Chimp Spanner is the pseudonym under which freakishly-talented multi-instrumentalist Paul Antonio Ortiz records, and At The Dream’s Edge is his debut full-length – just over an hour of instrumental metal that melds the downtuned chug ‘n’ stomp and polyrhythmic math-metal structures of the likes of Meshuggah, Devin Townsend-like atmospheric ambience that gives the material a soundtrack-like quality and epic scope, and moments of Satriani-like guitar pyrotechnics that all coalesce into an album of eye-widening scope and epic splendour.
Every aspect of At The Dream’s Edge oozes a sense of careful, considered craftsmanship. The production is absolutely pristine, allowing every element at play in the songs to unleash their maximum potential. The absolutely bludgeoning opening of ‘Harvey Wallbanger’, for instance, is given added heft by the tightness of the musical performances as well as the growling, precise guitar tones, the chest-pounding bass guitar and the insistent hammering of the drum tones. The spacey, ambient synth accompaniments and interludes that recall a more blissed-out, modernistic Vangelis are served well by the spacious, carefully balanced mix, that affords the peripheries of the sound an equal importance to the spidery rhythmic shifts and tight metallic hammering.
Key to the album’s success, however, is not simply the tightness of the musical performances, nor the technicality of the writing – it’s that Ortiz has crafted some exceptionally satisfying, honest-to-God songs. The opening riff to ‘The Mirror’ is maddeningly catchy, and one I’ve nearly considered undergoing exploratory surgery for, just to get out of my head. ‘Bad Code’ builds from an initially fairly simplistic rhythm guitar bludgeon and four-note lead figure into an increasingly complex, multi-layered sonic tapestry, with screaming leads and skittish finger-tapped riffs eventually giving way to a midsection that combines restrained drumming, rumbling bass guitar and melodic lead guitar as a breathing space before the track once more goes for the intricate riffing.
It’s not all technical virtuosity and relentless heaviosity, either (although ‘Harvey Wallbanger’ stands out as one of the more nakedly aggressive tracks on the record, coming on like it wants to push your face through a wall) – At The Dream’s Edge has an unmistakably cinematic scope. Take for instance the beautiful, relaxed instrumental interlude ‘Ghosts of the Golden City’ – complete with scratchy dust-on-record-player-needle noises and a morose, yet relaxing vibe. See also the album closer, ‘All Good Things’ – a gorgeous soundtrack to an imagined end credits sequence for the album, emotive and affecting, almost majestic with its uplifting orchestral strings and subtle, yet insistent pulsing bass drum driving it forward.
Yes, it’s all instrumental – there isn’t a vocal to be heard throughout. However, when you’re dealing with music as meticulously arranged, skillfully composed, tightly performed and flawlessly produced as the music contained within At The Dream’s Edge, vocals are the last thing on your mind.