The Pacer is the debut EP from Virgil, an instrumental super-group comprised of members from Cynic, Entheos, The Faceless, The Zenith Passage, and Animals as Leaders. With such an intimidating pile of bands to pull from, and The Pacer meets expectations (allowing for its short duration). Nothing is pushing the envelope to a scary degree here, but the different personalities of the group all shine through, and play well together.
At around 20 minutes, these four tracks serve as a pleasant introduction to what this band might be if its members commit to working together to produce more comprehensive works in the future. The music is dynamic, crisp and clean. I applaud the balance of sounds in the mix. The instruments each shine through as integral parts of the whole, with a nice amount of atmospheric tones binding them together.
The opener, “Dark Brilliant Thing,” begins with a beautiful, jazzy piano interlude, which immediately sets Virgil apart from many of the other instrumental prog acts out there. I actually couldn’t find out who is responsible for the keys on this project, so if you are privy to that info, let me know in the comments section, if you would. Regardless, the keys are excellent, and serve as a wonderful introduction to the EP. After a pause, the rest of the group joins in, and we get a foundation of chugging guitars, followed by a playful guitar melody mirrored by the keys.
The overall tone of the track is more up-beat than one might expect, given the melancholy nature of its creators’ previous works. At 2:25, the track shifts again and makes way for an exposed, jazzy bass section and some wonderfully atmospheric guitar tones. The drums are cut loose for a moment, and then the melody resumes. Every performer gets a moment in the sun, while the track never strays too far from its progressive metal infrastructure.
A solid choice for a single, track two, “Will it Blend?” is a bit punchier. Again, we see the keys mirroring the guitars to rare success, blending the two sounds into one unique tone. We get a couple blast-beat drum fills, and some djentier guitars.
Okay, just listen for a moment at the 1:40 mark. If you are like me, your ears perked up immediately at this point. Listening? You hearing it? I’m not sure how to receive this moment on the track. “Will it Blend” is clearly borrowing/stealing/alluding to the outro of “Deliverance” by Opeth from the album of the same name. Because Virgil is such a new act, and relatively obscure, I can’t find any discussion with the band about their intentions here, but I am positive that this rhythm did not effervesce out of nowhere.
Whether through intended tribute or accidental thievery, Virgil got this part from Opeth. Without knowing their intent, it’s difficult to comment other than by saying I enjoy this rhythm (and have since 2003). It’s interesting hearing it in a much more up-beat form, with playful keyboard parts cascading over top the restrained drums, guitars, and bass. If there was any doubt this is Opeth, its swept away as this rhythm is emphasized at 3:07. If nothing else, they got my attention here.
“Want What You Have” again benefits from excellent piano writing from the get-go. It’s rare to hear piano and guitar harmonizing this well, and it’s this harmony that defines Virgil’s sound for me. If the band is to continue producing music, it should continue to celebrate this combination. We get a brief moment of spoken word (sampled audio?) at 1:56, which immediately precedes the punchiest guitar sounds of the EP. We fall back into a djent-esque tone here, and at 2:46 the entire sound shifts again as everything is pushed through a gritty, echoing filter. These guys aren’t afraid to experiment with different sonic elements, and every transition flows seamlessly despite how different the parts.
The title track and concluding song of the EP, “The Pacer,” best encapsulates the variety of sounds this band seeks to achieve. We get another brief section of sampled audio, put through an interesting filter. There are some ambient tones here reminiscent of Fallujah, followed by some odd, dissonant keyboard chords, and then an exposed section dotted by brief horn blasts. This section is very playful, and reminds me of some of the sillier sections from Between the Buried and Me. There’s even a point where the sampled audio carries a mad fit of laughter. There are several portions of this song that if isolated would never resemble each other, and yet, the whole thing works wonderfully. It’s clear that these guys are masters of transitioning naturally from one sound to the next, while allowing each musician to carry his own weight.
In all, The Pacer is a very interesting, balanced, jazzy piece of instrumental prog. It’s not light on experimentation, and the well-traveled musicians that make up Virgil display both deftness and humility throughout.
Ultimately, The Pacer is just very short. Time will tell whether this is meant as an appetizer for what’s to come, or merely as the capturing of a side project done for kicks. I would hope a future, full-length Virgil album would delve into the heavier riffing and composition I know its members are not only capable of, but have preferred in the past. The use of sampled audio is effective, but I would love to hear some real vocals at times as well. Virgil is worth your time, and hopefully its members feel the same, and not only bring us a full-length next time, but an album that pushes its sound even further than The Pacer does.
FAVORITE TRACK: “Will It Blend?”
RELEASE DATE: 6/15/18
FOR FANS OF: Animals As Leaders, Between the Buried and Me