‘Beacons’, the second full-length from Cloudkicker, is a whirlwind of progressive, instrumental rock, dense post-hardcore, and complex metal. It sometimes sounds like two bands playing at once. Impressive then, that it is all the work of just one man.
This hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere, Ohio native Ben Sharp has been kicking out solid solo jams for a few years already, but ‘Beacons’ is something else. It’s clear from just the opening flurry of ‘Here, Wait a Minute! Damn It!’ that Sharp has upped his game and then some. A compact riff loops over high tempo but truly organic sounding drums, layers of guitar crash and break against the rhythm, and then the whole thing explodes. Elsewhere there are beautifully busy lead guitar lines, quick shifting time signatures, and distorted hits of micro thrash. And Sharp pulls it all off while avoiding every possible pitfall of this kind of home recording project.
This isn’t just a technical feat, however. Sure, ‘Beacons’ shreds, but there are compelling patches of grainy ambience here, cinematic flair too, and it’s goddamn emotional at times. ‘We’re Goin’ In. We’re Goin’ Down’ (all the tracks are named after final words recorded on aircraft black boxes) goes from bright, expansive beginning to shadowy dread via wicked riffing and rolling rhythms. The long, scraping tones in the middle of ‘Push It Way Up!’ sound melancholy and solemn, as well as like a plane engine in trouble. And ‘Oh God’ is, I think, perfect- a glorious mini epic that sounds both industrial and organic, powerful and personal, and possesses a moving final minute that almost made me bust out crying. If I could only play one of these songs to someone to convince them of this record’s greatness, it would be this one. But I might just play it to myself on repeat forever instead.
‘Beacons’ might be the second full-length from Cloudkicker but it feels like a new beginning. Enormous, emotive, and exceptional, it’s a record of rare quality and one of the albums of the year. Maybe even of the decade.