Imagine; you’ve trained as a chef at a prestigious cooking school. Garnishes, entrees, soup; you’ve mastered them all. You get a job at a restaurant with other talented chefs, and by day you craft haute cuisine using saffron and quail, your sea bass delivered by an artisan fisherman who grasps the fish with only the tips of his fingers, playing comforting music to his catch on its way from sea to kitchen. But when you get home at night you make four loaves of bread and stare at them, satisfied. You are Dustin Behm.
Trained by the likes of shred legend Paul Gilbert and tap-king TJ Helmerich, Behm’s day job as guitarist for instrumental prog-metallers Increate draws from the top shelf – the shelf you need a special ladder and hexagonal key for. Pulling on the likes of Allan Holdsworth and other-guy-in-Megadeth Chris Poland, Increate have the aloof, indulgent streak required to make this style of music invigorating; vocal-free tech-fusion is a tough sell without it. On The Beyond, Behm has done a solo record taking care of all instruments and production himself, which is super, but he’s put in way too much.
Firstly, let’s be clear – there is no shortage of technical ability on the go. Behm has clearly been on the shredmill during the long Oregon winter months, and those keen on down-tempo beatdowns will be waiting a long time for the drop. That, however, is not the issue.
From the very first note, this sounds like the work of one man, with all the bone-dry guitar tone and programmed drums that this implies. That’s cool, but the soul of the material isn’t there. Without vocals, the guitar takes on a much greater responsibility, and while this is all very heavy and fast, it’s too busy to make it an engaging listen; there’s so much icing it gets in the way of the cake, leaving you holding your fork and looking for a way in.
There’s glimpses of hope for sure; Alien Voodoo starts off in skulking promise before the kitchen-sink harmonies invade, as though the heaving riffs are nothing without constant background fiddling. Genesis is pleasingly off-centre, with some silky feel changes, but by this stage the incessant and overwrought neck-pickup woodling is taking so much away from the songs beneath that it was starting to anger me.
And therein lies the problem. Behm has the compositional chops to have nailed this whole thing together, but has shot himself in both knees by over-cooking it. Even Haunted Labyrinth, which keeps the trem picking til the end, could do with a bit of a prune, and it leads into Obelisk, which sounds like two songs fighting over who gets to eat the last chip. The second half of The Beyond is much more musically intricate than the first, with some hilariously fast runs being almost violently deployed on musical OCD discomfort test Last Resort.
Most irritating of all though is closer ‘Towers Of Glass’, which sounds like Division Bell-era Pink Floyd seen through a shimmering electro filter and sounds nothing like the rest of the record. God damn it! If the album had started here or even had more tracks like this for contrast, it would have been a much more enjoyable experience. This track alone shows how much Behm can do when exercising restraint, what worlds he can inhabit when he’s not flexing his modal know-how.
It makes complete sense to want to spread your musical wings, especially when they’re so considerable – but if your day job is complex instrumental prog metal and you’re doing it well, why make a complex, instrumental prog metal solo album that’s prairie-flat, only to close it with the one track that feels like a real human part of you? Solo albums should show the individual outside of work hours, and The Beyond shows what happens when you take your work home. Really Dustin – all that time baking bread and you had ice cream sitting there!