Former Anathema, Íon and Antimatter co-founder Duncan Patterson returns with the sophomore offering from his latest project, Alternative 4. The new album, titled 'The Obscurants', is hinged on the dark progressive style that Patterson has honed since his earliest days in the Liverpudlian doom band. With elements of ambient, avant garde, experimental and progressive rock running throughout, 'The Obscurants' is an atmospheric and in some ways quite a stripped back album, yet is a logical continuation from the formulas toyed with on the band's début 'The Brink'.
The simple haunting piano echoing in a dark and empty space opens the album with the title track effectively setting the mood and atmosphere in a minimalistic and very effective manner. 'Paracosm' follows on with a quiet and slow intro that slowly blooms into a delicate and skeletal piece of groove laden prog rock that strolls past the eleven miniature mark with ease. 'Returning The Screw' is a perfect vehicle for new vocalist Simon Flatley's croon as he navigates the Floydian lyrics and the ever present sinister bass pulse. 'Dina' is another sumptuous blend of leading piano melody, vulnerable crooning vocals, haunting atmospheres underpinned by a great groove.
This formula is continued through 'Lifeline' in a more subdued manner than before, if that were possible. However the pace begins to pick up a little more with the brighter and more animated 'The Tragedy Shield', which breaks out some nice guitar work and really lets Flatley show off more of his vocal ability. 'Mr Black' returns to the heavy piano leads and atmospheric synths for another great dark and delicate track. The album closes with the aptly named 'Closure', which really lets loose with the synths and even incorporates a little bit of a dance beat into things for a more aggressive and up-tempo lead that slowly fades into prog rock refrain that builds towards a wonderful combination of guitar and organ to round things off.
This is a wonderfully executed album. It is dark and delicate with flourishes of prog rock structures and ambient atmospheres. The writing, as you'd expect from Patterson, is engaging and though-provoking and some of his most well-rounded and mature to date. The production style may recall the recent post-prog offerings by his former band mates in Anathema, but as 'The Obscurants' proves, Alternative 4 is very much it's own beast.
This album sees a more tactile solidification of the Alternative 4 sound. The delicate minimalistic style referencing a wide palette of genres and artists is smooth and engrossing and really sees the band come into their own. It may be a slower and more mellow album that might not immediately grab the casual listener, but 'The Obscurants' easily stands alongside the influential classics in Patterson's extensive discography.