Reviews in this issue:
- Tad Morose - Modus Vivendi
- Opeth - Damnation
- Poverty's No Crime - Chemical Chaos Duo Review
- Humanity - When Silence Calls
- Tomorrow's Eve - Mirror Of Creation
- Balance Of Power - Heathen Machine
- John Arch - A Twist Of Fate
- Consortium Project III - Terra Incognita
- American Heritage/FOE/Art Of Burning Water - The Combined Stupidity Of Spiteful Men
Tad Morose - Modus Vivendi
Tracklist:Anubis (3:54), No Mercy (4:14), Afraid To Die (5:28), Clearly Insane (3:49), Cyberdome (4:37), Take On The World (5:21), Mother Shipton's Words (4:03), Unwelcome Guest (4:02), Life in A Lonely Grave (7:15), When the Spirit Rules The World (4:33)
Tad Morose began life as an above average, if not essential progressive metal band who released three albums in the early 1990’s. The release of A Mended Rhyme in 1997 saw the arrival of a new vocalist in Urban Breed and the slow development of the band away from their progressive roots into the more mainstream progpower/melodic metal band that they are today.
I first caught this band at last year’s Sweden Rock Festival. Their riotous set proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend. I duly grabbed copies of their two most recent albums – Undead and Matters of The Dark - and have since been trying to fathom why this stonking Swedish act hasn’t got a bigger profile.
Since the arrival of vocalist Urban Breed, the band has been slowly shedding its progressive roots. Nowadays their heavy metal is direct and solid and boasts melodies as catchy as the proverbial cold.
From the first few seconds of opener Anubis, you know something big, yet beautiful is going to slap you right in the face. Built on a stupendously looping guitar riff, it cuts straight to the metallic point and the melody sinks in first time. This isn’t the sort of album that needs half a dozen listens to appreciate – Modus Vivendi hits the bull’s eye first time – every time.
Without a second to capture your breath the band then launches straight into the album’s piece-de-resistance. All three Tad Morose albums have one absolute killer track. On Undead it was Another Time Around; on Matters of the Dark it’s the title track and on this album it is the perfectly named and perfectly formed No Mercy. Find yourself a room where no-one can see or hear you and spend an hour punching the air and yelling along with the catchy as hell chorus while this monstrous track takes advantage of the repeat button on your hi-fi. An absolute classic.
From here on, there is no let up in the aural onslaught, no dip in the quality. On the past two albums Urban Breed has had a big impact. Here his voice is enormous. Just listen to the way that the menace literally drips from his lungs after the first chorus on Afraid to Die.
If you enjoyed either of their last two albums you can blindly buy this one. Tad Morose have managed to deliver a release in the same mould as its predecessors, but without that feeling of having heard it all before. Something new but in the same musical area.
The production is excellent, the sound is huge, the solos are slick, the harmonies tight, the songwriting is spot on and even the cover art is classy. The clumsily-titled Mother Shipton’s Words gives No Mercy a good run for its money. It kicks off at an almost thrash sprint, before developing a speedy melody that reminds me of Norwegian’s TNT at their powerful best.
Cyberdome is the balladic, acoustic, mid-album pause for breath, that has a real swagger - that sort that Dokken used to favour. The sole nod to their progressive past, comes in the more epic moments of Life In A Lonely Grave. While it adds a nice bit of variety to the album, this is actually the least memorable of the songs - suggesting that in their current format the band is better off if it sticks to the more focused, sharp bursts of mayhem. None of the other tracks drag on much past the five minute mark.
If you like direct, melodic, power metal along the lines of Dokken, TNT, WASP, Primal Fear and Brainstorm then this is an essential purchase that must surely push Tad Morose into the major league.
