Driven by frontman Christian Ayala Cruz, Avandra is a Puerto Rican progressive rock/metal project also backed by Luis Javier Rivera Guilbot (guitar), Gabriel Rodríguez Martinez (bass), and Adrián Arroyo Schuck (drums). After building their proggy foundation on their debut LP Tymora a couple year ago, the band are now back with Descender. This record includes not only an impressive guest musician list throughout the tracklisting, but also on the production team boasting Astronoid‘s Daniel Schwartz recording the album and Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna) mastering the material.
Being from Puerto Rico, I assumed and hoped there may be some Latin music flavor represented to make for a more innovative experience, yet Descender plays heavily on its European and American prog-rock influences to the extent of being possibly mistaken for those acts. Opening tracks “Beyond the Threshold: Part 1 – Helios Awakens” and its counterpart “Helios Descends” reveal comparisons to Dream Theater or Riverside, with the lead guitar and piano melodies striking very close to Porcupine Tree Stupid Dream-era territory. And don’t get me wrong, I love all the aforementioned groups, so this music is a blast for me, but it’s hard to deny that moments like the guitar solo on the following track “A Decision Must Be Made” is totally out of the Porcupine Tree handbook. Regardless of the band’s influences shining quite presently here, I feel inclined to commend these initial few pieces in that they are absolutely striking in their emotional, immersive, and melodic factors.
Although a good chunk of these songs sound rather comparable to other artists in the genre, Avandra is mostly successful at developing its own identity. I found the more notable characteristics to be Ayala’s slick, reverb-laden vocal delivery, which could be comparable to Katatonia‘s recent smooth sound. This can be best shown in “Even//You,” where the vocals hint at a pleasant, almost poppy aesthetic that nears a hard rock edge at parts. Furthermore, the usage of lush synth-based atmospheric soundscapes also on “Even//You” or “Q.E.” set the band apart from most of the aforementioned prog artists. Lastly, I must commend Avandra‘s resourcefulness of guest musicians. While the addition of the guitar solo on “The Narrowing of Meaning” by Richard Henshall (Haken) or the keyboard solo on “Derelict Minds” by Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater, Chroma Key) aren’t exactly indicative of this project’s talent, it was nonetheless a wise and impactful choice.
Even though this album has an overall agreeable consistency, there are some issues that I would’ve tweaked. Firstly, many of these songs lack meaty guitar riffs that could’ve potentially pushed the tracks forward much stronger. “Derelict Minds” is quite possibly the only song that places the rhythm guitar as a priority in regards to both songwriting and production. In addition to that disagreement, I find the tracklisting flow deserving some slight changes. The first half of this album leans a bit on the heavy and loaded end, where it gradually devolves into more atmospheric tracks. Ideally, I feel if they jumbled the order a tad, the album would have felt a bit more diverse instead of top-heavy.
In the end, Descender proves to be an extremely memorable and noteworthy prog rock/metal release of the modern era. The powerful, gripping melodies make for truly immersive compositions, an aspect that has been ignored in this genre for far too long. With a greater sense of urgency and a tad more heaviness, Avandra could seriously take this project to the next level and I’m honestly excited to see the future of this band.