Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
A Flawed Candle in the Darkness
on December 19, 2006
While I was not always in the mood for it, I was a fan of Discipline's particularly dreary brand of progressive rock in the late 90's. If I was feeling a little introverted and evil, and after "The Downward Spiral" was worn out, "Unfolded Like Staircase" certainly met my needs. While not nearly as acerbic as Reznor, Parmenter's unique and passionate voice delivered a certain psychotic prog intellectualism that I was getting in touch with, and I developed a respect for his work. As a result, I chose to purchase "Astray" at the same time as Neal Morse's "One." I thought that "Astray" may act as a compelling foil to Morse's increasingly Christian (but still well-written) viewpoint. After all, both Parmenter and Morse have some interesting similarities as talented, charismatic, and possibly overbearing conceptualists (for entirely different reasons).
While "Astray" does not come close to exhibiting the compositional strength that Morse seems to just sweat, it is a decent listen. Parmenter has a knack for brooding, menacing atmospheres, and his thinly drawn line between confession and self-deprecation would most likely appeal to die-hard fans of old-school Fish-led Marillion, in the vein of "Fugazi." While Parmenter's approach may not be as poetic or aloof as Fish's, his tendency to shine a flashlight on uncomfortable aspects of himself is simultaneously disquieting and cathartic in a way that teeters on Goth.
Rather than a poet, Parmenter's approach is more that of a storyteller, which is both a boon and a bane. He takes considerable care to imbue his lyrics with a dramatic plot that climaxes effectively like a short story, but his desire to lead the listener through his lyrical ideas sometimes results in overlong and periocially muddy arrangements. There are several tunes on "Astray" that pass the seven-minute mark that probably could end at five (see "Dirty Mind"), but are extended for the sake of the text. However, the hooky nature and well-considered atmosphere of these songs make this aspect of "Astray" less irritating than it sounds, especially if you are a fan of lyrics.
Parmenter also proves to have significant talents as a multi-instrumentalist. On "Astray," if we are to believe his credits, he plays all instruments besides bass. If this is the case, a focused listen will reveal his significant facility on sax, piano, cello, drums, and guitar. However, of all of these it is the latter that is the least convincing. Sonically, "Astray" is a mere two or three steps away from early Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel, largely due to the dark ambiance and introverted text. I can't help but think that if he had outsourced his guitar work that the tunes would open up to a higher level of instrumental intensity.
The Lowdown: "Astray" probably sounds best if you are driving alone in the rain. It's gloomy and sometimes overlong prog, but within the mire there are overtones of self-revelation. Fans of thoughtful and occasionally clever lyrics in this setting could certainly do much worse.