Translated literally, the Latin phrase ‘Modus Vivendi’ means 'way of life'. In modern times it’s generally used to describe situations where people have different opinions - but agree to disagree. In a way, that’s a strange title for this album. Strange, because I can’t see anyone who listens to Modus Vivendi disagreeing with the view that in the 10 tracks on offer, Tad Morose has created one of the best Metal albums of 2003.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Opeth - Damnation
Tracklist: Windowpane (7:44), In My Time Of Need (5:49), Death Whispered A Lullaby (5:49), Closure (5:15), Hope Leaves (4:30), To Rid The Disease (6:21), Ending Credits (3:39), Weakness (4:08)
Although they initially emerged from the Scandinavian black metal scene, Sweden’s Opeth have since become masters of a genre all their own; one that fuses dark, gothic, sometimes extreme metal with pastoral, mellow folk-tinged progressive rock. In recent years the band’s profile has snowballed, and consequently their appeal has grown outside of the extreme metal circle they previously inhabited. Many progressive rock fans have been intrigued enough to investigate, only to be put off by the undeniably heavy nature of much of the music, and perhaps more pertinently by the patented ‘cookie monster’ death growl which vocalist (also guitarist/ songwriter) Mikael Åkerfeldt uses to deliver at least half of the lyrics. These aspects don’t bother me – but then, I enjoy listening to many bands at the heavier end of the musical spectrum, and am well aware that many prog rock fans don’t share my enthusiasm for this type of music!
When it was initially first mooted that Opeth were recording two separate albums, one that focused on their heavier side Deliverance and one on their mellower side Damnation I was a little sceptical – surely part of the appeal of the band was the way in which they effortlessly combine, and switch between, the two modes during the course of an album? I also had visions of the mellow album being somewhat one-dimensional and lacking in dynamics, given that in the past these parts have often acted as a ‘breathing space’ between the denser and more complex passages.
Well, thankfully my fears were completely unfounded – Damnation is a wonderful album. Opeth may have ditched the heavy riffs and ‘cookie monster’ vocals, but this is far from a stripped-down, unplugged affair. Dripping with passion and symphonic overtones, on Damnation Mikael Åkerfeldt gives full-flight to his oft-mentioned progressive rock influences – Steve Hackett, Barclay James Harvest, Camel (whose influence can clearly be heard on Ending Credits where Aring;kerfeldt delivers a string of Andy Latimer-esque solos), and early Pink Floyd (think Echoes for an idea of the vibe captured on this album). The songs benefit from a crisp, full sound, are wonderfully constructed and impeccably played – with drummer Martin Lopez giving a particularly inspired performance. Aring;kerfeldt's vocals are as fine as ever; he has a deceptively mellow yet emotionally-charged voice, which is perfectly suited to the decidedly dark and melancholy lyrics.
Porcupine Tree man Steven Wilson (who produced the band’s breakthrough album, Blackwater Park) is an integral part of this recording – not only is he on production duties, but he also contributes keyboards, piano and swathes of mellotron which fill out the sound very effectively. Together with his distinctive backing vocals and even the lyrics to one track (Death Whispered A Lullaby), it would be fair to say that, if In Absentia could be said to have been influenced by Opeth (in their usual, heavier guise) then Damnation definitely has strong echoes of Porcupine Tree, particularly circa their Stupid Dream album.
