Theater of the Absurd – The Myth of Sisyphus

Theater of the Absurd - The Myth of Sisyphus

The Sisyphean myth from Greek antiquity has always passed me as something of a quiet tragedy; a man, assigned with carrying a boulder up a hill, is eternally doomed to repeat his task as the rock tumbles down again once he has finished. It’s not a far stretch to apply this principle of repeated disappointment and perpetual struggle to the human experience as a whole. In the artist’s case, their work can feel like a constant uphill struggle, only to feel the recurring pang of disappointment when their art doesn’t turn out the way they had aimed for.

Although I’m a relative newcomer to Theater of the Absurd, I do know that the New York-based prog metal act felt some of that same dissatisfaction with their first, self-titled album. “We wanted something more,” said the band’s guitarist, Mike Neumeister; “The record was immature?just primal. We knew right away that our creative impulses weren’t satisfied.” Although The Myth of Sisyphus might imply in its title that this disappointment is doomed to recur, Theater of the Absurd‘s second record feels remarkably tight and fleshed out. As the album’s surreal artwork would imply, Theater of the Absurd take a more avant-garde and playful approach to progressive metal than you may be used to, although the vintage legends of progressive tradition hang steady in their sound. There are a couple of things that bug me surrounding the album’s structure and production, but lively musical ideas and an exceptional standard of musicianship makes the album a worthy find for any acolytes of the genre.

Although it’s very rare that I ever find myself writing about the album art itself, I have to bring up the album’s cover. Although I wasn’t too keen on the artwork for the debut album, The Myth of Sisyphus is adorned with a chaotic, colourful aquatic mess of a cover, one that continues to reveal more details the longer you look at it. I’m quickly reminded of Qui-Gon Jinn’s foreboding aphorism at the beginning of Star Wars Episode I: “There’s always a bigger fish…” In the case of this cover, there seems to be plenty of bigger fish in the sea, and they’re all clearly hungry as hell. I’ve never been much of an expert on visual art, but I know what I like, and I think Theater of the Absurd commissioned art perfectly suited to the music it represents. Anyways, carrying on.

For a genre that’s intended to represent the most forward-thinking musicians in metal, it’s disappointing that the progressive metal term carries with it so many preconceptions and stereotypes. Although I knew Theater of the Absurd played a more avant-leaning take on prog metal, it was still pleasantly refreshing to hear the band circumvent many of the generic prog metal trends in favour of something more playful and inventive. As opposed to demonstrating their skill through excess and overt technicality, Theater of the Absurd remain focused on composition, leaving plenty of room open for melody and thoughtful dynamic. Although galloping riffs and the sparing use of harsh growls ties the band indelibly to their metal labelling, they more often skirt the grey area bordering upon conventional hard rock intensity. Hard rock and classic prog icons such as GenesisRush andKing Crimson feel like a greater influence on the band’s sound than Opeth or Dream Theater. True culting metalheads may thirst for something heavier, but Theater of the Absurd make this mix of old and new their own, and that’s a greater feat to their name than any degree of relative intensity.

True to the band’s name, there’s a very theatrical element at play in Theater of the Absurd‘s music. Dramatic piano chords and quasi-operatic vocals chime powerfully overtop their traditional metal elements, giving the music the impression of being a rock opera or stage musical. Even if there isn’t an overtly defined plot or story tying this album together, it would be pretty easy to see Theater of the Absurd‘s dynamic sound transposed to the theatre stage. Most of all, Theater of the Absurd give this impression of live drama through the structure of their songs, which feel pretty unconventionally pieced together. Where even most progressive metal bands would tie their songs together through the effective use of repetition and central motifs, The Myth of Sisyphusflows as would an emotionally heated dialogue between characters. Although vocal melodies are important toTheater of the Absurd, there aren’t any recurring hooks that leap out, or even motifs that could be defined as the nexus of their respective track. Rather, as was the case in the also-recently released SwineSong by recent avant-garde metallers Omb, the songs flow organically, without paying too much heed to holistic structure. In the case of the band’s instrumental work, this comes off as a great success. The fluid structure means that listeners can look forward to being consistently engaged throughout the album. Unfortunately, the structure pays a great expense in terms of memorable songs and vocal melodies. Although I can recall many particularly excellent self-contained ideas throughout The Myth of Sisyphus, there aren’t any songs that stand out as being memorable from start to finish. Though the vocal melodies feel well-suited to the theatrical edge of the music, they don’t seem written with melodic hooks in mind. Like a rock opera, the ideas are meant to advance the emotional state at the given time, and while Theater of the Absurd have succeeded in this respect, parts of the musical experience are left feeling empty.

It’s a shame that the vocal melodies don’t stand out, because the vocals themselves surely do. Chandler Mogel has an incredible, quasi-operatic vocal delivery that could not fit the band’s sound more perfectly. With range and depth to spare, Mogel’s vocals are a consistent highlight of the band’s sound. The female voice of Kjersti Kveli and harsh vocals of drummer Patrick Curley add some welcome colour to the performance. Kjersti’s soft voice fits her role smoothly, and while the black metal-derivative snarls feel shoehorned into an otherwise hard rock-based sound, the harsher moments work well to bolster things on the darker side of the emotional spectrum. Instrumentally, Theater of the Absurd have plenty to be proud of here. The band’s core of Curley and Neumeister have talent aplenty to spare, and Tor Morten Kjosnes’ abundant pianowork is gorgeously arranged. Although the album is well-mixed and sounds professionally recorded, The Myth of Sisyphus suffers from a fairly dry production that undoubtedly robs the original performances of some of their emotional timbre and dynamic. Especially in the case of Curley’s drumwork, the performance itself sounds great and well-balanced, but the sound itself sounds restrained, as if whatever live ambiance that may have lingered in the original recording was sucked out to make the music sound clearer. Whatever the case, Theater of the Absurd‘s production is functional and doesn’t impede the music, but is dull in of itself, and works against some otherwise incredible musicianship.

Theater of the Absurd will hopefully earn some well-deserved fans with this latest release. If the debut couldn’t be considered an artistically satisfying release, this one should make the band proud. Even if it feels like there is work yet to do before Theater of the Absurd reach unrestricted excellence, The Myth of Sisyphus is an impressive statement for progressive metal, particularly so for its wizardly instrumentation.


1. False Idols (6:11)
2. The Lesser Gods (8:35)
3. Trade Winds (8:15)
4. Rising Tides in Still Water (7:41)
5. For Nostalgia’s Burden, Part I: Our Quiet Fears (7:08)
6. For Nostalgia’s Burden, Part II: In My Time of Solace (6:43)
7. Black Wind from Mr. Takamine ~Pat’s Nap~ (1:27)
8. Changing Direction (6:36)


* Michael Neumeister – guitars, bass (studio)
* Patrick Curley – drums, extreme vocals

also featuring:
* Chandler Mogel – lead vocals
* Kjersti Kveli – vocals
* Tor Morten Kjosnes – piano and keyboards
* Christopher Curley – Mellotron, live support


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