Boston's Irepress (pronounced "ear-press") weren't supposed to be an instrumental band. At one point, they even had two singers. What they've evolved into just happens to be too stylishly sinuous to lend itself to many words. Their lingering relationship with metal conventions is mostly environmental. They've played a lot of shows with metal and post-metal bands like Isis, Shadows Fall, and Zombi. But they've also split stages with noteworthy hip-hop acts like Immortal Technique, Wu-Tang Clan, Ill Bill, and Necro.
It's a bit of an identity crisis.
Even drumming wizard Sheel Davé isn't sure what to make of their latest three-years-in-the-making creation, Sol Eye Sea I. "I listened to it a couple of days ago," he says when I corner him at a house party/basement show in Allston, Mass. "It was hard for me to wrap my head around it, because it's pretty all over the place, as far as having a lot of parts and shit."
In an age of instant accessibility and disposable culture, Sol Eye Sea I is a sonic labyrinth that demands a time commitment and a pair of headphones for proper exploration. "Diaspora" commences with a big, gnarly, distortion-heavy bang, slides into a gentler keyboard-centric dimension, drops into a groove-fusion interlude, settles into a pondering guitar ditty, and ascends back up into delirious, multilayered, proggy grandeur.
And that's just the first track.
"We ended up stacking things on top of other things," says former vocalist and current keyboard player Jarrett Ring. "We just kept taking an idea, running with it, and building. It flowed better for us that way, this time. Whereas our previous songs are shorter and some parts repeat more, on this album we just kept pushing until we felt that the song was done. Sometimes that amounted to eight-minute songs."
Eight-minute, multifaceted escapades like "Barrageo" and "Cyette Phiur," which jostle you with soundscapes that go from fierce to delicate. A couple of tracks fall just short of the twelve-minute mark. Yet it's all a lot less schizoid than it sounds. And less baffling than trying to conduct an interview mid-house-party, with revelers navigating around me and the band on their way to the keg or the john.
This elaborately graphitized basement, illuminated with Christmas lights and a glowing PBR sign (complete with bar and lounge sections), is hosting a show to raise funds for several bands' South by Southwest outings. Irepress have graciously agreed to headline. During their forthcoming six-week tour, they'll be rocking a few showcases in Austin, opening, I'm told, for a few big mucky-muck acts. They're not allowed to say who, and given their amorphous appeal, there's no point in guessing. It could be just about anybody.
Even those whose sound occupies a parallel astral plane, like Isis and Explosions in the Sky, are better suited for mass consumption. This makes the frequent comparisons Irepress get to those bands all the more boring.
"I've heard two or three Isis songs," says Davé, who moonlights playing drums for Slick Rick and Bad Rabbits. "We wrote our first record before any of us had heard of Isis. That was six or seven years ago, before the whole instrumental thing blew up. The Isis and Neurosis thing, for me, it's not an influence. We're inspired by music that isn't what people compare us to."
You can't even compare prior phases of Irepress to Irepress. Instead of having the two singers, they now apply sparse shouting and wailing for emphasis. And when the teenage members first pooled their talents, in 1997, the sum of their parts was a rap-metal band. But then, we all did stupid shit in high school.
"Irepress is emotional release, instead of pushing things back into your subconscious," Ring says of their peculiar nomenclature. "I was seventeen in chemistry class, and I was writing band names in my notebook. That one stuck. Neobreed was another I came up with. We were kids. But Irepress was what captured the spirit of what we were trying to do."
Good move there not picking Neobreed. Although Irepress isn't a real word either, it works. The band has little use for conventional language.
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