Becoming a well-known musician is a strange process nowadays. Decades ago, you’d send off a demo tape to some major record labels, hope they’d like what you’re doing and then have an album and shows bankrolled for you.
Nowadays however, major label attention is practically impossible for all but the upper echelons of the music world. You have to chase the audience for yourself and hope that major record labels catch sight of that. The result is that people aren’t chasing it as much: a lot of bands self-record, self-promote and self release, building an audience simply through doing what they do and serving the people that come to check it out.
There are some, though, who have an audience built-in through other endeavours. One such example is Rabea Massad, a guitarist from England who has made a name for himself both as part of several metal bands and as part of the YouTube guitar community. Massad makes incredibly high quality and in-depth gear demos, as well as more general tips and tricks for guitarists and musicians. But his real passion is performing as part of a band: Toska, an instrumental prog-metal project started with friends from other bands, feels like a true extension of Massad’s personality.
On November 2, Toska released their first full album, Fire by the Silos. It’s a staggering piece of work and one of the finest examples of heavy music to be released this year. Full of earth-shattering heaviness in songs like “Congress” or “A Tall Order”, laced with haunting ambient passages such as the opening of ‘Abomasum’ and brought together by a strong science fiction aesthetic (especially on the title track and cover art for the album), this album is a masterpiece. There are no lyrics on Fire by the Silos (apart from a couple of spoken word passages), but even without them it truly feels like this album tells a story. The passion in the performances translate into an ebb and flow of emotion; the peaks and troughs in energy are a journey all by themselves.
A personal highlight for me is “When Genghis Awakes”, a behemoth of a track that juxtaposes some of the album’s quietest moments with its most scorching. It’s a nine-minute epic that combines the calm before the storm with the storm itself: half quiet dread and half blistering rampage, it’s a microcosm of what makes the album so special.
Metal music might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Fire by the Silos is an eye-opening take on the genre that might appeal to you more than you’re expecting. “Atraxy” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. On the flip side, the main riff in “Prayermonger” is one of the most devastating. There’s bound to be something anyone could enjoy, but listening to the whole album front to back is one of the most rewarding experiences music has ever given me.