In an album this consistent, with absolutely no filler, it’s almost impossible to pick out highlights; especially as everything flows together so seamlessly. I will single out the opening track Windowpane; not that its necessarily the best track on the album, more that, in the way it is constructed, ebbing and flowing through a variety of musical landscapes and moods, it serves as a perfect introduction to what you will find on the rest of the album. In conclusion, Damnation is undoubtedly one of (if not the) strongest releases in the progressive rock field that I’ve heard this year. It takes some band to manage to create an album likely to gain them a whole new audience without alienating the existing one, and I feel that Opeth have managed this here. It will certainly be interesting to see where the band go from here, but for now just sit back and enjoy the Opeth sound as presented on Damnation, a real gem which I’d recommend to all lovers of seventies-inspired progressive rock
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Poverty's No Crime - Chemical Chaos
Tracklist: Walk Into Nowhere (6:33), Every Kind Of Life (6:15), All Minds In One (6:37), A World Without Me (5:26), Terminal Trip (6:53), Pact With The Past (8:58), Left To Chance (4:43), Moving Target (6:16), Do What You Feel (7:17), Access Denied (4:41)
Germany is not really a prog metal country; if you think of German rock music, then you always will come up with traditional hard rock and heavy metal bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray or Blind Guardian. There are not many progressive rock bands over there, but Poverty’s No Crime is a band that could be one of the first great prog metal bands (besides Vandenplas of course) of German origin. The Chemical Chaos is their fifth album already and it is without any doubt the most progressive one so far. The opener Walk Into Nowhere starts with a beautiful organ/keyboard overture, followed by a catchy guitar riff and a funky bass guitar loop; than after two minutes the vocal part begins and it evolves into a great melodic progressive track, with lots of rhythm changes and a heavenly guitar solo. Just after 6.5 minutes you already long for more, this first song really gives you an appetite for progressive rock.
Every Kind Of Life and All Minds In One are also musically very interesting songs. As you listen to them more often, you will notice that there are lots of changes, lots of variation and great instrumental passages. Especially the guitar solos, the amazing keyboard parts and grooving riffs are worth mentioning. Then after three rather “heavy” tracks, Poverty slow things down a bit with the beautiful Everon-like semi power ballad A World Without Me. Sad to say however that on this track the vocals are a bit too monotonous, but you will forget about that very fast because then you can enjoy the absolute highlight of this album: Terminal Trip. An instrumental track which brings out the best in these German prog rockers; just listen to the twin guitars at the end; I just love this one!!
Pact With The Past is the longest track of this album and reminds me of the Flower Kings, a wonderful rock song with all the prog rock ingredients you are looking for. Again these guys never cease to amaze me as they show here what they have got to offer, as their instruments do the talking. The “heaviest” song is without a doubt Do What You Feel, a track built around a fantastic guitar riff. Need I say more to convince you proggies out there to buy this album??? So, it’s hats off for Poverty’s No Crime, listen, marvel and buy!!!
By the way; the initial pressing features a slipcase and a bonus track, called Access Denied, an unplugged version of this song from their album Slave To The Mind.
Founded way back in 1991, German ProgMetallers Poverty’s No Crime took four years to release their debut album. Since then they have steadily built a keen fanbase, with each release steadily building on the one before. So have they succeeded? After living with The Chemical Chaos for a few weeks the answer has to be … maybe!
One In a Million was actually a very fine album that sadly didn’t really get the recognition it deserved. It’s blend of complex, riff-heavy ProgMetal, with neat melodies and musical interplay, placed them firmly in Queensryche and Vanden Plas territory. Therefore, I was expecting an album that built on the solid foundation of its predecessor but one that fine-tuned its melodies and hard-hitting riff-mongery. Instead it soon becomes clear that the band has taken its collective foot off the pedal.
It’s taken a few listens but a good chunk of this album has definitely grown on me. The opening trio in particular do crack on at a fair pace. Walk Into Nowhere benefits from the heavy crunch of guitarist Marco Ahrens below a hummable hard rock chorus. Every Kind of Life benefits from a nice Vangelis keyboard riff over an almost nu-breed rock approach while the instrumental Terminal Trip echoes the haydays of Lee, Lifeson and Peart.
The two standout tracks are the double header of All Minds In One and A World Without Me. The former, starts beautifully with a sharp vocal melody above acoustic guitar before BANG! - in come the guitar and drums and yer head starts rockin’. The synth and bass then kick in as well and it’s a bit like Evergrey with shorter hair. The track eases off on the throttle for the verse and chorus, there’s a nice instrumental interlude led by the bass and organ and a lovely flowing guitar solo from Ahrens. Great stuff.
