Album Review: Pomegranate Tiger, Boundless

The Context

What’s a Pomegranate Tiger?

At face value, Pomegranate Tiger can be described as a technically precise and highly impressive instrumental progressive metal band. But beneath the surface of every adjective that can sonically describe most of today’s instrumental prog metal, Pomegranate Tiger puts forth artistic depth that can’t be fully digested after one listen. Hence, the following comprehensive review of the band’s latest record, Boundless.

As you read this review, go ahead and play the full album below. You can also find the individual songs in the track-by-track breakdown.

Band Links: iTunes – Bandcamp – Big Cartel – YouTube

Also, check out PT’s latest live drum play through videos of the album’s title track:

With Click Track

Without Click Track

Pomegranate Tiger is a relatively new face in the constantly expanding progressive metal scene. Despite the band’s nascent status within the long history of metal, PT remarkably hits on all the genre’s pleasure points and matches the musical prowess of veteran bands like Animals as Leaders and Scale the Summit.

PT was formed in 2010 in Windsor, Ontario Canada, and in 2013, the band released its debut album, Entities, which managed to perform quite well in the realm of digital album sales. With a hearty helping of instrumental playthrough videos via YouTube, the band’s reputation grew throughout metal blogs and social media channels.

Since then, the band has evolved into a solo project by the band’s creator and lynchpin, Martin Andres. If you’re curious, feel free to read up on the band’s history here, but in terms of the current iteration of PT, Martin’s the guy you need to know.

The Project

PT

The music of Boundless — guitars, bass, drums, piano and strings — were written entirely by Martin.

On top of that, he pulled double performance duty, having recorded all guitars and drums on Boundless. A handful of musicians are able to play guitar and drums, but Martin’s abilities are especially impressive considering how technically challenging this music is. He’s not only able to execute PT’s ultra-advanced and finessed guitar work, but the complex drumming performance he pulls off shows that he’s extremely fluent with both instruments, not simply a guitarist-turned-drummer, or vice versa.

Although Martin does the lion’s share of PT’s music and business-related work, he’s not completely alone in the endeavor.

Guest bassist Chase Bryant offers an impressive performance on an instrument that’s typically understated in the metal genre. Listen closely, and you’ll find that Chase’s dexterous bass playing and fusion-esque solos are the layer of icing on this rich, pound-your-face cake of complex flavors.

The album also includes several top-performing instrumentalists from the world of classical music. The cello of Dr. Yoshika Masuda (University of Southern California), the viola of Matthew Cohen (Juliard School of Music), and the double bass of Brian Johnson (Los Angeles Philharmonic) are prominently featured on the album’s final track, a string quartet piece composed and arranged by Martin. (Be on the lookout for a time-lapse video documenting “Ovation”‘s writing process in the near future.)

At the production helm are a few familiar names in the metal community. A.J. Minette, most known for his superlative work with The Human Abstract, manned production duties for the record, and Periphery’s Adam “Nolly” Getgood gave the record the in-your-face mixing and mastering that you love to hear on a contemporary metal record.

With additional production from Marty Bak (the producer of Entities), Maahy (creator of the album’s striking artwork), and Canada’s finest, Kevin Lambert (album layout), you have yourself a collective effort that effectively brings a high-quality DIY album to metal fanatics — self-funded and pushed to production without the assistance of a record label.

PT Martin

Three years in the making, the effort was far from easy (Martin spent the better half of a year preparing for drum recording alone), but the fact that this album exists is a great reminder that it’s entirely possible to release pro-quality material with resourcefulness and a driven, creative vision.

The Analysis

At this point, I’ll take off my nameless music journalist hat and let you know where this album review is coming from.

Candidly, I am not an impartial third-party. I know Martin and we run in the same circle of Los Angeles musicians, many of whom I’m very proud to call great friends.

I’m closer to the source than most listeners and I’ve been treated to many detailed insights into the album’s creation and content.

While I was initially happy to review my friend’s music, the process of digesting the album and writing about it evolved into something deeper than I expected. Something kept poking me from beneath the surface.

After each listen, the album grew on me more and more. It became apparent that this album operates on many levels. After learning more about Martin’s compositional and thematic intentions for the record, Boundless took on a much more fully dimensional life than many of the technically-stunning-yet-emotionally-lacking prog metal albums out there today.

I couldn’t give Boundless a surface-level assessment. Writing this review demanded listen after listen. I started analyzing the album from several different angles. I realized that this album is far from a vanity project or a way to simply show off flashy shredding skills; it’s an artistic statement by Martin.

My goal here is to turn you onto this album and point out particular areas of interest so you can appreciate it on a deeper level than a casual listener would. The attention to detail that went into the making of this album rewards the listener with each listen and I want to clue you in to those details.

If you’re still with me, let’s dive in to Boundless.

The Album

In the typical fashion of reviewing rock and metal records, simply praising the band’s musicianship and throwing out qualifiers like “heavy” and “badass” won’t even scratch the surface of the record.

To say the least, there’s a lot going on within Boundless’s ten expertly composed and instrumentally dense tracks.

