If you’re from New York State like me, then you understand exactly why the cover of Excelsior features a flying submarine with a castle sticking out of it. In addition to the architecturally ambitious mast, equally resonant will be a figurehead that’s the angel of death, and instead of a screw, there’s a battle axe. Like, I’m pretty sure that will make sense to you if you even begin to get the NYS coat of arms…
…and you might still get it even if you’re not totally sure what was going on here:
No matter where you’re from, and regardless of the cover’s scrutability from your regional perspective, Excelsior still sounds like what it is: insanely polished, well played, high-energy prog metal. Wish you could listen to some of that melodic death metal I like, but you’re not so into it when the singer gargles with the glass of broken church windows? Go for Excelsior. Always kind of had a thing for Dream Theater but don’t have time for all those mushy ballads between the good parts? Hit up Excelsior.
Like much music that you’d actually want to listen to, Excelsior does a lot of things which partially mitigate its Metal Detector rating, but all of those things work in the service of exciting songwriting and balls-out musicianship. Noodly guitar solos? Check. Goofy circus music interlude? Got you covered. Synth and piano intros that totally 80s out and never say sorry? Done and done.
Metal alloy? Yes.
For quite a few years, calling progressive rock or progressive metal progressive has sounded more than a little ironic. As a sub-genre rooted in the determination to try new things, it’s weird how prog has come to be one of the most intractably genristic and innovatively incestuous of all metal’s houses. On Excelsior, Mad Hatter’s Den gather and deploy the above mentioned prog tropes (and then some) but they elevate those tropes instead of leaning on them. Excelisor challenges our expectations of what place a noodly guitar solo can hold in a song. It makes us think differently about what a goofy circus music interlude is for. And the synths open our minds to new vistas of . . . well, not very much, but holy shit can that guy play. The point is, Excelsior is living proof that some people in prog are still pushing the envelope, and that envelope holds a valentine for heavy.
And on that note, please forgive me. I’ve been telling you why this record is good instead of telling you why it’s metal. For that purpose, I refer you to the following music video, which says it way better than I can. If you want to learn some survival skills that will come in real handy the next time a mad monk tries to eviscerate you in a dungeon, please watch.
Excelsior drops April 8, 2016 on Inverse Records.