A World Without… mixes it up again to good effect. This time the vocals are more restrained but the melodies and power is well balanced. Indeed for the opening five tracks Poverty’s No Crime has discovered a very palatable sound - somewhere between NeoProg and ProgMetal. Fellow German’s Sylvan and Dutch band Ricocher spring to mind on more than one occasion – especially in the way Volker Walsemann delivers the vocals.
The Chemical Chaos is not a concept album (phew I’ve had four already this month!) although there is a general lyrical theme that ties the tracks together. As far as I can make out (without a lyric sheet) it’s a somewhat philosophical look at destiny – sometimes a bit dark sometimes a little more optimistic.
However the second half of the album doesn’t really build on the foundations laid by these five opening tracks. It’s certainly a bit more aggressive – the Sabbathesque riffing on Moving Target for example – but the songs don’t really flow in the same way. There’s not the same variety and interplay and for the most part the melodies have been forgotten. Pact With The Past in particular is an attempt at something more mellow / sombre but is done in a key that really doesn’t suit voice at all.
It was certainly a good year for the Inside Out label in 2003. In the shape of Evergrey, the stunning Dead Soul Tribe and Enchant, they probably released three of my favourite albums of the year. It may seem a little harsh, but as that is the standard they’ve set, then that is the standard that one really has to compare all their releases by.
As a result, I’ve got mixed feelings about The Chemical Chaos. If you’re looking for something that follows in the same intensity as its predecessor then this may disappointment. However the band is clearly trying to broaden its appeal by going for a more mainstream sound and certainly for half an album they have succeeded admirably.
Humanity - When Silence Calls
Tracklist: When Silence Calls (1:45), This endless Pain (4:43), Decay (5:20), Dark Cell (4:31), Justify (5:41), Fallen (5:11), Without Reason (4:44), Blinded (5:25), Suffer In Silence (3:13), As Humanity Fades (5:53) Bonus: Kingdom of Madness
Cambridge is probably known to most of you as the classic English university town. Loads of old buildings, towering spires and people walking around in gowns and funny hats! Well it's got all of that, but now it's also the hometown of one of the most promising young ProgMetal acts to come out of the UK in the past few years.
You will probably never have heard of 'em and with an average age of just 19, I must admit I wasn't expecting too much either. But this really is an impressive debut album.
Although the relatively new Killin' Time Records has labelled Humanity as a 'progressive metal' act - that really only tells part of the story. If you like a purer ProgMetal of the likes of Zero Hour, SymphonyX or VandenPlas, then this doesn't really fit into any of those moulds. But, if you can use your imagination - picture in your mind say Savatage, Joy Division, Lacuna Coil, Black Sabbath and Metallica on a wife swapping evening with Evergrey and Pink Floyd as party music! This is a seriously heavy, dark album that kicks serious butt with a fantastic, nay joyful sense of energy and an innate ability to hum a good tune.
The opening track This Endless Pain, is their most recent and most mature composition. However it's just one of many great moments on offer here. Decay posses a doom-laden thrash riff that your head is just obliged to bang away to. Dark Cell has an almost impish keyboard run on top of a brooding little ditty; As Humanity Fades is a modern take on Killers-era Maiden which closes the album off on an upbeat note and Justify is built on a cheeky, yet effective take on the opening riff of For Whom the Bell Tolls. This track and Fallen which follows, is as close as I've heard anyone come to the dark intensity and melody perfected by Evergrey.
Engineered and mixed by Pete Coleman (Paradise Lost, Napalm Death) the sound is fine, although Blinded should have been kept as a short ballad and Suffer in Silence is trying too hard to be a pop song. For the ProgMetal fans there are plenty of mood swings and a good variety of time changes and ever changing chops. My preview pack sadly didn't include the bonus version of Magnum's Kingdom of Madness but the T-shirt was cool (thanx Keith).
Whilst his performance is great throughout, if Simon Shedwell could develop a few more variations in tone and emphasis and maybe a bit more power in his higher range it would really enhance the variety that this sort of music demands. Similarly, while I love deep guitar riffs, a bit more variety across the album would have further strengthened the dynamics, as would a more prominent use of keyboards.