Boundless

In terms of modern metal, you’ll hear guitar sounds that elicit a “djent” comparison thanks to the album’s production and occasional use of 8-string guitars. You’ll also hear a strong Gojira influence and moments that might bring Meshuggah to mind.

But aside from Boundless’s metal influences, a striking amount of inspiration and direction derives from classical music. Having studied classical guitar before majoring in Percussion at the University of Windsor, Martin applies a deep knowledge of classical composition and draws musical concepts and ideas from composers like Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzola.

If you’re not one for “neoclassical” shred, don’t worry, this isn’t it. The compositional qualities of the record don’t just create a “classical effect”, rather, they apply classical music concepts and blend them into a rich, adventurous and unique execution of modern-day instrumental metal.

On top of that, Martin derives some influence from electro-legends Daft Punk, which although it may sound strange in the context of metal, you’ll find that influence comes forward in an intriguing way.

The album’s song arrangement also makes for an enjoyable and complete listening experience. In a genre where the music alone needs to make up for the absence of vocals, PT is able to keep the listener’s attention throughout a highly dynamic musical journey.

Let’s take a walk through each track.

“Manifesto”

“Manifesto” serves as the album’s opening statement. Inspired by author Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto, Martin sees this album as his own manifesto for the world — his collective views on art and its value to society.

Like an effective album opener, the track establishes what’s to come:

At times, you’ll hear distinct and catchy (epic, anthemic) melodic themes that your ear can easily grab hold of. You’ll snap your neck to heavy, rhythmic breakdowns. You’ll also get accustomed to hearing cyclical, repeating, fluid lead guitar lines (some of that Daft Punk influence, I’d say) and syncopated grooves that play around with the concept of “where’s the 1?”. And of course, you’re treated a handful of speedy-albeit-concise guitar solos.

All in all, a strong opening track.

“Stomp the Haunted Crown”

According to Martin, this song represents the ambiguous nature of morality and justice. With this being a considerably heavy, hammering tune, the concept seems congruent with images that the music might conjure up.

“Stomp the Haunted Crown” begins with a jarring, accent-shifting introduction that dynamically builds to a triumphant and dramatic drop. Listen for furious mid-range riffing from the guitar and bass and appreciate the dark and compressed nature of the track, which draws shades of Gojira.

Turn your speakers up for this one and allow it to properly rip.

“Boundless”

The album’s title track was released a few months prior to the record’s release and has gotten an enthusiastic reception from PT’s fanbase. Because there’s a lot going on this tune, I recommend taking a few listens to zero in on what each instrument is doing and how they interact with each other.

The song’s introduction contains an intriguing repetitive guitar riff that’s laid over varying time signatures, and the rest of the song explores octave-spanning runs, trance-inducing passages, extended harmonized guitar sequences and, surprisingly, a pinch of punchy, upfront fusion-inspired bass playing for an ear-grabbing effect.

Take a look at the guitar play through video for “Boundless” below to get a visual appreciation for the intricacy and finesse of Martin’s guitar work.

“The Masked Ball”

Inspired by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s party-animal lifestyle, “The Masked Ball’’ finds Martin pondering the idea that things aren’t always as they seem, since Mozart’s lavish partying and boorish behavior aren’t typically associated with what we consider genius.

Musically, the track complements this idea as we’re driven into musical territory that’s not typically found on your everyday metal album.

This song offers more in terms of melody compared to the first two tracks. There’s a distinct chorus theme that utilizes a catchy chord progression, and you’re drawn into a trance with lengthy, looping guitar melodies in the guitar’s higher register.

If you listen with headphones, you might notice some subtle ear candy at halfway through the song where a descending arpeggio that cascades back and forth through the left and right speakers. Very cool production work.

After a sawing, Lamb of God-like riff leads into a final chorus, we get our first break from brutality.

The sonic landscape eases up and introduces soft piano playing. The organic sounds of the piano are then joined and intertwined with a clean, phased electric guitar, perhaps complementing present-day music’s ability to convincingly weave in the traditional (organic, real, analog), with the new (man-made, programmed, digital).

“Paper Hammers”

The dynamic lull transitions us nicely into “Paper Hammers” — an ambitious and strikingly different track that highlights Martin’s compositional skills and classical knowledge.

Martin doesn’t take credit for performing every single instrument on the record, specifically the piano. About half of these piano passages were actually performed on a MIDI keyboard, while the faster (and crazier) scales and arpeggios were programmed.

Martin doesn’t consider himself a pianist, but he can definitely write for one. Just as classical composers don’t typically play all the orchestral instruments they write for, Martin doesn’t allow circumstance or ability to limit his expression of highly complex musical ideas.

Programmed elements, in this context, shouldn’t be considered cheating in any way. Here’s why:

  1. It’s impressive production work — there’s nothing about the dynamic qualities of the MIDI notes that scream “fake”. To get the piano to sound so convincing must have required a lot of attention to detail and manipulation, and the result is impressive.
  2. It’s an exercise in resourcefulness and breaking outside of the physical and financial boundaries that limit people’s creative ambitions. Although it wasn’t realistic to hire a pianist or train up a level needed to properly play this piece, Martin was able to craft a compelling track nonetheless.

