The soft keyboard intro to the first track on Layers is something of a fake-out. About halfway through “Detachment,” Fairfield’s Dustin Matos reveals what will become the dominant tone of his 2018 album of instrumentals: delightfully heavy guitars driving home each downbeat in a nod-along nocturne that’s equal parts Iron Maiden and Berlioz.
Layers is storytelling symphonic rock at its best. There’s an epic, synth-y feel that could set it as the soundtrack to an ’80s fantasy film — but the narrative is more concise. These aren’t the kind of instrumental tracks that exist to travel alongside someone else’s story. They’re self-contained tales.
With only three of the eight tracks clocking in at six minutes or longer, Layers doesn’t provide the delivery method one would expect for such broad musical ambitions. Track four, “101010,” feels like it wants to go on much longer, even, than its recorded 6:06 (the longest track on the album). Or, at least, I’d happily listen to it for much longer. Tracks like number five, “Trigram” (clocking in at only 3:39) barely feel like snippets of something more.
But Matos packs a lot of content into these micro sagas. As a title, Layers is definitely apt. Album standout “Through the Valley” (track six) has the conceptual impact of a novel trimmed to the concision of a short story. And, while concision is not the first trait one typically looks for in progressive, heavy music, the only way this album suffers for that is in leaving the listener wanting more.
The title track, “Layers,” closes out the album, and it’s an unwavering push of all the speed and intensity played with on the other tracks. There’s no tease of a soft intro; it’s 100 percent all in. It’s also the most satisfyingly complete of the tracks. There’s a finality to it that allows the album to close without that unfinished, yearning sensation.
It’s tantalizing to wonder why Matos didn’t choose to create 10- or even 20-minute epics, but the best thing Layers offers, perhaps, is this: If you’re someone who’s put off by the commitment required to even explore symphonic or progressive rock, this album is one hell of a gateway drug.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 238.