Melbourne’s Alithia are unique, underrated, unparalleled titans of Australian prog. Constantly utilising ideas and themes that in other bands feel silly and overblown, there’s an earnestness and freshness about their brand of spaced out progressive rock that subverts the prog cliché’s that their whole style seems to be based around and turns it into something wholly theirs – “astral space core” – a label that should make me gag but coming from them is just incredibly endearing. I could compare them to bands like Breaking Orbit and Soen but it wouldn’t do them justice – they’re a band that seems to succeed through sheer creativity and force of will, and their music is so much more than the sum of their influences. Their willingness to not take themselves too seriously and get weird with their music allows them to tap into something that seems to totally free them from the constraints of what is ostensibly their genre, and it morphs them into something both larger than life, and yet also incredibly human. They’re brilliant. They’re breathtaking.
Yeah, they’re one of my favourite bands.
Their second full length release ‘The Moon Has Fallen’ is their first release with their now 6-piece line-up, and it feels bigger and more unrestrained accordingly. The entire band is in top form, and all the performances are pitch perfect, and musically, the album is damn near perfect. Alithia is an undoubtedly heavy band, but their heaviness comes from the percussion, the bass and the keys, with the vocals and guitars always soaring over the top with emotive, atmospheric splendour. Their trademark sound it still there, with mellowed out, ephemeral atmospheres giving way to tribal rhythms and noise to moments of explosive prog-rock grandeur and driving grooves – and through it all, the rhythm section absolutely kills it. Mark Vella (drums), Tibor Gede (bass) and David Constantino (keys) are the unsung heroes of the band, and they conjure up some of the most mesmerising grooves I’ve heard all year – particularly in the tracks Empress and Diamonds.
John Rousavanis’ ethereal, pleasingly nasal (and there’s something I never thought I’d say about a prog vocalist) tone is more upfront and mesmerising than it has ever been before, and his emotional delivery is completely convincing the whole way through. His melodic singing and soaring, effect-laden guitar lines contain most of the most ear-catching melodies and atmospheres in Alithia, most pronounced on psychedelic bangers like Empress and Diamond, as well as epic tracks like grandiose opener The Sun and the absolutely breathtaking penultimate track Breathe, which has some of the best singing I’ve ever heard in an Alithia song. The Moon Has Fallen is also the first album with official contributions of Jeffrey Ortiz to a studio album (additional percussion, keyboards, backing vocals), and his use of bells and other clinking percussive tools, which twinkle away in the background of songs such as Empress and Blood Moon. Also deserving a mention is their newest and youngest member, guitarist Nguyen Phambam (also of local legends Enlight)… but who I’m not actually sure is on the album.
‘The Moon Has Fallen’ contains songs with much denser and much noisier arrangements than Alithia has ever attempted before – so much so that the constrained, limiting production often doesn’t feel able to fully contain it. This is particularly noticeable at low-mid volume, where the all-encompassing wall of sound feels right until the drums kick in, sounding very low and washed out. When the whole band is playing – which is most of the time – there’s an overwhelming amount of sound, and although it does manage to breathe remarkably well, it never really explodes in the way their debut ‘To The Edge of Time’ does. This makes some of the noisiest and most intense parts fall in on themselves; it’s sometimes hard to distinguish individual instruments, and I probably wouldn’t have a problem with this if it sounded noisier and more visceral, but after a certain point the dynamic range stays pretty flat while the layers of sound just keep piling up, and it’s a tad frustrating to listen to – that is, until you turn it up.
But production problems aside, the album is a strikingly emotional take on progressive rock, a genre that often feels bogged down in its own conceptuality and feels depersonalised as a result. Alithia’s presence in the Melbourne music scene seems almost like an aberration, from the vaguely Eastern European vibe of their sound to the insane amount of energy with which they perform their otherwise quite dreamy and ethereal music. Despite being a cut under their masterpiece of a debut, ‘The Moon Has Fallen’ shows Alithia reaching for heights so far above their contemporaries that it’s hard not to be swept away, despite the album’s flaws. Just turn it up dive right in.
Preorder the album HERE!