“Paper Hammers” begins with a fast, multi-octave ascending climb on a comparatively much more digital keyboard sound. This instrument is supported with an understated double bass.

A clean guitar of crystalline quality eventually enters, which makes you think of what it might sound like if Jeff Beck could shred. The song progresses with interplay between the piano and guitar, swimming back and forth between passages of satisfying harmony and peculiar dissonance.

If you care to allow Martin’s influence to point you in a classical direction, check out Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau De Couperin: VI. Toccata”, which heavily inspired the song.

“Color Theory”

The break is over and we begin the album’s second half with the return of Pomegranate Tiger’s metal foundation.

Each riff on “Color Theory” cleverly represents a specific color on the color wheel spectrum.

For instance, the first riff is intended to represent the tertiary colors of the color wheel — colors that are combinations of other colors. Hence, you hear a cyclical, Guthrie Govan-like riff that’s ambiguous in its tonality.

My favorite is the “green” passage, which compliments Martin’s love for nature. To convey a sense of growth and renewal associated with the color green, he applies a majestic chord progression under cinematic synth layers and blasting double bass drums.

Highlights also include a lyrical bass statement in the middle section and an exciting meter shift signaling in the “white” riff — the combination of all colors.

This interpretation of music to colors is entirely subjective to the artist, in this case Martin, and whether or not you yourself see these colors on first listen doesn’t matter. What does is the artistic intent — a brilliant and creative way to compose music.

“Billions and Billions”

“Billions and Billions”, inspired by Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, offers more straight ahead onslaught, with instrumentation and claustrophobic darkness similar to “Boundless” and “Stomp the Haunted Crown”.

This track effectively highlights Martin’s rhythm and guitar work. This track might not stand out as much musically compared to other tracks, but it’s definitely one the album’s heaviest.

“With Knives as Teeth”

Progressive in every sense of the word, the frenetic and rhythmically adventerous “With Knives as Teeth” is carried in by unprocessed, distant drums that expectedly snap into the upfront mix we’re used to.

The track sounds comparatively more pissed off than other songs, even furious at times. You’ll feel a sense of unease with highly dissonant harmonies and a rhythmically ambiguous buildup that doesn’t drop quite where you want it…almost like a sneeze on your nose you just can’t get out. Then, of course, you’re hit with the sneeze of relief when breakdown eventually drops.

This piece was primarily influenced by the the Assad Brothers’s interpretation of Astor Piazzola’s Tango Suite. If you’re a guitarist, do yourself a favor and watch this; you might find that this style of metal is often a gateway drug into classical guitar.

“Cyclic”

The other prereleased track, “Cyclic” is an epic song on all fronts, built entirely around the intro 4-bar syncopated beat. Quintessential PT.

On the guitar, the right hand taps a melodic pattern outlining all the accents that stick out in drum’s syncopation. Watch the drum play through video below to appreciate some of Martin’s expert drumming.

Martin’s Daft Punk influence is more apparent here – the repetition, the repeating riff comprised of wide intervals. Catchy, yet alien.

In terms of theme, Martin likens the human experience to a cycle. We live, we die, we’re all the same despite our circumstantial differences. We’re all part of the same cycle.

“Ovation”

And after the onslaught of metal, the album winds down with a classically inspired piece arranged for string quartet.

If you’ve listened closely, you’ll notice the reintroduction of the main theme from “Manifesto”, the album’s first track. The theme develops and expands into an effective album closer, wrapping up Boundless by arriving where it began, only this time on the other side of the coin of Martin’s musical influences.

The musicianship is exceptional, not surprising considering the aforementioned pedigree of the musicians hired for these recording sessions. Similar to “Paper Hammers” creative production and multiple-sessions were required due to budget and time constraints. Although each instrument was recorded separately on different days, the cohesion that’s achieved is outstanding.

And with that, the album finishes and you’re left wondering what the hell you just listened to. You’re content with a feeling of completion, yet bemused with a desire for more.

The Takeaways

I think it goes without saying that this record isn’t prime for a passive listen. There’s clearly many levels to this record and the people who take the time properly digest Boundless are going to better appreciate the music and reap its nutrition.

Go ahead and listen to this record in various settings; each experience will be different. Blasting the record in your car on full volume will definitely satisfy your inner mosher, but to get the optimal experience, I recommend sitting down and listening with a quality pair of headphones.

Think back to the days when entertainment and distractions weren’t as abundant. When people gathered around a record player and intently listened to their favorite band’s latest record. I admit that might be an over-romanticized vision, but the core of the sentiment remains: listen without distraction and soak in this album as a piece of art.

Will we see this music live? It’s a big maybe. But it’s undeniable that the artistic stamp of Boundless reveals that the metal community has an extremely talented innovator on its hands.

Let us know what you think of Pomegranate Tiger in the comment section below and be sure to check out Boundless, now available for purchase.

Band Links: iTunes – Bandcamp – Big Cartel – YouTube

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