Luxrem – Dreamwalker Review
Luxrem’s own “brand of prog” is a balanced melange of clean, easy flowing rock and odd, heavy prog metal. Blending their technical musicality with the story of “a being that’s essentially the reaper that takes you if you die in your sleep,” the band released their debut album Dreamwalker, on June 27, 2020. Each song is a dream that the protagonist has before he dies. The amazing rhythmic riffs played by the guitar and supported by the drums are the highlight of the album. The lead keyboard parts are similar to those you can hear in a Dream Theater record. Though, the keyboards create more of the atmosphere than any keyboard part you can hear in any prog metal record. Amazingly, you can breeze through the album not noticing many of the technical details because it all fits together and flows so easily. The band confirms that that was indeed the purpose by saying it is “fun enough to jam to but technical enough to still be considered prog.” In addition to DT, they list their influences to be Arch Echo, Leprous, and Haken. However, we believe they have gone far beyond the classic sounds of these bands. The amount of experimentation and innovation in this album is far beyond most other bands that are just starting out. For example, the odd time swing part with the old record effect in Dreamwalker is never-before-heard-of in any prog band. The elaborate classic guitar parts and the vocal arrangements that sound like a back-and-forth that the lead singer has with himself are 2 other examples to this phenomenon. Interestingly, what, at first listen, sounds like a huge hodgepodge of everything there is to music, grows to become Luxrem’s signature sound at subsequent listens. Be sure to check them out if you want a journey to uncharted areas of prog metal.
Jonathan Sookdew Sing – Vocals
Marcus Noga – Guitar
Gabriel Cuevas – Guitar
Ed Escalante – Drums
Frank Hernandez – Bass
1 – Fade (2:44)
The album opens with an instrumental track that literally sets the tone of the album from the first second. The sound of an old alarm clock being set both reflects on the themes that will be explored throughout the album and creates the feeling of a journey just starting.
The piano and electro guitar create a light theme that slowly builds up to a dramatic and orchestral-like arrangement. The song corresponds to the “light sleep” stage of sleeping where our muscles begin to relax, our heart rate and breathing slow down, and we slowly let go of ourselves into a deeper phase. This appears to be Luxrem’s purpose too, by putting this short track to help us get into the whole atmosphere of the album laying ahead.
2 – Reflection (6:53)
After the promising and intriguing intro of the album, Luxrem shows their heavier influences – guitar sounds that are reminiscent of the newer Dream Theater releases – with the second track of the album: “Reflection” It is impossible not to groove with the heavy 5/4 guitar riff. However, as if they want to get the listener even more into the song, they change the rhythm to a 7/8-which, later on, shows itself as the foundation of the whole song.
The rhythm section is probably the most attention-grabbing aspect of the song. As the track constantly changes its dynamics, the drummer Ed Escalante changes his playing style from heavy double-kicked tom grooves to jazzy ride actions. Although the song mainly settles on the djent-ish guitar riffs with dark atmospheres, the harmonized guitar solos break through the melancholia with the contribution of the mood-determining bass sound of Frank Hernandez.
Other than the originality of the combination of different genres and styles that the guitarists Marcus Noga and Gabriel Cuevas were able to come up with while writing the riffs and solos of the song, “Reflection” also shows the versatility of the singer Jonathan Sookdew Sing, as he shifts the vocals between his soft metal-core voice and his more distorted growly sound.
Production-wise, the song has been produced wisely so that you can clearly distinguish between the toms and different guitarists and the added atmospheric sounds constituted by the back-vocals, keyboards, and extra guitar layers.
Like all the other songs in the album, “Reflection” is about an essential feeling of human nature: the feeling you have when you have to choose between right and wrong. Should we be “selfish” and make the decisions that benefit us, or should we also be looking for other people’s interests for the things that we are going through?
All in all, the song harbors most of the signature aspects of Luxrem – enough for the listeners to understand where their sound is coming from (influence-wise) and to shape their general idea toward the album.
3 – Ghost Pirates (7:10)
Atmospheric intro of the “Ghost Pirates” calms the listener only to shock them with a grooving heavy riff. Descent of the bass in this distorted riff connects the soft and hard parts of the song with incredible ease. It also connects the heavy part with an even heavier one, full with fast double-kicked drums, and Dream Theater influenced, fast and rhythmically rich, guitar. Then, this rollercoaster of a song takes a step back to chill and lay the work for the vocals. This kind of dynamic songwriting becomes one of Luxrem’s powerful tools in the album and their talent in combining dualities like heavy and light in their songs is worth appreciating.
