The Infinite Loop
The Album from the Band of the Year
By Michael Aronovitz
It is no secret that I am a fan of Sifting, the progressive metal band from Los Angeles, California who blew our doors off with their debut record, “All the Hated” in 2013 and wowed us in September of 2017 with their second full length record titled “Not From Here.” I was fortunate enough to have seen them at the TLA Theater in Philadelphia a year ago May, second row, dead center. Plainly, it was a stellar performance delivered with that perfect mix of dynamics, sophisticated instrumental wizardry, and explosive theatrical precision, comparable to Rush on the 1978 tour of their “Hemispheres” record, a concert I thought could never be topped.
At the aforementioned Sifting gig (where they were opening for Sons of Apollo) I caught a guitar pick which currently sits on my desk right by my computer. I screamed myself hoarse. I was fortunate enough to get an interview with the band after the show, out in the rain, under an overhang across from the venue on South Street, and I was so taken with the spectacle I’d just witnessed, the emotive perfection, the superior execution and outright fucking joy with which these guys played, that I didn’t even conduct a real interview. I just raved to them about the parts that blew my mind apart. I said to founder, guitarist, and lead singer Edu, that his vocal melody choices were of the most original I’d ever heard. He asked specifically where, and I sang back to him the chorus of “Not From Here.” He could have laughed at me. He didn’t. He sang it with me and the band joined in…did you just fucking hear me? I sang for a moment with Sifting in the street in the rain under an overhang…a dream come true I will NEVER forget.
My son was with me for the show and interview, home from college, and we’d been bickering a bit as parents and older children might. After that evening however, we forgot what we were arguing about, and I want to thank Sifting right here and now. You made my cynical son look up to me. You made me feel like a boss. Every time I listen to your music, which is often, I get that same rush. I like feeling that way. I want it all the time, bro.
When Paul Gilbert came out with his new progressive blues record titled “Behold Electric Guitar” this past May, I named it the album of the year in the column I write for Heavy Music Headquarters. I want to state officially; however, that Sifting’s new record titled “The Infinite Loop,” dropping September 27th, 2019 shares that honor, in fact, I don’t think you can look at one without the other. Paul Gilbert is the greatest living shredder. I know there are arguments for many others, so many I won’t name them here for fear of missing ten or twenty, but if you will allow me a moment of subjectivity, I believe I can make the case that Gilbert and Sifting are linked. Gilbert is in the latter stages of a monster career, including, of course, his work with Mr. Big and Racer X. He is the past. His present is spectacular, yet quite definitive, as he has now put out a blues record with what I would call a phenomenal (yet casually dressed-down) bar band. I recently saw him at an intimate five hundred-seat club and enjoyed his performance, through which he proved himself a true master-craftsman, commanding the stage-space in a smart black suit and playing the blues. He made that guitar talk…weep…tell stories. He is the aesthetic twilight.
Sifting is the spectacular sunrise, the present, the morning – crisp blue skies with majestic jets doing fly-overs. Their album “The Infinite Loop” rounds out the binary starting with Gilbert’s former contribution to the equation as the exiting elder connected to this fresh kid reinventing the game.
Sifting’s new album, “The Infinite Loop,” is of the best I have ever heard. To drop some names, I want to say here that I believe Edu (Eduardo O Gil) is a genius with star power and the potent musical instincts one could compare in certain ways to David Bowie. No, Edu doesn’t sound like him, but he has a distinct crooning sort of tone in his repertoire just as did Mr. Stardust, and he somehow comes up with chord changes in his melodies that are “distinctly Edu,” as did Sir David. The difference is that Edu can also sing in momentous high tenor, heartfelt baritone, powerful mid-range, a modern growl, and in a clean or slight rasp, always bold, always bolstered by fundamental authenticity and technical mastery.
