Liking Napoleon has often been a more attractive prospect on paper than in practice. It’s not like that’s dissimilar from a number of prog-metal and tech-metal bands (especially with the dire state of oversaturation the genre is currently in the midst of), but if there’s one band that’s served as the poster children for all of that, it’s Napoleon. It’s not that difficult to see why either; the immense technicality that’s always on display provides dazzling moments that rarely culminate into anything that significantly sticks, and a guitar tone and playing style that feels indebted to more traditional progressive rock and metal as well as tech-metal has never been able to gel well for a band who could real can’t afford to add more into the pot. It’s certainly interesting to hear, something that Napoleon can boast as having over innumerable amounts of their contemporaries, but actually doing something with that interest is the key to this all working, and so far, that hasn’t really happened.
It’s not as if Epiphany does anything to solve that either. Quite the contrary in fact – it would seem that Napoleon have attempted to pry their own sound open even further if anything, replacing so much of the metal with blistering, upbeat math-rock, yet still attempting to hold on to that status as a metal band. And against all odds, it might have actually been the best thing for them to do, because this is probably the best that Napoleon have sounded to date. It’s still nowhere near the finished article, and there’s still a distinct feeling of technical flair greatly overtaking cogent songcraft, but this is the most actively engaging that Napoleon have ever been, and that does count for something.
Basically the entirety of that appeal comes from this new sound, and given the attention to detail that Napoleon have displayed over and over again, it’s good to see that they’re keeping with that idea. Of course, it’s been repurposed somewhat, evidenced from the very first moments of opener Godspeed and its sugary, laser-carved guitar work that leads into Wes Thompson continuing to do his best Sam Carter impression. If that all sounds quite bitty and uneven, it’s because it really is, and running through the tracklist where it’s a consistent feature that’s never addressed or tightened up, it can make Epiphany a frustratingly disconnected album to listen to. And yet, that feels like part of the idea in a way, particularly on tracks like Fantasist or Diamond In The Rough where the lower bass is constantly brought out to battle with these spindly passages. It’s a weird scenario, completely eschewing the full expansiveness of tech-metal for something deliberately fragile, and yet even more ear-catching. It’s certainly the case on a track like Zeitgeist with the tiny intricacies that remain so clear in the mix, creating soundscapes that are far more interesting than what so many of Napoleon’s contemporaries are doing. And sure, there’s still plenty to carve away from these passages to get actual songs from them, but the fact that Napoleon are moving in such a distinct, unique direction leaves a few paths open for where they could head next, and that’s encouraging.
It’s also something that would rarely have been attributed to Napoleon of all bands in the past, the tech-metal band struggling to really get their feet on the ground with a sound or songwriting style of their own. And while the latter is still true here, Epiphany is at least making competent steps for Napoleon to distance themselves in a convincing way. It still isn’t perfect, but the seeds of something bigger and better are clearly beginning to sprout, and it’ll be interesting to see how they can build from this next time. The fact that can even be said at all shows they’re at least starting to do something right.
For fans of: Architects, Polyphia, Protest The Hero
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Epiphany’ by Napoleon is released on 2nd November on Basick Records.