The haunting tale of “Ghost Pirates” is conveyed to the listener with the atmosphere creating synth and vocals that carry the needed emotions. His descriptions of the captain of the pirates are enough to unsettle the listener. While the story continues, a build-up is happening. Djent starts to become more aggressive. It blows with fast sequences of synth and coordinated guitar and drums. Then, with a simple segue of drum fills, Ed Escalante changes the way he plays the rhythm without losing any of the momenta. This occurs lots of times in the song which produces captivating drumming that always innovates itself and makes the drumming interesting through the 7 minutes of the song.
This heavy metal and djent influenced part of the song to resolve itself to calmness only to create another build-up with an exciting drum and the use of cymbals. This explodes into a heavy sounding chorus with lots of Dream Theater influenced synth and guitar work. After that, they trick the listener just like the start of the song and gets even heavier with growling vocals and exploding guitars.
It connects to incredibly well written and performed synth solo. Even though there is not a keyboard player in the band, their use of synth is very well-done and sounds like played by an experienced player. This synth solo combines perfectly with the upcoming guitar solo that can come out of a Dream Theater record.
After that, songs get heavier and heavier. It gets faster and faster. Finally, it ends with a strong chord, resembling the nightmare sequence of the person who is dying is finally ending and he is finally free from haunting pirates and can rest (his ears.) 🙂
4 – Aurora Borealis (5:31)
Starting with probably the most atmospheric (and lightest?) riff on the album, Luxrem shows their inclination towards odd time signatures with interesting rhythmical syncopations. Even though the band doesn’t have any keyboard players, their sound has been heavily influenced by the bright synthesizer harmonies in this track. As the song changes its rhythm respectively to 7/8, 4/4 and 7/8 again, the atmosphere gets even more vivacious.
Especially guitar-wise, the players of Luxrem have been influenced by two artists: Plini and Thomas MacLean (Haken). As the fresh atmosphere that was created by the harmonic parts comes together with the 7-8 string heavy guitar riffs we get to hear the signature elements of the guitarist – which we come across throughout the album.
The band was trying to capture the feelings that they had throughout their lives with music that they are creating. We labeled this track as the most uplifting one in the album, “Aurora Borealis” describes the best feelings that the band is having in their lives – which are the times that they spend playing on stage. Therefore, they created this simile between the stage’s lights and Aurora Borealis (or the northern light), stage lighters to the stars in the sky, and the crowd to the crashing waves below.
5 – March Forward (6:03)
Never lose sight and “March Forward”! Even though you sometimes make mistakes and fall down, you should wear your mistakes proudly and never stop marching down the path you’ve set. This is the main idea Luxrem is trying to convey with their song. This inspirational song never takes a step back. It is full of high energy and high motivation.
Inspiring lyrics of “March Forward” can be ironic when considered that our protagonist will never march again. However, even in the direst situations like death, Luxrem states that this mentality should stay and you should show how strong your will is to achieve what you want in your life.
It opens with tom grooves that represent the marching music accompanied by the guitar that creates hype for the rest of the song. The chord progression they decided to use works incredibly well to create a motivational and positive atmosphere. Fast passages by guitar also help the song to sound more powerful. “March Forward” is full of guitar licks which both serve as a bridge and as a complement to vocal’s inspiring lyrics.
After a heavy chorus ends with “Can you hear me?”, guitar clearly answers this question. Getting louder and stronger, the guitar gives out a solo that is thematically and musically linked to the rest of the song. The guitar really shows itself with its catchy licks that can be found all through the record and makes a great job of creating bridges.
Acoustic elements used in the song represent the falling down we encounter in life. It resembles our response to our mistakes. However, guitar playing still has energy in it, waiting to get up and has its guard up. The moment the vocal ends, the guitar starts to get up and grow in size. It turns to a sick breakdown, then on top of that, it becomes an extremely swift guitar solo. After that, it turns to a thing that can be explained with just two words: “pure metal.” The transformation of the guitar represents what we can become when we don’t lose our sight.
The verse comes back and keeps on giving motivation with its lyrics and energetic guitar. After the verse, first the guitar, then the drums come and I have to say that I incredibly enjoy the melody of the guitar and energy of the drum fills. The bridge they made shifts to another energetic solo that echoes Dream Theather. The song slowly fades out while the guitar can be heard from far away while the bass stays with us, saying everything will be ok by giving a calming end to this energetic song.