But those are minor points. As I said at the beginning this is a very mature debut from a young band that clearly has plenty of room - and more importantly ability - to develop into something very interesting. If you like your ProgMetal closer to Evergrey than Dream Theater, then this is a band that deserves your support.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tomorrow's Eve - Mirror Of Creation
Tracklist: Prof. Brandon (1:00), Optimization (8:02), Cold Science (0:56), If Eyes Turn Blind (9:22), Lost (10:26), Live Your Dream (8:55), Next Chapter (0:30), New Orders (8:10), Crazed Gunman (7:07), Mirror Of Creation (2:51), Too Many Lies (2:06), Point Of No Return (9:27), Tomorrow? (1:12)
I’d never heard anything from this German band before this year, but having read many positive comments on the internet about this album, especially the complimentary comparisons to fellow countrymen Vanden Plas, I decided to track down a copy.
Mirror Of Creation is actually their second album. The Unexpected World gained positive press on its release two years ago. From the band’s informative website, it would appear that the debut album was in a similar progressive style. It does have a different and slightly more melodic vocalist, with current frontman Rouven Bitz (ex-Warchild) not joining the band until 2002. However the overall quality doesn’t seem half as appealing.
And having lived with this album for a little while now, I can say that Tomorrow’s Eve are well on the way to joining the growing bunch of German bands who lean on the melodic side of progressive metal. Think Poverty’s No Crime, Anguish and Ivory Tower and you won’t be too disappointed when you press ‘play’.
Mirror Of Creation is a concept album and if you like science fiction you’ll certainly enjoy the story and the resulting moral questions that it raises. In short, it’s about a time (not specified) where technology has allowed mankind to manipulate genes to create perfect children. In an experiment, a world has been created for them to live in, where they are all equal. The question the album asks - is it possible to reach such a goal? Won’t some level of individuality always develop? Won’t the children start asking questions as they grow older? Will they not want to look into the mirror of creation?
Although all the songs have a certain degree of complexity, it takes no more than a couple of listens to sink into them. The nine songs – even those pushing ten minutes, manage to walk a fair line between musical exploration and accessibility. The two openings tracks are by some way the best - good melodies and instrumental sections that join everything together nicely. I also like the closing song Point Of No Return, which more than shows what this band is capable of.
The problem I have with the album is that by the second half, the music is getting a bit too familiar. The guitars for example constantly resort to deep, long pounding riffs. It’s a style I like but not all at the same pace and not all the way through an album. Listen to the likes of Andromeda and see how they employ an endless range of tone and tempo changes to keep their sound fresh and invigorating. Here tracks like Live Your Dream and New Orders do tend to drag their heels a bit.
The keyboards of Oliver Schwickert could also be used to give a much greater impact – the piano parts add a good change of pace but the keys are low in the mix and generally support, as opposed to lead, the instrumental sections.
I find Bitz’s voice quite agreeable but it too could do with a bit more variety. The slight accent can get a bit wearing on such a long album and it’s a shame the band hasn’t put much thought into the use of vocal harmonies. They are employed infrequently and where they are used it’s on a pretty basic level in the chorus’. Again, imaginatively used, harmonies always add an extra dimension to a band’s sound.
But overall this was well worth seeking out and for anyone who enjoys any of the above bands, the Mirror of Creation could be well worth looking into.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Balance of Power - Heathen Machine
Tracklist: The Rising (1:18), Heathen Machine (6:40), I Wish You Were Here (7:18), Chemical Imbalance (5:14), No Place Like Home (6:54), The Eyes Of All The World (6:43), Just Before You Leave (6:37), Wake Up Call (8:22), Necessary Evil (7:51)
I’ve always had a lot of time for these British purveyors of progressive metal – their unique blend of hard rock melodies and distinctive instrumental lines has meant they’ve been one of the few consistently good bands to come from the UK in recent years.
