The clues were all there on Disperse’s 2013 album Living Mirrors. Here was a young Polish band that, ostensibly, fit neatly into the burgeoning tech metal/djent movement while hinting at a more distinct and diverting identity. That album’s finest moments certainly suggested that Disperse, and insanely talented guitarist Jakub Zytecki in particular, were platinum-plated ones-to-watch, but even diehard fans will be blinking with bewilderment when Foreword unravels before their ears.
With djent’s obligatory post-Meshuggah riffs all but excised from their sound, Foreword blurs the lines between tech metal, modern prog rock and artful, left-field pop. That it does so via songs that are swollen with inspirational ideas, melodic ingenuity and some of the most inventive and extraordinary guitar playing you will ever hear, makes this far more than just a strong record by a promising band. Instead, Disperse have just trounced every one of their supposed peers and made an album that subtly but convincingly redefines how esoteric and adventurous modern should sound. Yes, it’s really that good.
Opening track Stay sets out the Poles’ stall with spine-tingling grace and power, with its slow-burning crescendos, skewed rhythms and sumptuously layered guitars. Frontman Rafal Biernecki’s gorgeously understated performance, which he sustains throughout, instantly outstrips all his previous efforts and marks him out as a unique vocalist in a scene full of copycats and atonal bellowers. Doubtless he wrung great inspiration from the simply beautiful cacophony around him: second track Surrender is truly dizzying, with its ornate jazz-tinged central guitar motif and bursts of intricate but insistent melodic interplay. Here, Biernecki’s gentle delivery couldn’t be more perfect: noble but humble humanity hidden within a mesmerising melee of lush, reverb-smothered complexity. Where other bands of their generation favour the long-winded approach, Disperse are masters of brevity: Bubbles, Tether and Neon are all immaculate three-minute marvels, each with their own personality. On more elaborate fare like Sleeping Ivy, with its glitchy electronics and mellifluous mutations, and the woozy sprawl of the nine-minute Does It Matter How Far, Disperse point to more aesthetic common ground with Porcupine Tree and Riverside than with Periphery or Tesseract, while the twinkling restraint of the closing Kites is more pristine dream-pop than thunderous technicality.
Foreword has no weak spots, no filler, no moments where you might be prompted to say, ‘Their next album might be a belter!’ This is an example of what happens when a good band becomes great, leaving the competition in the dust.