Despite all the clichés about headbanging and pummeling guitar tones, hard rock and heavy metal deserve more credit for their innovation nature. With the Bay Area thrash scene, Metallica, Megadeath and Slayer (alongside NY comrades Anthrax) amped up tempos with double kick drums and shredding solos like it as an athletic event. The growls and gore of death-metal kingpins Cannibal Corpse, Death and Morbid Angel infused the sound with a brutal sense of the macabre. The syncopated chugging of the djent subgenre, birthed by Meshuggah, developed in the hands of Sikth, Tesseract, and Animals as Leaders. Metal and hard rock, for better or worse, has always been about pushing boundaries and taking things to their inevitable extremes, burning down barriers and soldiering into uncharted territories.

Italian prog metal outfit Kingcrow move forward musically with dense textures and shifting song structures, yet they also look towards the periphery of aggressive music styles. They stack time signatures and polyrhythms alongside alternative rock and ambient influences. More than build a live set that will keep things cranked up and ensure fans will throw the horns, they make each album a sonic journey through a slew of moods and attitudes. The Persistence, their latest release, experiments with sound and shades from across the rock and metal spectrum.

Opening track “Drenched” roars with a power rock energy defined by singer Diego Marchesi’s epic vocals. It’s a grandiose, optimistic song with a memorable chorus, a soaring tune made to be heard live. The moody slugger “Closer” is a mid-tempo affair, overlaid with nuanced acoustic and processed guitar textures. The contrast between these two tracks shows a band focused on developing sonic subtleties and musical variety. In a world of cookie-cutter metal bands, each one posturing for dominance in a world of black shirts and down-tuned guitars, it’s refreshing to hear a group stretch their musical legs and show a bit of vulnerability with lighter grooves.

With lush synths and unrelenting guitars “Folding Paper Dreams” features the kind of in-your-face production beloved by metal legend Devin Townsend. The steady tempo and unwavering time signature keep everything from getting too complex or self-indulgent, giving listeners a steady headbanger that locks into a groove and doesn’t let go. The title track gradually evolves from djent-like staccato subdivisions and glitchy computer programming to throbbing drums and dissonant, overdriven guitar melodies. It’s a perfect title track, a calling card for the album’s journey through evolving sounds and digital landscapes.

The slick production value on The Persistence makes it a sonically rich record. It’s an excellent headphone album, something with enough depth and textures that reveal new details with every consecutive listen. Kingcrow works well in the studio, but sometimes too much production can be detrimental. There’s not much grit or sweat on the recording; everything seems multi-tracked with nothing to show how the quintet works as a collaborative unit. The benefit of modern music production is the ability to record, cut, slice and splice together what seems like a perfect record, but it’s all too easy to lose heart amidst the digital landscape.

True, the songs on The Persistence sound great. Likewise, all the components—guitars, drums, vocals, synthesizers—blend incredibly well, creating a product greater than the sum of its parts. However, we don’t hear the interplay and the interactions between the instruments because everything seems to tailor-fit for stereo playback. “Night’s Descending” is a strong track, but with thick production values it feels like a movie: aesthetically fantastic, yet undeniably staged. The processing and production make some things feel oddly synthetic, yet each track delivers on the promise to take prog rock to its maximum potential; the album is polished and perfected with in-your-face vitality to blow the grills off speakers. Bold and stylish, The Persistence is a refined, albeit laboriously engineered, record from the Italian rockers.

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