that promises something new, complex, impressive, or intricate. More often than not I find myself looking to Technical Death and Thrash or the more avant-garde side of Black Metal to provide most of the cutting-edge additions for Metal over something that’s literally named for supposedly progressing the genre. While a good portion of Progressive Metal feels sadly shackled to its predecessors, there’s always going to be a group or two who refuse to remain stagnant and quietly release fresh and exciting content for people lucky enough to stumble upon it. In 2020 that group for me was Lucid Planet, who were a quick and nonchalant recommendation from a coworker that I didn’t exactly rush around to get to at the time. When I finally did it was clear that Lucid Planet II was one of the most unique and impressive albums of 2020, as shown by its top 20 placing on my list, but returning to it with some hindsight shows that this album still has a ton of life left in it.
I’ll only reference Tool once since it’s important, but want to get it out of the way early. Lucid Planet’s 2015 debut, self-titled album showed that they were a band that was heavily influenced by said aforementioned band to a point where it was an obvious crutch for them. Unlike other clones, though, these Australians showed some serious promise since they chose to focus on some of the Tool’s stranger and more atmospheric tendencies more than anything else, allowing them to fully transition into their own with Lucid Planet II. Within the span of one album, they’ve managed to carve out a fantastic spot for themselves by doubling, if not tripling down on the aspects of their music that made them unique in the first place rather than taking the easy path down the weathered road, worn down by the travels of many other Progressive Metal bands. These aspects range anywhere from psychedelia, tribal, or electronica and meld together into a product that is absolutely dripping with character, atmosphere, and expression. I’m a massive fan of consistent theming when it comes to albums and Lucid Planet II delivers a wildly organic but somehow unnatural sounding meshing of concepts using mechanical sounding electronics fused with loose and psychedelic atmospheres. Through tracks like “Organic Hard Drive” and “Digital Ritual” Lucid Planet have really created their own alien landscape filled with slightly familiar qualities warped in a way that makes the listener feel uneasy but still awestruck by what’s around them, like walking aimlessly through a strange sort of forest on another planet.
This consistent natural versus mechanical atmosphere and feel of Lucid Planet II is what drives it forward and what makes the rest of the Progressive Metal riffing and solos have a ton more punch than they otherwise would. This album spends a lot of time on the low end, taking ample amounts of time to build up to each new section and riff introduction. While the album does have some great riffs and metal sections, most of the magic lies in the extended sections between them, combining tribal percussion with sputtering, warbling synths coupled with a clear sense of progression through the songwriting that makes it feel like each section that might sometimes be a bit too drawn out for its own good was worthwhile to sit through. Most of “Anamensis”, “Face the Sun”, and “Zenith” are comprised of these softer, more stripped down sections that explore all of these different tribal and electronic influences rather than hard-hitting riffs, even though they definitely pop up here and there. If anything, the biggest issue I have with Lucid Planet II isn’t necessarily about the atmospheric sections being too long, it’s the climaxes not sticking around for long enough. The buildups and transitions throughout Lucid Planet II are incredible, but it feels like the payoff for all the buildup doesn’t stick around for long enough for it to really make an impact sometimes. “Face the Sun” and the closer “Zenith” are especially guilty of this, even though I can understand the choice for “Zenith” to act as a climactic closer to the album. “Face the Sun” has about two minutes of total payoff over the course of a 12-minute track, plus an extra five minutes of electronic musings from “Digital Ritual” beforehand, and even though I love “Face the Sun’s” surprise Arabic turn I just wish there was more of it.
Even though Lucid Planet may not completely capitalize on their big moments, the smooth as silk transitions and progressions to get to those moments are entrancing. I believe that one of the most important aspects to having compelling atmospheric sections is never losing the groove of the concept you’re trying to convey, and Lucid Planet II showcases how to intricately progress an album through a plethora of styles without ever losing its footing. There’s a natural and freeform flow between everything that Lucid Planet writes that’s established in the first two songs, with “Anamensis” being a fantastic intro that sets the stage for what’s to come and “Entrancement” instantly turning the album on its head with its repetitive tribal chanting and percussion. Most of the tracks offer their own distinct twist though since Lucid Planet II barely repeats itself throughout its hour runtime, even with the more psychedelic and electronic breaks in “Digital Ritual” having a very different vibe than something like “Organic Hard Drive” or “Face the Sun”. The album doesn’t necessarily have a linear progression but it seems to start out more organic and grounded sounding with more tribal influences, but eventually shifts away towards a more spacey or heavenly feel starting at “Digital Ritual” and culminating with “Zenith”. The use of some harmonizing female vocals during certain sections help to add some spice as well, especially since Lucid Planet’s lead vocalist tends to sing to enhance the atmosphere rather than show off his pipes. To my ears there’s even a nod to a Ne Obliviscaris style violin in “Face the Sun”, which is something that I didn’t even pick up on until going to write this.
