The first time I heard Unexpect, it was about 1:30 in the morning. Intrepid Hellbound.ca photographer Adam Wills and I were driving back from Buffalo, NY, where we had seen Krallice, Bloody Panda, and Portal, a show that still stands out as one of the weirdest and most wonderful I have ever seen. Adam had been singing their praises for some time, and we decided to pop in In A Flesh Aquarium during the last leg of the drive. The avant-garde, extreme metal was a perfect accompaniment to a mind still unsettled by an excellent and disturbing show, a kind of hellish cabaret. I was officially smitten.
In October of 2010, I saw Unexpect play live for the first time and my crush was transformed into full-blown adoration. The set was frantic and psychotic, a blur of floor-length blue-black dreadlocks and 9-string bass. I felt like I was watching a performance in a demented gypsy carnival, something that fit into my own broken psychological landscape perfectly. Ever since being blown apart by that show, I have waiting hungrily for more material. Not only have I been satisfied by Fables Of The Sleepless Empire, but I have completely fallen in love with it.
The vocals, a combination of genuinely ferocious death metal snarls from Syriak and gorgeous, operatic clean singling from Leïlindel, are a triumph. Whereas their contrasting styles clashed in their previous recorded material, relying on cacophony for impact, on this album they blend beautifully while still combining in weird and disconcerting ways. The high notes soar with incredible clarity and the lowest growls seem to issue form the floor of an abattoir. The combination of voices is now more than just strange; it is otherworldly, and also perfectly complementary.
The overall tone of the album is urgent and plaintive. There were moments of longing in the sound that almost brought a tear to my eye, but the rhythm remains frantic enough, schizophrenic enough, to move me physically as well as emotionally. The way that they incorporate discord into their sound, destroying any semblance of sense and beauty, only to reunite everything with a harmony a moment later, is wonderful. They make towering, manic, relentless juggernauts like “Mechanical Phoenix” and “The Quantum Symphony” work with lovely, drawn, delicate pieces like “A Fading Stance.” The chaos fractures and churns and, when you least expect it, returns to perfect order before splitting and scattering again.
Unexpect have written a brilliant album that enhances all of the qualities that make them a one-of-a-kind musical find and sacrificed none of their innate weirdness. The integration of classical instruments remains a focal point to their music, while they have really upped their game on the more metal aspects of their sound. The strings are crisp and bright, the rhythm section has greater depth (ChaotH’s bass is a joy to listen to), and the overall sound in rich and complex, with a dizzying range. Unecpect have never forgotten that they seek to challenge, unsettle, and delight their listeners by equal turns, and with Fables Of The Sleepless Empire, they succeed brilliantly.