It’s deep, dark and personal on the Israeli prog metallers’ third album.
For Distorted Harmony’s third album, Israeli keyboardist and producer Yoav Efron chose to dig up feelings he had long since buried deep within himself to create a more painfully personal record. As a result, A Way Out stands as the band’s most emotionally complex and compelling release to date.
“O ne thing I can say about the new album is that it’s very personal,” says Distorted Harmony’s chief songwriter Yoav Efron. “It wasn’t easy for me to expose my thoughts and feelings, the things I’m used to keeping inside, so this album was actually more of a process of being in the right place, mentally, to write, more than anything else.”
Speaking to Prog from his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, he keeps his cards close to his chest when asked about what emotions and issues were plaguing him so much that, for the first time in his career, he turned to music for an outlet to exorcise such personal troubles. However, the way his voice cracks a little when prised for more information, and the way he sheepishly tries to avoid giving an answer that would leave him in too vulnerable a light, speaks volumes. Yet engaging here with the darker side of his life on a deeper level than Distorted Harmony ever got close to on their previous two records – 2012’s Utopia and 2014’s Chain Reaction – has helped humanise their technical, technicolour thump.
A Way Out arrives with a deeper, more detailed and more relatable personality. Lurking beneath dense forests of downtuned guitars, below rampant drumming and chaotically arpeggiated keyboards, is a sensitive, aching soul.
As difficult as the creative process may have been – “I wrote three songs in a week, then didn’t write anything for months because I wasn’t in the right place,” Efron tells us – it has made their music so much easier to connect with. For a musician who defines his band as “a living being”, that is hugely important. As such, their first release in four years gifts the listener an entirely new experience.
“For me, this album was all about me figuring out how I wanted to write,” he says, elaborating between sighs and pauses that betray the side of him he doesn’t want this interviewer to see. “The way we work is that I write the music and then I send demos to the band to get their feedback. But because I was opening myself up so much with these songs, it took me a long while to get to the point where I even had anything to show them.”
However, opening up to his bandmates about each song’s meaning allowed an emotional integrity to be threaded throughout. Everyone’s playing became sympathetic to
Efron’s subject matter, and the resulting performances are more intimate and magnetic.
“It was so much more exposing doing it this way,” he continues. “Being so open with my bandmates was really scary. The whole process was actually pretty rough because of where I was emotionally. With the song Awaken, Michael [Rose, vocalist] and I sat down together in the studio before we recorded and I explained what I was feeling when I wrote those lyrics, and in the end his performance was just amazing. I actually cried after he’d finished recording. Michael is a fantastic singer and he really managed to bring the emotions I was feeling to life. I knew I had to expose myself with the true meaning of the songs so that we could deliver the lyrics with the right emotions.
“But for most songs,” he adds, turning the tide of the conversation towards why he’s had this change of lyrical heart, “it’s not so much about me and my problems than it is ‘why did I expose myself in such a way’ and ‘how did I allow myself to do that?’”
Here, it’s not the destination that matters most to Efron – it’s being able to make the journey in the first place.
Awaken, a song which begins with gentle, cascading clean guitar chords and dark, defeated lyrics builds gracefully through rising dynamics into a staggeringly powerful song, marked with electronic drums and Rose’s increasingly determined and triumphant vocal performance. Hanging on an uneasy, discordant note at the midway point, it soars from its epic, inspired sound into a Dream
“Michael is a fantastic singer and he really managed to bring the emotions I was feeling to life. I knew I had to expose myself with the true meaning of the songs so that we could deliver the lyrics with the right emotions.”
Theater-flavoured barrage of intense riffs bubbling with keyboards. It grows angrier and more cinematic, where Devin Townsend-sized orchestrations characterise its summit, before a heartfelt vocal refrain, which nods its head to Periphery, stirs your heart. For a song without any real chorus to speak of – instead it has an “emotional peak”, Efron says – it’s incredibly addictive, progressive in its unpredictability but natural in the way its emotions blossom and burn. It’s the record’s crowning moment.
