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Album art for The Passenger by Neck of the Woods.

Even if you’re new around Neck of the Woods’s, uh, neck of the woods, their debut album, “The Passenger,” shouldn’t feel too dissimilar to what you’ve heard from the likes of progressive powerhouses Gojira, Converge, or even Between the Buried and Me. But therein lies the opportunity for this Vancouver quintet to excel — and excel they do! Although “The Passenger” carries a clear set influences, Neck of the Woods tackles the familiar territory while paving a unique path through the progressive death metal landscape.

It’s the unexpected elements such as the triumphant lead guitarwork that will invite you to spend more time with “The Passenger.”

Straightaway, the heavy dose of Gojira-style groove stuffed into Bottom Feeder should make you feel right at home. Same goes for the Opeth-esque clean intro of Before I Rest (before distortion and blast beats burn it away like atmospheric debris). But it’s the unexpected elements, emerging like sublime vistas, such as the triumphant lead guitarwork (which I found myself increasingly/oddly comparing to Massachusetts deathcore act Within the Ruins) on tracks like You’ll Always Look the Same to Me that will invite you to spend more time. Nailbiter and Before I Rest feature some fine midtempo melodic death riffing that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Darkest Hour album.

Neck of the Woods, from Vancouver, British Columbia.

It won’t take long for you to realize that “The Passenger” is a remarkably tight album; it sets a course along a perfectly plotted roadmap of four- to five-minute tunes. No song overstays its welcome — Neck of the Woods doesn’t waste time with mindless noodling; they’ve fine-tuned every instrument to contribute to strong, succinct songwriting. And although Neck of the Woods seems to prefer substance over spectacle on “The Passenger,” they have plenty of impressive moments of musicianship.

It’s a growing trend among many prog-metal bands whose members clearly have attention-grabbing chops, yet who rein them in to let their compositional skills take center stage. Neck of the Woods does it better than most with nary a cheesy, virtuosic moment, instead choosing to let the songs bring those parts out in ways that feel natural. Their dedication to crafting songs that never drag or limp along, puts them on the map as a band to watch.

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Eric Seal Eric Seal is the head writer at He used to think 'Hellbilly Deluxe’ was a scary album, but he's proud to say he listens to much scarier music now.