Reviews in this issue:
- Wuthering Heights - Far From The Madding Crowd
- Morifade - Domi<>nation
- Cynic - Focus
- Eldritch - Portrait Of The Abyss Within
- Time Machine - Reviviscence (Liber Secundus)
- Mastodon - Leviathan
- Hourglass - Subconscious
- Hubi Meisel - EmOcean
- Cea Serin - Where Memories Combine
- The Dust Connection - The Dust Connection [EP]
Wuthering Heights -
Far From The Madding Crowd
Tracklist: Gather Ye Wild (1:46), The Road Goes Ever On (7:50), Tree (5:04), Longing For The Woods Part I: The Wild Children (5:36), Highland Winds (6:56), Longing For The Woods Part II: The Ring Of Fire (6:15), The Bollard (3:29), Bad Hobbits Die Hard (3:22), Longing For The Woods Part III: Herne's Prophecy (8:39), Land Of Olden Glory (6:21), Lament For Lórien (5:51)
Bonus Track: The Tapdancer /Gather Ye Wild (reprise) (4:08)
By 'eck - I'm glad that I didn't let this one pass me by. As all the reviews I read when this first came out, mentioned a mixture of Celtic folk rock with metal, I immediately thought 'way too cheesy for me'. But having been mightily impressed by new vocal find Nils Patrick Johansson with his other band, the more classic hard rock-influenced Astral Doors, and the fact that this has been released on the usually reliable Sensory label, I thought I'd give it a go.
Far From The Madding Crowd is the third in Wuthering Heights' trilogy, and yes there is a very heavy Celtic folk influence - the whole thing kicks off with the bagpipes! But cheesy? No way. This is a superbly-crafted album that seemlessly ties together an amazingly-diverse range of musical ideas, to create a fascinatingly enjoyable listen.
The album is built around a great little hook of 'Longing For The Woods' that is the basis for a song that is played three times but with totally different arrangements and styles. And it's the melodies that are another of the album's selling points. Listen to the Road Goes Ever On and Highland Winds and try to get those melodies out of your heads after a few listens. And although the arrangements are quite intricate, the guitar duo of Erik Ravn and Henrik Flyman fairly speed along in certain passages.
Johansson has a truly amazing voice that drifts between Holy Diver-era Dio and a more threatening, deeper, coarse tone - you really have to listen closely to check it's the same singer.
Their progressive speed folk metal falls somewhere between melodic rock and metal, making Wuthering Heights a band that could appeal to many fans. Blind Guardian is a comparison made by several critics but while there are occasional similarities, this is way too diverse and clever an album.
There's a guitar section that shouts Hank Marvin (Shadows), there's a Spaghetti Western like passage during The Road Goes Ever On, there's some flute, banjo, violin and so much more to pluck out and enjoy.
Progressive? Yes. Metal? Sure. Fun? Definitely! This is very likely to be on the fringes of my Top 10 albums for the year - a very pleasant surprise.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Morifade - Domi<>nation
Tracklist: Parallels (4.56), A Silent Revolution (6.30), The Second Coming (4.20), Words I Never Speak (4.42), Clarity [Fragments Of A Dream] (4.17), Panopticon (4.50), The Rising (4.16), Erase (5.32), Memory's End (4.40)
Digipak Version [only] : Cast A Spell, As Time Decides, Tomorrow Knows, Dance With The Devil, Judas (Helloween cover), Lost Within A Shade (Video track)
I always seem to be apologising to this band. I did a review for their last album Imaginarium in which my conclusion that it was only good in parts, with the band still needing to develop their sound. That was shown to be an unfair criticism, when I revisited the album several months later. It really started to sink in with great determination and reveal its charms.
I first picked this disc up at the start of the year and again, despite giving it steady airplay, it failed to do much for me. It wasn't until I saw the band put in an amazingly powerful live set at the Swedish-bands-only 2000 Decibel Festival, that I again had to admit that I had greatly underestimated them. Domi<>Nation is actually the band's third release and has a lyrical theme written by vocalist Stefan Petersson and clearly inspired by two rather famous books - Huxley's "Brave New World" and Orwell's "1984".
ProgPower doesn't come in much better shape than the opening track on this disc. Parallels has a decisively simple hook; a great thrusting chorus; distinctive harmonies; a nice change of pace for a gentle mid-section and some great keyboard touches which, as on many tracks here, gives the song that extra little ingredient. There's a distinct Scandie Power Metal to the band's sound as typified by the next track. However as seems common on the album, just when it's about to get a bit predictable, A Silent Revolution is taken that extra step further with a great instrumental burst - in this case by some nice keyboard touches and a short change of pace towards the end.
