I was graciously sent this album out of the blue by composer/vocalist Vladimir Lalic and frankly, it hooked me pretty early. Lalic has also contributed vocals to things like David Maxim Micic’s “Bilo 3.0” which is an album I come back to frighteningly often. This album strikes some similar notes with me as “Bilo” in the excellent production, melding of instruments, and drum programming, but isn’t especially derivative of it which is nice (not that I’d be incensed at more artists deriving things from Micic!). There are also several shades of Devin Townsend’s “Ziltoid the Omniscient” and “Deconstruction”, as well as a couple parts that remind me of The Omega Experiment for whatever reason. But, again, these influences are represented in a constructive and thoughtful way, rather than as novelty. Overall, “Divulgence” has a freshness to it that makes me simply have to recommend it – not even despite its flaws, which are there but really minimized in the context of everything else well-executed in it.
There were two things that constantly grabbed my attention on my first listen of this album (even when I wasn’t paying much attention); the first was the interesting, unique, and well-chosen chord progressions and shifts. All over this album, there are parts where I was expecting predictable chords and was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. You’re prepped for this right off the bad with the chord modulation in “Apex”: the album starts with a low F in the strings, floats in that general seventh chord area, and then the vocals immediately stress the F# when it modulates to that a minute in. This kind of invention continues pretty consistently across the album, and this use of modulation to what are often called “distant” tonalities (essentially, chords that are very different from the preceding key) makes the whole affair quite engaging and colorful.
I know I’m starting to reference Periphery in every review on this blog, but they’re a good unit to illustrate something “Divulgence” does well – both use a lot of sections which are relatively unconnected or not developed in-depth, but Periphery pretty ubiquitously use two focal instruments (voice and guitar) with very little contrasting ideas in a section, and all the sections are in predictable tonalities relating to the basic triad, if not literally just that I chord. “Divulgence” counters this sensibility by using several different focal instruments like strings and keyboards in addition to interesting and unique textures on vocals & guitars, having actual layers to each section with at least basic contrast to them, and using atypical chords or simply modulating to a new key often. This adds a great deal of depth to even the occasionally messy composition here, as at the very least this polytony gives you a sense of direction and progression through the pieces, whereas Periphery’s monotony often makes me feel that the songs are going nowhere and doing nothing.
The second thing that sticks out to me is how different the internal logic of this album is than the typical guitarist-composed stuff that dominates progressive music. Like I mentioned, Lalic puts focus on several different instruments throughout, but the accompaniments are also full of well-chosen ensembles and timbres, and the whole enterprise is blessedly free from transitions of Guitar Riff A to Guitar Riff B or overuse of unadorned pop structure. There’s a lot of through-composed arrangement and I think there are definitely places where ideas are introduced a bit too frequently and left undeveloped as a result – but this isn’t a rule throughout, as “The Mask” has some excellent cyclical transitions in it, in addition to reprising the great first chord progression from “Apex”.
Another departure from guitarist-composer logic is the sheer diversity in Lalic’s vocal performances. He uses several different affectations of vocal accompaniment throughout the album, from the scatting/beatboxing on “Apex”, to the mmm-bop on “Cinnamon”; from the dense choral chanting on “Awake!” to the free expressionism on “The Mask”. It’s nothing but delightful, and makes his masterful vocal performance and production throughout the rest of the album come across even stronger than it already does. Similar to Devin Townsend’s work, the tasteful distance from guitars as a focal instrument helps the entire work as a composition, and “Divulgence” is happy to experiment more with vocals than “Ziltoid”/”Deconstruction”.
Overall, I have to heartily recommend this album to anyone interested in progressive metal-adjacent music, as well as anyone interested in the art of composition/songwriting from a vocal context. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Also, don’t think I missed that lick at 3:47 in Broken Divine. I did not.