If Ray Bradbury decided to form a prog metal band, it would sound like Jupiter Society, and that really wouldn’t be a bad thing. There are several things in common: Bradbury was never one for believing in the benevolence of the unseen, a perspective shared by main Jupiter Society songwriter and keyboardist Carl Westholm. Bradbury enjoyed a sense of dark grandeur in his stories — a tainted nostalgia, if you will — and was not at all worried when his space stories went a little noir, with bad things happening to good people. Westholm’s musical bombast loves the dark corners of minor notes, big choral backups, dramatic shifts from quiet to loud. Both creative minds can be a whole lot of fun.
Featuring several of his former cohorts from Krux, Candlemass and other metal groups, Westholm’s latest outing, Terraform, brings up a new possibility — that there is a thread tying these disparate narratives together. On their debut, First Contact/Last Warning, we had stories of cyborgs who pondered their lack of mortality, vaguely recalling that they were the reanimated dead. We had a merciless hostile invader attacking with no other agenda than to kill human life, and the album closed with a song about a survivor of a spaceship attack — but not for long, as he’s in his lifesuit, drifting slowly toward a sun. On Terraform’s second song, “Rescue And Resurrection,” that same survivor is rescued on the brink of death, then turned into a cyborg himself. The story of the unseen predator is revisited as well, only now the hunter is the hunted on “Beyond These Walls You Are Not My Master.”
Yeah, when it’s written out, it doesn’t read well at all. Fortunately, the music is a lot more on the doomy, metal side, heavy on the epic qualities often associated with the prog metal genre, but light on the introspection. That’s something that tends to ruin the concoction with other practitioners of the style: they want to say something with big ideas, or they’re so enslaved by the rock opera trappings that none of it is fun, or spooky, or does what rock music is supposed to do — mainly, rock. All three can be had here.
I do have a bone to pick with the recording, though. The better part of the thing is at the same tempo, and so listening to the components versus the whole becomes the preferred experience, but if there is a thematic thread happening, and I hope there is, then this second act is meant to be slightly more dirge-like and sinister. I have chosen to cut some slack here and will keep my fingers crossed that Westholm has a third and final act prepared that answers all the questions raised by parts one and two.
2009 promised to be a big year for prog and its subgenres, but few of the titles have really succeeded as entertainment. Jupiter Society’s Terraform hits the mark and then some.
Terraform is available from Amazon.com.