The Second Coming boasts another great chorus with a very Kamelot sound, as does Clarity, where the guitar, bass work and choir repeats the similarities. Worthy of mention too is the classy Panopticon (the word does make a decent chorus!) and the rising climax, in the shape of Memory's End. There's a digipak version too, that has five bonus tracks plus a video of the brilliant Lost Within A Shade off the last album.
Petersson is an excellent vocalist - full of power and precise tones, while his colleagues provide an ever-changing background of solid chords, flowing keyboards and short, sharp solos. There's the darkness and aggression of latter day Angel Dust, the melody of Kamelotor Cans and the metallic drive of Lost Horizon. The whole thing was recorded at Andy LaRocque's (King Diamond) respected Los Angered Studio - so the sound is sharp and decisive as this type of music demands.
This album has a more definite progressive bent than its predecessor. With the variety that such adventures give a band, in what can otherwise be a rather predictable genre (power metal), I hope it's a direction that Morifade continues to go in. Having a browse through their website, it appears that sadly Petersson has decided to quit the band but with a replacement already announced, work on a new album is already underway.
I'll be interested to see whether the new front man can help maintain the standard set by this and also in which direction they go next. In the meantime, along with the outstanding debut from Pyramaze this stands as one of the best Progressive Power Metal albums of the year. I'm off to listen to it again. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Cynic - Focus
Tracklist: Veil of Maya (5:20), Celestial Voyage (3:37), The Eagle Nature (3:28), Sentiment (4:24), I’m But A Wave To . . . (5:28), Uroboric Forms (3:30), Textures (4:40), How Could I (5:27), Veil of Maya [2004 Remix] (5:21), I’m But A Wave To . . . [2004 Remix] (5:20), How Could I [2004 Remix] (6:19), Cosmos (4:20), The Circle’s Gone (5:20), Endless Endeavors (9:55)
In the late 1990s, one of the best bands working out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada was a technical-death-metal band called Dichotic. If you’re not familiar with the subgenre, technical death metal is brutal but skilfully played heavy metal, often featuring difficult time-signature changes and relentless speed. In fact, it’s often called progressive metal, although the growled vocals make the adjective “death” useful, too. Now, why do I mention a defunct Canadian band in connection with a defunct Floridian band? Because, when I received the handsome 2004 reissue of Cynic’s 1993 album Focus for review and listened to it the first half-dozen times, it struck me as unlike anything I’d ever heard – except that something nagged in the back of my mind, something about their sound that reminded me of another band I knew well. I finally realized that that band was Dichotic, and so I wrote to Dichotic’s vocalist, Raland Kinley, whom I’d gotten to know from attending several of Dichotic’s chaotic but precise concerts. Had Cynic in any way been an influence on Dichotic, I wondered? Raland replied “Certainly, Cynic was a big influence on us. Focus is probably one of the greatest progressive-metal albums of all time. Every one of us had given that CD a lot of spins before we ever played a note for Dichotic.”
Well, big deal, right? Lots of bands influence lots of other bands. Sure, but there’s a big difference here. Cynic has influenced numerous progressive-metal bands aside from Dichotic – but Cynic itself made only one album containing only eight songs. Their influence, I’m suggesting, is way out of proportion to their output – but not at all out of proportion to their talent or to their achievement, a fact (as I’ll call it) that we are very fortunate to be able to contemplate anew with this wonderful 2004 reissue of the original Focus album, a reissue that includes, as bonus tracks, not only brand-new remixes of three of the songs from Focus but also – much more interestingly, too – three songs by Portal, the band that Cynic evolved into before breaking up.
Where to begin in describing the stunningly original sound of Cynic? I’ll begin with a recommendation that will suggest this band’s range. If you’re a fan of the brutal death-metal band Cannibal Corpse, you must get Focus; I guarantee you’ll love it. And, if you’re a fan of the wonderful jazz-rock fusion group Brand X, you must also get Focus , and my guarantee stands for you, too. I’ll even add that if you’re a fan of neither Cannibal Corpse nor Brand X but appreciate (as I assume most readers of DPRP do) intelligent, complex, challenging progressive rock, this album is still a must-have. Although I’ll try to describe some elements of Cynic’s sound, really the best I can do is urge you to get the album and experience it yourself.
So, yes, Cannibal Corpse and Brand X. Guest vocalist Tony Teegarden provides the songs’ main vocals, using what is so often (and, I suppose, semi-accurately) called the “Cookie Monster” style of death-metal singing: growling, rasping vocals that sound as though they’re tearing the singer’s throat out with every syllable. But singer/lyricist/guitarist Paul Masvidal counters with clear and melodic vocals, too, to balance out the growling – and there’s even a semi-operatic woman’s voice (supplied by Sonia Otey) used tastefully and effectively and thus anticipating the common practice of many of today’s operatic- or symphonic-metal groups. And, while parts of all the songs feature the frantic riffing and demonic drumming common to much modern death metal, this group understood dynamics – boy, did they! – and so there are frequent complex, jazzy passages most strongly reminiscent, as I suggested earlier, of Brand X and even in places of the venerable Mahavishnu Orchestra.