A great, friendly bunch of guys, I did manage to see all three live dates (yes only three) in support of their superb last album. The best of which was a full set before a small crowd in a small bar in Burton-on-Trent as a warm up to their rather disappointing appearance at the Bloodstock Festival.
As an album Perfect Balance more than lived up to its title. However I must admit, that from the first time I listened to it, I had great doubts as to whether the band would be able to match it again.
Any such thoughts became largely irrelevant earlier this year, when it was announced that singer Lance King and the band were to go their separate ways. With King based in the States and the rest of the band in London, the practicalities of live shows and songwriting had clearly become too big an obstacle. However with King’s superb voice being such an integral part of the band’s sound, any chance of the band continuing with a similar sound was unlikely.
After a period of silence, John K (vocalist with UK metallers Biomechanical) was announced as the new frontman to be quickly followed by the release of the band’s fifth album Heathen Machine. And as you’ve no doubt guessed by now - this certainly isn’t Perfect Balance Part2. Heathen Machine takes a noticeably more aggressive approach in almost every aspect of the band’s sound – especially in the first half of the album.
The Rising gets the ball rolling with a spooky atmospheric vocal intro and then launches into the aggressive title-track which features some spectacular axe work amid an infectious headbanging power metal groove. I Wish You Were Here is more anthemic with an infectious melody - half classy power metal and half powerful melodic rock. Chemical Imbalance is a slice of symphonic metal wrapped in keyboards, while No Place Like Home starts off as a piano ballad before lifting off into a fully-blown infectious rocker.
In terms of the song structures and the melodies – even the phrasing – this isn’t a million miles removed from Balance of Power as you knew them.
The big difference of course is in the vocals. John K has an amazingly powerful voice and hits some really high notes right on the dot. For me though, he just doesn’t bring the same character and interpretation of the music as Lance King brought to the band. His more traditional heavy metal vocal style should appeal to me and I’ve listened carefully to the way he sings to try to work out why it doesn’t. The main problem I think, lies in his choice of notes and phrasing. His timing and selection of notes just doesn’t work the melodies in a way that does it for me.
The Eyes Of The World and Wake Up Call are the best examples. Hugely infectious choruses that come to the front of your mind every time you see the words. Yet the verses and bridges just don’t register in the same way. To be fair, most of the songs were written before his arrival and so may not be exactly to his style.
Without a doubt, Balance Of Power is still one of the best British bands around and there’s still plenty to enjoy on this album. Heathen Machine, in taking a heavier and more direct approach and with John K’s more traditional vocal style, will undoubtedly win them many new fans. However not everyone will go with the change. Personally, I remain unconvinced by the vocals and thus the songs just don’t have the same impact as before.
Anyway, I really hope the coming year is a busy one for the band and that this time they are given a decent chance to promote their album. A tour is being planned and festival appearances in the UK and Germany are already booked. One thing is absolutely certain with this album - some of these tracks will be a blast live.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
John Arch - A Twist Of Fate
Tracklist: Relentless (12:23), Cheyenne (15:36)
John Arch, former frontman of progressive rock legends Fates Warning, has been away from the music scene for a very long time – 15 years to be precise. A Twist Of Fate is a new solo EP that sees his tentative return to the recording studio. And just to welcome him back gently, some of the scene’s most influential musicians have agreed to accompany him.
With Arch tackling vocal duties, Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) on guitar, Joey Vera (Armored Saint, Fates Warning, Engine, Seven Witches) on bass, and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic) on drums, expect nothing short of top quality music from this truly all-star line up.
It may have only two songs, but as they possess almost 30 minutes of modern progressive metal it has predictably attracted a huge interest already. Fans of Arch have been waiting for something like this since he first departed Fates Warning in the late 80's. There was an abortive audition for Dream Theater - but most have remained puzzled as to why this amazing singer has never made his come back.
‘This is the first time that I have done anything on my own since I left Fates Warning 15 years ago,' states John in the introduction notes. ‘I feel good about this! There are a lot of elements of the old Fates Warning sound but without sounding too retro 80's. It's significantly more modern.'