6 – Beginning of the End (6:52)
Beginning of the End starts with a very soft acoustic backing and vocals, much like the lull before the storm. This is the song that describes death, the central theme, in the harshest way. It uses biblical references, mainly the end of days, to depict an atmosphere of remorse and terror.
Enter the distorted guitar. Combining two over-used metal riffs with different subdivisions and using them back to back, Luxrem seems to have found a cool way to create variety in a prog track. This verse riff follows the vocals and deviates from it repeatedly, symbolizing the confusion of the protagonist as the end comes near. The high pitched but low volume keyboards follow these riffs, which induces an infernal atmosphere. Similar to before, the 5/4 riff backing the line “The beginning of the end is near” follows the vocal line almost to at.
The protagonist says that he is “watching the end of days through the angels’ eyes.” In the following breakdown, vocalist Jonathan Sing switches to a darker and harsher, almost brutal voice. This symbolizes the start of angels’ fight with demons in order to save humans.
The theme starting at 4:23 makes this song unique. The splashing drums give this theme a sense of alertness while soft guitars and grand piano work to counter it. The bass sounds a lot like Chris Squire, which is interesting to hear in a prog metal context. Before and after, the fight continues, but this part serves as a relief from the tension-filled song. The 20-second ending features a combination of many of the main instrumental themes in the song, and the song ends with the line “when angels die.”
7 – Dreamwalker (12:10)
The magnum opus of the album, which also gives it its name, is a 12-minute journey to prove once and for all the sheer creativity of Luxrem, both from a musical and lyrical standpoint. Considering that a debut album is responsible for carving out the unique ‘sound’ of a band, the closing track should let it run through the very veins of the song so that the listeners would still be affected by the band’s craft long after their first listen. It was this simple principle that made King Crimson’s debut so much more effective, and it’s safe to say that Luxrem is aiming for a similar aesthetic.
The intro of the song feels like an entrance, with Ed Escalante’s crash and haunting tom pattern proclaiming “the long-awaited reveal of the reaper”, as the band put it. Accompanying the drums, Marcus Noga’s djent guitar riff creates a tension that fuels the dread we as the listener feel towards this reaper. Even the time signature changes frantically as the guitar riffs morph into one another, from 12/8 to 4/4 to 5/8.
The vocals only come around at about the 2:40 minute mark. This might be a deliberate attempt from Luxrem’s side to first introduce a supernatural being with solely instruments, in order to withhold the human side of the reaper and leave us at awe of his presence. However, the first thing that we hear him say is “Don’t be afraid / I mean you no harm”. This juxtaposes with our prior beliefs about reapers and how they are usually portrayed, but also immediately reminded us of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. In addition, Jonathan Sookdew Sing’s vocals for the parts of the reaper appear to be much calmer than that of the protagonist, whom we’ll hear later on with Sing utilizing more of his growling voice.
As this is the end of the album, and the story likewise, the protagonist is at the edge of death confronting the reaper in his sleep. Although he is reluctant about going with him to the next phase, the reaper persuades him almost with guidance that is also towards us, the listener. The reaper also makes references to other songs on the album (“pirates’ battles”, “flashing lights” etc.) and this might be read as Luxrem’s attempt to make the album feel more unified and emphasize that it’s a concept album. By saying that he will take the protagonist “through this cloud of dreams”, the band also shines some light on where the term “dreamwalker” comes from.
The next section of the song deals with the actual death of the protagonist and we can positively say that it was one of the most interesting ways we’ve heard bands handle death in music. The old record effect feels so absurd yet once you listen to it again, it starts to make sense. First of all, this is a prog song and it is nice to see this kind of creative perspective reflected on a heavy theme like death. And the fact that it is actually in odd time with a swing feel added to our amazement immensely.
The song ends with some more melodic riffs, and also an acoustic interlude just as we thought there couldn’t be any more sections. Although this can feel rather forced, that’s the thing with keeping long songs interesting and we believe that there is potential for Luxrem to experiment with longer song structures.
There is no doubt that it’s not easy to create original prog metal songs when the genre is filled with many mislabeled bands and misconceptions. But Luxrem, by putting the style in a new context, succeeds to get past these general misconceptions. We hope that it was as fun to record as it was for us to listen and that they will be pushing the boundaries of the genre much more often.