In terms of the drums, Joey Aguirre is an absolute MONSTER. He reminds me of Neil Peart in a way that is different from other drummers who may be mechanistically sound, even superior, yet machine-like, all numbers. Joey can and does pull off the speedier tempos with an awesome mix of feel and expertise, even going triple and quadruple-time when everyone else is dancing on the halves, and therefore, delivering to us the wonderful oxymoronic mix of fierce rapidity and monumental heartfelt undertow (a trick used by many black metal bands). However, he can also pound with the best of them, and I challenge anyone to find me a band with a current record that confronts us with a richer “wall of sound.” In reference to “impression” and interpretation, we can especially appreciate Joey’s accenting techniques. He has the ability to architect a “regular beat” and make it amazingly special without hindering the makeup of the overall product, and that, my friends, is the mark of both the prototypical champion and the consummate professional.
That being said, Wins Jarquin is the kind of bass player that doesn’t just play “roots.” He stands out when appropriate, and cements the band’s sound on an exotic sort of footing, almost like a sculptor, especially considering the mixed meter time signature changes Sifting employs with the apparent ease of taking a stroll on a mid-summer day. Across the stage, newcomer Xavi Leon is outstanding. To be able to manage the guitar acrobatics along with Edu can only be described as “magnificent,” and the songs on “The Infinite Loop” are absolutely bad-ass.
The opening track, “Agony,” begins with an acoustic vibe, full of passion and anticipation. The drum work is superior, especially in the sense that Aguirre establishes early that he is not over-dependent on double-bass tricks, though he whips off those hummingbird sixteenths with the best of them. His tom-tom work is intricate and tasteful, filling your mind with pictures, and when the band “patterns-in” with a feel like Metallica on steroids, they deliver that “Sifting” vibe that makes the experience both rich and funk-a-licious. For me, however, the signature of the record is established with the first chorus, through Edu’s vocal choices that can not be compared to anyone, current or classic. The harmonies both break your heart and lift you the fuck up, no exaggeration, no lie. It is the crucial element that makes this band different: metal with meaning played by progressive pioneers not caught up in equations but more the meter of the soul.
The second track, “A Critical Affair,” is a show-piece number, batting second for a reason. It is the song built upon the prior-mentioned rapid time signature juxtaposed up against the vocal in half-time, and featuring an amazingly complex platform guitar solo. This composition is an establishing piece…a mark in the stone, a line in the sand, making it quite clear that this band is musically superior. It is very much like a fighter coming out of his corner in the second round and establishing himself with a hard-right hook straight to the jaw, fuck the jabs and body shots, I’m coming for you. I’ve trained harder, planned better, and developed quicker than you’d ever expected, and tonight, you’re in for a spectacle.
Track number three, titled “Enough,” is not only the song of the album, but possibly the song of the year. It might very well be the tune that makes Sifting superstars, and I don’t at all find it ironic that the composition is “ballad-like.” This band is technically superlative, with double guitar attacks like blistering fireworks and time signatures that would confuse physicists with two Ph.D.’s, but the locus of their appeal is emotion and heart. To be blunt, the song is lovely, an immediate classic. It is everything you would want in a “slow burn” that marks a place in your life you always look back to with fondness. I know I am showing my age, going old-school, but this one is to Sifting like “Dream On” was to Aerosmith. I would not at all be surprised if “Enough” became part of playlists on stations other than (yet including of course) Octane, this genre’s and generation’s Holy Grail. I would predict that major rock stations in the biggest markets would pick this one up, hell, I’ve never been into “art for art’s sake devoid of the importance of mass public appeal.” If I were “that guy,” I’d be writing to you about some deep dude playing an acoustic in Harvard Square with a coffee can for change by his knee. Sifting are superstars. Period. It’s about time everyone knew it.
Track four, “Stop Calling Me Liberty,” is the cornerstone for the guitarists, making a frame with the second cut in terms of musical virtuosity. At the 3:06 minute mark, there is a lead that is rather amazing, and at the 3:18 mark or so, the tone and structure is so unique and striking, it is difficult to picture exactly how the patterns are being expedited on the fretboard. The listening experience here rings similar to the way it felt when Eddie Van Halen unleashed the tapping technique for the first time. I look forward to seeing Sifting pull off this specific move live.
