Let me be honest, as I accidentally thought that this sophomore release from the Canadian/United States collective Third Ion was a different band with Ion or something in the name. A power/thrash act that I found interesting a while back. Then I suddenly went back and remembered that I’ve been here before and it was only just last year with the act’s slightly promising debut 13/8 Bit. Some might even think it insane at that point for the band to already release another full-length (and Indiegogo funded, no less) recording. Due to what I’d perceive to be some sort of strange universal fluke however; I ended up listening to this one instead and was blown away in the process. It even came to the point where I said, “to hell with that other band I thought this was, because these guys are so much better.” Part of this unexpected reaction might have to do with the addition of new vocalist and former Annihilator frontman Dave Padden joining the crew along with current members Justin Bender (ex-Into Eternity, he played on The Incurable Tragedy) on guitars and keys, Mike Young on bass (ex-The Devin Townsend Band) and Aaron Edgar on drums, but it also might have to do with the fact that these guys have stepped it up in almost every way possible, making for one of the most complex progressive metal performances that I’ve ever heard. Some might even say that it’s a bit over the top in that respect, but I’d simply have nothing less from such a brainy genre as this one.
Not only does Edgar’s drum work and Bender’s illogically complex riffing meld together like a sort of gel-like space butter, Padden’s performance on this record is simply remarkable. I don’t quite recall his Annihilator albums, but Third Ion just feels like it needs Padden now. I just couldn’t think of this band without him, and that’s how strong his performance is. I find myself half-singing and humming along with these catchy choruses and just plain passionate vocal lines throughout, showing that the man is clearly bringing his A-Game in the same fashion as the compositional end of this act. Biolith is the kind of record that not only sounds pleasing to the ear with practically every note, it’s also nearly devoid of filler pieces. It’s a bit arguable as to whether or not the chip-tune section that opens the disc’s title track is unnecessary, but these guys do write songs that deal with video games sometimes and I’m quite sure they’d write an awesome one for Mega Man if given the chance. Additionally, the album’s closing note “Corpus Solaris” is a bit off-kilter and feels like it should have been axed altogether. Those looking for progressive metal antics will be entirely turned off by this one and their inclusion of it boggles me. But even so, that entire track is a mere nitpick compared to the real monsters on the record, like album opener “State Of Flux”, the Monster Magnet gone prog with bits of thrash that consumes the title track, as well as standouts “Illogical”and the tour-de-force that should have closed the album, “Temporal Divide.”
That being said, the listener will receive a slew of nearly unimaginable progressive metal compositions that sometimes include bits of thrash, groove and even extreme metal sections with harsh vocals. It’s very much a modern approach to the material that still feels ingrained in what one might consider non-simplistic metal. There aren’t any breakdowns or core infusions to be found here, instead recalling some of the best work by Dream Theater, Pagan’s Mind, Symphony X and classic-era Circus Maximus. I’d even say that those of you disappointed by the odd Circus Maximus effort released this year (and yes, even the new Dream Theater album) will actually find what you’re looking for here. No bullshit, folks. I’m not just building some kind of spiel in order to make you buy the record for some kind of brownie points. Biolith is truly as good as I’ve described it, and despite the two atmospheric flaws (I’m not really a fan of either of them at this point) you’re still left with a little over forty minutes of jaw-dropping musicianship that is actually a bit tough for me to describe. But let’s give it a try anyway.
One thing that you need to know about Third Ion is that they’re doing a lot of experimenting on the prog front. There are a lot of familiar, yet different tones and structures utilized here in order to make a brainy and almost metaphysical sounding record. They kind of wanted this record to sound universally composed, perhaps by aliens or something and I think they’ve captured that as I feel like I’m in space while listening to some of these pieces. There’s no doubt that groove plays a big role in the music, but I like that unexpected southern tone and I thought I’d never hear anything like it in this kind of metal. Additionally, when these guys decide to jam, they really get down to it. There are instrumental sections within these pieces that literally had me drooling. Sure, we have down-tuned sections here and there on the bass which might not appeal to everyone, but it is obviously a more modern take on the genre and I don’t see how anyone could cast it aside. You also get some well-meant guitar solos, which only add more sprinkles to the cake, I’d say.
In the end, I really hope that progressive metal fans are happy with this one and by all means they should be. It’s been a hit or miss year for progressive metal and thankfully Third Ion stand firmly within the “hits” category of that statement. Biolith is intelligently catchy, and it’s a record that you’ll definitely want to play more than once. An unexpected fluke of the reviewing process, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have reviewed this one later down the road anyway. It’s just the kind of record that sticks out among a pile of what I’d consider to be solid or rather strong albums in their own right, which really says something about the band and the effort that they’ve put forth here. It’s truly something out of this world, which you don’t hear so often. (The Grim Lord)