“Time And Time Again, which is probably the most personal to me, was the hardest song to write,” he reflects. “It’s always hard for me to know that the lyrics I have are the right lyrics for that song and that I’m 100 per cent behind them. I had to think about how to expose my feelings, how do I feel about sharing such emotions and experiences – because in real life I never do – so songs like that, where I was so emotionally involved, were extremely difficult to write.”
The track is laced with an In Absentiaera Porcupine Tree storytelling presence which works hard to craft vivid, chilling images in your head. Efron’s words float atop rippling synth textures, which also take in elements of bands such as Shattered Skies and Voyager. This is the one song he gives a little background on.
“It’s basically me telling the world that
I’m lonely and I’m tired of being lonely,” he says. “It was a big moment for me where I really began to be more direct and blunt with my lyrics.”
Indeed, you can almost hear his discomfort at opening up like this during this conversation, but such internal bravery has helped make A Way Out so much more accomplished than its predecessors.
“Chain Reaction spoke about broader, less personal topics like world hunger or dictators. This time I wrote from inside myself and if I liked it, it stayed. I didn’t want to overthink it.”
While Efron is very much the leader of the band, the one who always has the final say, his emotions and subconscious almost became his leader, and his decision to allow this to happen has proven to be an inspired one.
Another big turning point with this record is the addition of a new guitarist, and this idea of adding an extra musician was born from Efron’s growing passion – now bordering on obsession – with production.
Efron explains, “I also produced our first two albums but I was still experimenting and learning. This time we did it in my studio. I orchestrated everything and was in control. This made it cheaper to record and I could use all my tricks to chop down production time too, but there was also the feeling that maybe I could have produced it better. So that’s part of the reason the album took so long to finish.
“I listen to a lot of [Polish death metal band] Decapitated,” he continues. “In fact, apart from Haken, Earthside and Karnivool, I don’t listen to any prog metal, and so even though we’re not trying to sound like Decapitated, they definitely influenced how we produced the album. They are exactly the reason we added another guitar player. I hated the fact that every time there’s a guitar solo, the rhythm guitar disappears. With only one guitar player I felt we were missing that extra heaviness. I wanted to move further down the heavy music route – I want this band to be more heavy than progressive.”
That increased aggression, which builds off the thick layering of guitars while eschewing the tones with which the band strived to strike a balance between light and darkness, has provided them with an extra impetus. It has propelled them forwards. Room 11 hinges on spinning, dizzying yet hypnotic Meshuggah grooves while Severed lavishes an energetic metal track with palpable doses of pop. We Are Free boasts a manic, purposefully scattershot and glitching breakdown. Meanwhile,
Puppet On Strings is full of entertaining, gouging vocal hooks.
There’s a vigorous intensity to these tracks, even during its dynamically reserved moments – of which there are far more than on previous albums – which Efron was eager to bring out in his production. He wanted to surround the listener with sound.
“I like to sit very close to the screen in the cinema,” he explains. “So if you want to see something in the upper right-hand corner you have to concentrate on it so everything else is just a blur. It’s the same with music, when you focus on one guitar player you can still hear that someone else is doing something different on the other side and that really excites me.”
So sit tight, get up close and immerse yourself in an album of cinematic proportions. Musically, it’s driven by
Dream Theater-eqsue bombastic forays and a modern metal approach. Emotionally, its transparent and engaging personality sees you vicariously exorcising Yoav Efron’s personal turmoil alongside him on each and every track.
With A Way Out, Distorted Harmony will find a way into your head and your heart.
A Way Out is out now and is self-released. See www.distortedharmony.com for more information.
“Chain Reaction spoke about broader, less personal topics like world hunger or dictators. This time I wrote from inside myself and if I liked it, it stayed.”
DISTORTED HARMONY, L-R: YOEL GENIN, IGGY COHEN, YOAV EFRON, MICHAEL ROSE, YOGEV GABAY, AMIT PLASCHKES.
BANDLEADER YOAV EFRON: OFFERING A WAY OUT.