How are the musicians? First rate. I’ve mentioned the singing, riffing, and drumming, but I ought to say something about the lead-guitar work and the bass playing. Masvidal and the band’s other guitarist, Jason Gobel, are a formidable team as soloists as well as power-chording machines. Their solos don’t quite eschew melody, but they certainly avoid the pentatonic workouts most commonly heard even in progressive metal; the solos (individually credited in the lyric booklet, so you can check on who’s playing which one) in their off-centredness nicely complement the difficult, challenging, sometimes bizarre arrangements into which they’re fit. As for the bass playing, well, I’d run out of adjectives if I let myself get started. Sean Malone, who plays the too-little-heard Chapman Stick as well as bass guitar on this album, is out-and-out incredible. If you’re an aficionado of bass at all, check out his solo on Textures and try to keep your jaw from hitting the table. More important than his soloing, of course, is the way he keeps the songs going and fits his work in with that of the other band members – and he does so superlatively.
A few words now about the three songs credited to Portal with which this reissue ends – Cosmos, The Circle’s Gone, and Endless Endeavors. These three songs are mellower than those on Focus proper, much closer to the Brand X than to the Cannibal Corpse end of the scale. They also feature more of Sonia Otey’s lovely voice than do the Cynic songs, and to good effect. These songs are an interesting complement to those on the main album, suggesting as well one direction Masvidal might have gone after the break-up of Cynic – but I’ll come back to that point at the end of this review.
I must, to be fair, now make two adverse criticisms of this otherwise excellent album. I’ve spoken of the vocals but haven’t mentioned that, in addition to Teegarden’s death-metal ones, the clean ones, and Sonia Otey’s contributions, most songs contain heavily processed flanged vocals by Masvidal as well. These vocals work well in each song, but, when one listens to the album all the way through (and including the Portal tracks, which also feature these processed vocals), the effect is perhaps a bit monotonous. And then there are the lyrics. The notes in the reissue’s booklet tell us that “the album remains steeped in its own mysticism, aided by Masvidal’s own theosophical lyrics, touching upon humanistic aspects rarely seen by their peer group.” I’ve no idea what Ula Gehret, who wrote the notes, means by “humanistic aspects,” but the lyrics for the most part leave me cold. I’m But A Wave To . . ., for example, begins by claiming “As one I’ll meet the mortal memories / reliving seeking silence / and know that I as just a shell outside / have sacred joys inside me.” That strikes me as simply cliché (and awkwardly expressed cliché, at that) rather than anything “humanistic” to boast about. And that’s a generous example. Sometimes the lyrics are simply silly, at least to my mind. “Primordial egg retains / consciousness unborn / pre-personal perfection / bliss’s screen yet untorn,” goes the chorus of Uroboric Forms. No worse, perhaps, than “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,” to take an obvious silly example sung so effectively by my all-time favourite singer, but Paul Masvidal ain’t no Robert Plant, and lyrics as pretentious as Masvidal’s are probably best when they’re only half-heard rather than printed for sober consideration in a CD booklet.
But the sound of the CD is extraordinary, and I can’t say more than that all fans of adventurous, exciting music should get this wonderful album. I’ll end by finishing the point I made earlier about Portal. Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert have chosen a very different direction indeed for their later collaboration and have released a superb album (lately reviewed here on DPRP) with their new band, Aeon Spoke: Above the Buried Cry. But had I not known that these two musicians worked in both bands, I would never have guessed. They’ve all but put away their progressive and metal leanings and chops and, with Aeon Spoke, have created yet another unique sound – retaining, however, the occasionally overreaching lyrics. For Masvidal’s music, though, I have only the highest respect – whatever his current and future projects might be named.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Eldritch - Portrait Of The Abyss Within
Tracklist: Muddy Clepsidra (1:05), Forbidden (6:43), The World Apart (4:15), The Everlasting Mind Disease (4:30), Picture On The Wall (2:35), Dice Rolling (5:52), Drowning (3:51), Blindfolded Walkthrough (6:18), See You Down (5:06), Slow Motion "K" Us (4:08), Lonesome Existence (4:44)
With their last release on Metal Blade Records, Eldritch upset many fans used to the band's aggressive brand of progressive metal that had earned them tours with Threshold and Pain Of Salvation. Reverse totally ditched the progressive edge in their songs, replaced by pure but melodic Thrash Metal in the mould of Machine Head or Pantera.
Since then, three years have gone by, with many thinking the band had passed away. News of a new release on Germany's Limb Records, best known for its euro speed metal, didn't fill me with much hope and unless I'd been handed a free promo with a purchase from a stall at the Progpower Festival in Holland, Portrait.. would probably have never made its way to my CD player.