This all-star project started when Jim Matheos contacted Arch to do some vocals for the OSI project that was released earlier this year. At first Arch was apprehensive, as it had been so long since he had recorded. So he suggested that he write some music of his own and then send it to Jim to check out. One thing led to another and the next thing you know the pair had a rough recording and played it for Brian Slagel, owner of Metal Blade Records, who was so impressed he offered them a deal. The result, is beyond doubt a very high energy Prog Metal work-out that should be of more than a passing interest to any fan of the genre.
Of the two songs on offer, Relentless is definitely my favourite. It opens with a deep bass run followed, for the first verse and chorus, by Arch's distinctive vocals over acoustic guitar. It then builds beautifully with the measured introduction of a heavier Lep Zep/hard rock riff that leads into a different-style verse and different chorus. It looses it a bit in the middle with a very manic section that needed a bit more control and there's a very Fates/Rush section that doesn't really go anyhere. However the songs redeems itself when it returns to the original idea to close.
As the title suggests, the second track has a distinctive Native American vibe to it. It again starts off well with some nice fiddle and an atmospheric build up but again the middle-to-end is overly drawn out and loses my attention a bit. The slightly painful 'Aaaah-Aaaah-Aaaaah' section really should have been left on the cutting room floor.
The two big strengths that Arch brought to Fates are thankfully still intact: his voice and his lyric writing. Indeed for anyone who enjoys well-written lyrics, then this album won't disappoint. One thing I especially like are the introductory notes on the sleeve that explains the background/rationale to each track - why don't more band's do this?
In terms of his voice; while at times the ring rustiness is in evidence (especially on the more up-tempo sections), the almost mystic quality that makes the Arch voice so indentifiable is still all there. A bit more exercise to clear away all the cobwebs and I'm sure those vocals chords can easily be restored to perform at full-throttle again.
So for any fans of the more complex, emotional, yet still heavy progressive metal, if you haven't got this yet, then it is well worth checking out. I guess the decision to release an EP was partly intended to test whether a: There was still an interest in John Arch and b: Whether his music would get a good reaction. On the basis of A Twist Of Fate, the answer has to be 'yes' on both counts. I just hope this unique talent doesn't stay hidden for another 15 years!!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Consortium Project III - Terra Incognita
Tracklist: The Council of Elders (4:11), Spirit of Kindness (3:30), The Ark (5:06), Lost Empire (5:12), Reductio Ad Absurdum (6:09), White Sands (3:31), Great Exploration (4:08), Across The Seven Seas (5:48), Nemesis (5:15), Beyond The Gateway Of Legends (7:50), Terra Incognito (6:54)
As the title suggests, this is the third in the sci-fi Prog Metal tour de force created by former Ayreon, Hammerhead and Vengeance vocalist Ian Parry. Again the English singer has managed to gather an impressive array of musicians to accompany him on his journey to Terra Incognita. Featuring colleagues from his former bands plus Kamelot drummer Casey Grillo and Vanden Plas guitar supremo Stephan Lil this is an action-packed if slightly disposable slice of symphonic progressive metal.
Written by Parry, the 11 tracks on offer pretty much follow-on in style from the previous two Consortium discs, albeit with a few more rounded edges in terms of the songs. The story is set in a world 375 years in the future and charts a journey searching for the ‘Undiscovered World’ in a bid to re-unite mankind.
Of course the musicianship is technically impressive with Grillo, Lil and keyboardist Joshua Detrueux putting in some serious shredding. There’s plenty of musical variety – from the pounding, uptempo moments like Spirit of Kindness; the groovy Nemesis and the more epic, balladic Beyond the Gateway of Legends.