Track five is the “artist’s special,” titled “The Fifth Element.” It is where Wins Jarquin stands out with bass-licks taking over the melody like some glorious hood ornament, and the band comes together behind him with a crush that would make Ozzy jealous. At the 3:10 mark, it is difficult not to notice how cleverly and distinctly Joey Aguirre dresses up a more standard rhythm, and the guitars take on a personality akin to some mad scientist making magic in the lab. In “School of Rock,” they jokingly called it “musical fusion.” Sifting aren’t joking. They are showing us something new.
Track six, “What If (Dichotomy) is a song defined by a great hook and pleasing harmonies, seemingly acting as an introduction for the album’s second big heavy hitter titled “To Who I Am.” Sifting has an uncanny sense for overall structuring and like the novelist, often use “threads” for theming purposes, positioning songs for dramatic foreshadowing and payoff, or what I would call “come-backers” in my horror books when I revisit something introduced earlier, and blast it onto the new page in fresh context. “To Who I Am” is linked to the blockbuster-to-be, “Enough,” and it’s more than an echo technique. The vocal here is so unique to this style of music, that it becomes the back half of a signature. A definitive one that alters the playing field, not only for Sifting, but metal as a genre.
Track eight, “Ghost of a Lie,” is where the band pulls out all the stops. Here, it seems they open their treasure chest of musical expertise and give us a glimpse of the most sophisticated gems in the hoard. It is a multi-faceted, intricate lexicon filled with innovation and historical allusion, awesome technique, and a bold sort of psychological perception that maintains the integrity of the song for the sake of pure composition yet lets the band members shine. This was a significant mechanism in the Deep Purple playbook back in the day, and it is no surprise that Sifting brought in Derek Sherinian of Sons of Apollo, Dream Theater, and many other famous projects (Billy Idol, Kiss, and Alice Cooper to name a few) to solo on keys. The performance is outstanding and dovetails perfectly with Edu’s falsetto, his vocal hooks, Wins Jarquin’s standout bass work, and the guitar acrobatics by both axe grinders that epitomize the hybrid of drama and speed.
Track nine, “Emotionless Shells,” for me, is the necessary composition on any metal record that would offer solid proof of agility and technical speed. Though this band is “progressive,” I am sure they don’t want the reputation of simply being “tricky” with meter. Metal bands play fast and they play hard. The genre, especially today, demands super-human execution and dexterity, and the idea that humans can create such rapid virtuosity directly addresses those who just sample stuff (like Kanye West) and basically tells them to fuck off. I am sure the purpose of this record is not political, but witnessing heroes, true maestros who play their own shit at supernatural velocity, is part of the tattered banner we wave. It is why metal will never die, and so a salute here to Sifting for carrying the flag and melting our faces like they are supposed to do.
The last song, the title track “The Infinite Loop,” is not even a “song,” but more a canvas on which we can paint our emotions. There is a huge difference between the ballads that almost become parodies and the idea that “deep” can come at you from a more centered location, delivered patiently, slowly, lovingly. I actually teared-up when I listened to the beginning of this song. The introduction was as good as any musical score I’d ever heard at the end of any great film I’d seen over the years, and the vocal line took me on a journey down the paths of my own personal life-map. Yes, I get it. They are my paths, so how did Edu know? My answer to you, is that writing a good tune makes you a rocker. Writing a song that somehow becomes the blueprint for the given listener’s past…each listener with a different mural, a different story to tell…makes the composition a classic. Timeless greats offer us templates so we can fill in our own experiences. That is why these masterpieces never get dated. This song is a classic, as is the entire album. The only regret I have is that often, when a classic first hits the streets, it is not recognized as such. We do that best in retrospect. How lucky we are; however, to be a part of this thing from the start.
“The Infinite Loop” is the record of the year. It has something for everyone, and it is one of those rare albums that doesn’t have a weak track. You can pre-order it here.
I would do so, now. I have been writing about music for years, and I know a good one when I hear it. “Join the revolution,” as the band says. Good music can heal, inspire, and invigorate. “The Infinite Loop” does all of that, and then some.
Michael Aronovitz is a music reviewer, college professor, and horror author. His latest story titled “The Tool Shed” is featured in the anthology “Castle of Horror” edited by Jason Henderson (author of Van Helsing), that which dropped July 1st, 2019.
MHF Magazine/Michael Aronovitz