What’s left for Lucid Planet II is the actual Progressive Metal sections and while I don’t think they would hold up so well on their own, Lucid Planet’s songwriting and use of all their other strange elements highlights the riffs and bass grooves in a stellar way. The beginning of “On the Way” is probably the most traditional Progressive Metal example with its driving layered riffing and seamless transition into the atmospheric second half. The bass also has that satisfyingly poignant and plucky tone that is heavily inspired by that band that I refuse to name more than twice in this review. It’s tough because I think this is where Lucid Planet II falters the most since the big Progressive Metal moments are pretty fleeting given the length of the album, even though there are a ton of other small sections and riffs that are memorable. I still believe that this works in their favor, though, because the selling point of this album is it’s unnerving and alien aura. It’s an album with a lot of weird, earthy, and sometimes squishy sounds and influences that are wrangled up into an organic and cohesive project that has only gotten better with time for me personally. In a time where it feels like it’s difficult for Progressive Metal to progress, Lucid Planet has created an incredibly overlooked experience that is uniquely captivating and sleek through and through, even though it may not be for everyone due to how atmospherically focused it is.
So by another recommendation, I've checked out this month's feature release, the second Lucid Planet album, and while there are a few other progressive metal albums that have the potential of being the best, Lucid Planet II is still an absolute belter. Why just read? Give it a listen during the reading!
An underrated band from Australia, Lucid Planet play a style of heavy-psych-prog-metal that brings Tool into the minds of their listeners. Before this album, Lucid Planet made a more psychedelic rock debut, and while I haven't listened to that debut, I'm never really a fan of just psychedelia, so I'm not gonna try that one. If the psychedelia is elementally part of a progressive metal sound though, I can't say no to that. The band made an astounding mind-blowing evolution, though a few things seem a bit lumpy.
"Anamnesis", the long 12-minute opening epic, begins with a minute of supernatural-ish ambient music, then the rhythm and vocals kick in. I love the vocals by Luke Turner that have a d*mn lot of melodic expression, in beautiful contrast with the deep riffing from the guitar and bass. You can already hear the versatile genre fusion, heavy-psych-prog-metal with bits of electronic trance, to be enjoyed whether or not you love progressive metal. The name "Anamnesis" can have a few different conceptual meanings of medical history, religion, philosophy, and past recollection. The band has the confidence to move the latter meaning forward as the album goes on. "Entrancement" begins with a more natural ambient intro, using chanting and traditional instrumentation, as if it's an effective shaman mantra to summon a beast of primordial malevolence. As Luke plays the beast, guest vocalist Jade Alice plays the beauty, as the two voices combine for eerie entrancement. Not a lot of complex technicality at all, but still kinda great. Next track "Organic Hard Drive" I really love as it takes a hard trip that slows down before an electronic groove halfway through. It really works!
After a few minute calm-down from the previous track, "Offer" offers a less edgy rush in a new stripped-down offering of peace. Once again, Luke Turner's vocals are great-sounding. The calm dubstep elements work well with the heavy-ish rock/metal sound, probably better than Blindspott. While staying stripped, it still has a climatic powerful crescendo before a beautiful segue into the next track. The very strange yet beautiful "On the Way" shows the vocals by Jade Alice having more harmonic impact before slowing building up to almost a black/folk metal sound that almost makes the song suitable for the North clan, something Lucid Planet had never dared to go before. This aural effect adds to an epic journey with changing textures and sounds. This could very well be suitable for long mountain treks like in the Lord of the Rings movies, and I can feel the tiring side effects even when I'm just sitting down and writing this review, thanks to the strong feeling of movement.
"Digital Ritual" is the modern polar opposite of "Entrancement", sounding much closer to dubstep than before but in glorious light. Symphonic elements build a strange contrast to the surrounding electronic sounds. Then it nicely leads into "Face the Sun" with a modernized Egyptian-like melody you just gotta hear to believe, resuming the old-new contrast of the previous track. At that point, you've already climbed down that Hobbit-like mountain and you're riding a camel in a desert. Then we're leading into the 10-minute grand finale "Zenith", and this Z track is more epic than the A track, know what I mean? This is the right way to close the album, with everything coming together in a glorious revolution. With this conclusion, all these journeys and trips may be over, but there's more to resolve. For now, this is the highest zenith!
Well I hope you've enjoyed this story and album you have transcended through, and while it's not entirely perfect, I would suggest passing it on to many more listeners who would enjoy it. It's up to us where and what the journey would bring....
Favorites: "Anamnesis", "Organic Hard Drive", "On the Way", "Zenith"