Considering those involved with this CD, I was expecting to enjoy it a lot. It does have its moments, however having listened to it several times I just can’t really get into it at all. The fault lies at the lips of Parry. Sure he has a decent set of lungs – it’s just the way he fits them in with the rest of the music. To my ears, his phrasing, choice of notes and tone just doesn’t seem to flow. The one melody that really sinks in, comes around halfway though the album – ironically it’s sung by one of the female vocalists who partner Parry on several tracks. The duets do add a nice bit of variety to the more metallic moments but again Parry conflicts with, rather than compliments his counterparts.
Fans of Elegy, Aryeon, SymphonyX and the previous Consortium projects will find this an interesting listen, if only for the instrumental sections. But this ain’t gonna be in too many people’s top tens for the end of the year. This ain’t a bad record but there’s been many, many better ones this year.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
American Heritage / Foe / Art Of Burning Water -
The Combined Stupidity Of Spiteful Men
American Heritage: Dead Men Wear Tags (5:12), Anti-American Girl Place (4:25), Forget (7:18)
FOE: Myrmidon (10:22)
Art of Burning Water: Who's Going To Help God When I'm Finished With Him (1:32), The Well [Because We Are] (2:38), Destroyer Disgraced (2:48), Gates Of Kazantrutha (6:54)
The Combined Supidity of Spiteful Men is split CD featuring Chicago's American Heritage, London's Foe and Art of Burning Water, and released by the relatively new House Of Stairs label.
The album has a common trademark and a couple of listenings through were needed to separate the bands apart. The similarity comes from all the bands fierce and demanding approach. We are talking no prisoners taken, serious guitar riffing tracks from start to finish. To use part of American Heritage's discription of their music, this is "cripplingly heavy, insanely complex and stupidly infectious". I have to agree with most of this, adding only that this should apply to all three bands and not just AH. The initial run through of the album was hard going, however the attraction to return to this album was due mainly to the complexity of the timing signatures.
The first of the bands from the CD are American Heritage, consisting of Adumb Norden (guitar/vocals), Scott Shellhamer (guitar/vocals), Ray Donato (bass) and Mike Duffy (drums). Originally formed in 1997 and starting life as an instrumental outfit, the band toured the US, Canada and two tours of Europe/UK. The addition of vocals to the line-up came in late 2002 when founder guitarist Andrei Cabanban left the band. Of the three bands on this CD, American Heritage were the least appealing, to me. Granted there was complexity in the music, however the vocal element just killed my interest. I freely admit that the vocals on any album are a primary factor with me (tuneful or not). Probably why I listen to so many instrumental albums. I find it very difficult to listen to this grunting style vocal approach (this is not just confined to AH).
Next up are FOE, who I came across earlier in the year when I reviewed their debut release Arm Yourself With Clairvoyance for a previous ProgMetal Special. FOE were in fact the main reason to delve into this album and although they have offered only one track, at just over ten minutes, it forms a substantial part of the overall running time. Myrmidon follows in the footsteps of their debut album, combining major guitar riffs punctuated and driven by the solid rhythm section. The track develops over the ten minutes, gaining in intensity as it moves forward. This track sees compositionally that the band have moved forward in a relatively short period of time, so I will be looking out for their next album in 2004.
The last of the three bands hail from West London, forming back some two years ago this month. The lineup consists of Michael Frances McKenna (drums), Kyham Allami (bass/vocals) and Geith Al-Robei (guitar/vocals). Probably the most manic of the three bands - I would like to say that I took the time to decipher the lyrics, as surely any track entitled Who's Going To Help God When I'm Finished With Him deserves this! Again the vocal style was not for me (although there was less of it and more instrumentation than with AH). The instrumental sections were challenging and the metering is used with good effect.
I have refrained at offering any comparisons to both the music or the bands, as my inaccuaracies will lead you nowhere. Best I can say is that we are looking towards the extremeties of the metal genre. And to say this is at the heavier edges of my usual tastes, is somewhat of an understatement, but always mindful of keeping an open mind, this album proved that every challenge has its rewards. If you like your music to have highs and lows, gentle passages and the odd Mellotron then steer clear of this one. However if you have liking for intense but ever changing riff orientated guitar tracks then this might well fit the bill.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10