One of the beautiful things about metal is that it constantly produces hidden gems that just wait to be discovered. Excluded, the debut album of Copenhagen-based Defecto is one of these and even though they come labeled as progressive metal, the next Dream Theater clone this is not. Not by far, the closest neighbour in the field is probably Swedish Evergrey, but even that comparison is a bit of a stretch. But that is not all, because if the producer name says Flemming Rasmussen, then the expectations just go up by at least another notch.
Excluded is a wild mix of groovy riffing, beautiful dynamics, dark atmosphere, insanely catchy (but never even remotely shallow) choruses and the outstanding vocal performance of Nicklas Sonne (who now also joined Evil Masquerade), resulting in one of the most surprising and best prog metal albums of the year. As mentioned before, Defecto stand as far removed from the Dream Theaters and Opeths of the world as the prog world will allow, rather taking cues from power metal, groove metal and other genres, but what really makes this album so remarkable is the fact that the quartet effortlessly makes even the more complex compositions and time changes flow and just make it work.
The opening title track combines the groove metal inspired riffing with great melodies, a dark atmosphere with uplifting vocal lines and a few well placed growls that actually add to the whole rather than distract. “Drifting into Blackness” brings out a stronger power metal list with sweeping guitars and keyboards, driven by double-bass drums, but it wouldn’t be Defecto, if they did not cleverly vary speeds and intensity and counter the soaring melodies with this feeling of melancholy that comes back throughout the album. Even when going tranquil and calm as on piano-borne “The Final Transition”, there is no drop in quality or overall drop in flow within the album.
Sonne has one of these voices that can be smooth as silk and add just enough grit to be serious about it, while the growls that the band throws in here and there never seem like a foreign object, but just bring in a little bit of an extra facet, similar to the Pink Floyd-ian spheric keyboard passage of “Into Oblivion” or closing “The Sand of Time”, an emotive, powerful and epic ballad that evokes images of the grand ballads of the 80s, but without sounding antiquated. Until the 3:30 mark, where it morphs into a powerful mid-paced track with some growls, before returning to its epic beginning.
As to be expected, the production is flawless, clear and powerful, as to be expected from Rasmussen, and the songs make the best of it, garnished with great musicianship, which could probably warrant some self-indulgent noodling, but the Danes show great restraint and stay away from it, making the songs so much richer with it.
Excluded is a very hot contender for the title of debut of the year and has everything to stand in the forefront of the progressive movement. They are one of the few new bands these days that know how to take older influences and properly fusing them together into something that actually does not sound like everybody (or most) else!