For Temples On Mars, scope seems to be everything. Their career up to this point has already seen them drop their previous moniker of Agent for their more instantaneously distinct current one, inspired by mankind’s ambitions to expand into space, as well as theories of ancient hieroglyphs on Mars depicting extraterrestrial life. That sense of explorative grandeur has been brought to this self-titled debut, clocking in at an hour long and holding nothing back in terms of skyscraping ambition and intent.
And that’s definitely commendable in its own right, particularly when this sort of progressive rock is very capable of falling apart in the wrong hands. As such, it feels as though Temples On Mars’ aim here was to cover all of their bases as emphatically as possible rather than refine themselves down to the purest essences of quality. The good thing there (and whether it’s intentional or purely serendipitous is up for debate), is that most of this album does actually hold up, taking the approach that Nothing More have nearly perfected of melding expansive, high-concept prog with enough of a radio-friendly edge to avoid slipping into their own sense of obscurity. Of course, at an hour long, there’s bound to be at least some bloat here, but surprisingly not as much as what might be initially expected.
It’s a pleasant shock, especially when compared to how densely so many of these songs are constructed, with thunderous, sweeping guitars that feel so tightly packed in, before careening and shapeshifting in what tends to fall between a four- and six-minute timeframe. It’s a remarkably efficient method of pulling everything in without leaving too much open-ended, and thus there’s an epic, radio-friendly size that comes parcelled with Make No Bones and especially the towering melodies and millennial whoops of So In Love With Your Own Drug that couldn’t justify its position as a single more. Even if James Donaldson doesn’t have the theatrical power or backflipping vocal range of a Matt Bellamy or a Jonny Hawkins, it’s clear that he’s still pushing himself to his upper limit more often than not, and an instrumental performance that’s unafraid to get a bit wilder and show some more teeth helps when things begin to waver. The metal influences on Gods & Kings and Death In The Afternoon are definitely welcome for a bit more variety, with soundscapes of crashing guitars opening up new avenues that Temples On Mars could certainly explore more. As far as composition goes, it’s pretty difficult to fault, with everything being as tight and fine-tuned as it can get, with the unearthly sheen that’s glossed over each element making that sense of esoteric distance and size all the more enticing.
But just because an album is well-made doesn’t always mean it lands, and honestly, for Temples On Mars, it could’ve been a lot worse. For the most part, there’s really nothing that feels too excessive or unnecessary, mostly due to the band’s tight control on allowing their songs to sprawl too much; whatever extended length is there is capped at just the right time to ensure it’s not running on autopilot for any significant amount of time. That’s not to say this album is totally free from moments that could be removed however, and the most disappointing thing is that they ultimately do feel like a new band aiming for too much too soon. The static-enfused vocal samples of the intro and outro tracks are a given, as they are with a majority of albums at this point, but the mid-section of Dining With The Devil really does lose its way fast as it descends into watery acoustic pensiveness, and prematurely puts a cap on what was intended to be the grand opus to round out the main tracklist. Then with tracks like Suicide By Tiger, it feels as though they serve no purpose other than to bulk out the album a bit more by circling back to some prog basics already done better earlier on. Kudos definitely needs to go for Temples On Mars for avoiding having to resort to this too much, especially when so many prog bands are so quick to jump to it as an option, but when there would be ample material to dig into and highlight their considerable strengths without them here makes their inclusion even more superfluous.
And that doesn’t have an effect on the overall reception to this album, in that what could’ve been a fantastic melodic prog album that totally nails the genre first time around ends up as an effort that’s still pretty good, but stumbles at those unfortunate pitfalls along the way. It’s a bit of a downer, all things considered, but only because Temples On Mars deliver such a staggeringly concise, electric performance elsewhere. At its best, the detail and scale of what this band do can easily compete blow for blow with modern prog- and hard-rock’s upcoming names, and when that’s ultimately refined into its strongest state, Temples On Mars could have something truly special on their hands.
For fans of: Nothing More, Muse, Karnivool
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Temples On Mars’ by Temples On Mars is released on 6th April on Primordial Records.