Comprised of past and/or present members of Ne Obliviscaris and Black Lava (among other groups), extreme instrumental progressive metal quartet Vipassi infuse their work with challenging chaos and reflectively serene segues. Indeed, their newest collection – Lightless – expands upon what worked about 2017's Śūnyatā to deliver a significantly sleeker and more exploratory statement. At times, it can be too repetitive and prolonged, but that doesn't prevent it from being a very profound and commendable part of the subgenre.
In the band's own words, Lightless is "a journey, an exploration of emotions, and an invitation to delve deep into the realms of light and dark." Given that they're named after the 22nd Buddha – who had keen perception and contemplation regarding humanity and the larger world – it's no wonder why Vipassi's work is notably meditative and spiritually turbulent compared to some of their peers and predecessors. With invaluable help from Cosmitorium fretless bassist Arran McSporran (who replaces Brendan Brown), the foursome fill Lightless with music that's as unpredictable and complex as it is divinely expressive and moving.
The opening title track is comparatively light and free, initially using space between its starry guitar notes and adventurous rhythms to conjure despair and fearfulness. As it grows, the piece becomes mesmerizingly agitated, with McSporran's flamboyant patterns providing the foundation for the interlocking frenzy of his bandmates. Rather than showcase Vipassi's ability to connect multiple parts, "Lightless" – as well as the disorderly "Morningstar," peaceful "Ruination Glow," and Meshuggah-esque "Neon Rain" – highlights how effectively they can ebb and flow around a sustained main motif.
By and large, the rest of Lightless emphasizes the quartet's mastery of stitching together different passages without totally abandoning central throughlines. In particular, "Labyrinthine Hex" presents a perpetual back-and-forth battle between relentless vehemence and the kind of introspective spaciness that Animals As Leaders and Between The Buried And Me do so well. Later, "Shapshu" does arguably the best job of all shifting between – and sometimes overlapping – tranquil and hectic sections, whereas "Phainesthai" recalls the vibrant guitarwork and irregular syncopation of An Endless Sporadic.
As enjoyable as those compositions are overall, some of them run into the common genre problem of overstaying their welcome. Despite containing numerous changeups, the nearly 11-minute closer ("Promethea") is exhaustingly abrasive by the time it runs out of steam; plus, its final three minutes consist of a delicate soundscape that, while initially impactful, goes on too long. Elsewhere, "Morningstar" and "Shapshu" would be stronger if they were 20% shorter or 20% more varied, as they don't have quite enough going on to warrant their admittedly standard lengths.
Those gripes aside, Lightless is generally a superb follow-up to Śūnyatā and a fine example of why Vipassi is among the best up-and-coming instrumental progressive metal acts. It's clear from start to finish that the quartet prioritize meaning and mood over egoistical playing, so although there's plenty of flashy musicianship, it always feels beneficial rather than superficial. If you're a fan of this style and can dedicate your full attention to it, Lightless is guaranteed to deliver a transformative experience.