And that would have been rather a shame, as it sees the band taking a step backwards in terms of their style, matching the progressive elements of their earlier material with the heavy aggression found on Reverse. We're talking melodic Progressive Power Metal for much of this album. It's pretty raw and the keyboards are pretty sparse but there's some good melodies in tracks like the daunting Forbidden and See You Down. The vocals are solid, the playing tight and it's one of those albums that takes a few spins to fully reveal its depth and charm. An above average album of its kind.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Time Machine - Reviviscence (Liber Secundus)
Tracklist: Obscurity Within (1.49), Rotten Souls (4.03), Reviviscence (6.51), Sator (0.40), Angel Lucifer (5.05), Burning Crosses (0.53), Grains Of Sand (6.37), Alhambra (2.44), Tears Of Jerusalem (5.52), The Calling (4.55), Seeds Of Revolution (6.52), Revelation (5.50)
With a career spanning 12 years, it's been a three-year wait for the second part of Time Machine's "Eymerich" Trilogy. 2001's Evil was generally regarded as one of the best albums to ever come from the Italian progressive metal scene.
The main reason for the delay was the replacement of vocalist Pino Tozzi by Marco Sivo and the arrival of guitarist Gianluca Galli who also contributes sitar and mandolin. The resulting Reviviscence (Liber Secundus) is, as the name suggests, well and truly on the bombastic, classically-orientated side of progressive metal. There is a high quantity of melody and catchy hooks and extensive instrumental passages that switch between guitar and keyboards.
Acoustic interludes such as Sator and Alhambra break up the more direct songs and bring a nice pace to the album overall. I really like the sound and contribution of both guitarists with the liberal use of the more delicate acoustic guitars, mandolin and sitar adding a lovely depth to the sound.
I know plenty of people who rave about this band. For me, it has all the right ingredients but I just can't get into the music at all. The barrier I think, is in the delivery of Marco Siva. He's got a very sharp voice, which to me comes across as rather one-dimensional and lacking any great passion. On passages where the vocals need to soar to match the music, I get the impression that he is merely singing the words as opposed to really feeling them. The other downside is the drumming of Sigfrido Percich who too often merely keeps the beat as opposed to add any variety or change of pace to the rhythm.
It a shame and there's clearly some wonderfully complex progressive music being played here and it's all well-packaged and produced. I guess that if you can get through the vocals then it will be a rewarding listen.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Mastodon - Leviathan
Tracklist: Blood And Thunder (3:48), I Am Ahab (2:45), Seabeast (4:15), Island (3:26), Iron Tusk (3:02), Megalodon (4:22), Naked Burn (3:42), Aqua Dementia (4:10), Hearts Alive (13:39), Joseph Merrick (3:32)
This, the second full length release from Atlanta-based band Mastodon, was subject to almost frenzied anticipation by the metal press – at least, those in the UK. At first sight this seems strange – although they are often lumped in with the ‘American New Wave of Heavy Metal’ crowd, the band actually have a fairly unique sound which is far from usual the ‘bandwagon-jumping’ fare these magazines actually promote. One listen to Leviathan actually explains just why the anticipation has been so great – Mastodon are one of those rare beasts, a metal band who both have something new to say, and a very compelling way of saying it.
Of course, this makes describing the band’s sound somewhat difficult. One comparison I’ve seen widely bandied about is Metallica meets Rush. There is some truth in this comparison – especially if you further refine the description as Master of Puppets era meets Hemispheres-era Rush – but doesn’t come close to fully defining the band’s music. Perhaps a better comparison would be band’s such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Opeth, Meshuggah and Ephel Duath. This isn’t because Mastodon sound like any of these bands, but that they are taking influences from a wide variety of genres – in Mastodon’s case, the predominant ones being metalcore, emo, thrash, classic rock and metal, prog and (don’t snigger) country – and melding them into their own unique blend, which sounds fresh and unlike any other band operating today.
The first eight tracks on Leviathan pass by in a blur, lasting just 30 minutes or so, but don’t let that lead you to think that these are just simple blasts of straight-forward metal – on the contrary, there’s often so much going on, and so many twists and turns in each song, that it’s hard to keep up, and certainly takes several listens to fully take in. Blood And Thunder, for instance, rides in on a wave of taut, powerful riffs, yet just as it is bludgeoning the listener into submission, suddenly veers off on a middle-eastern flavoured guitar break. Seabeast has a slow considered build up, before alternating between an emo-flavoured verse and chorus section to an almost Slayer-ish thrash-athon, whilst Megalodon somehow manages to incorporate 10 seconds or so of what sounds like the theme tune to the "Dukes of Hazard" into its very technical structure without sounding particularly ridiculous! Elsewhere, there’s some twin guitar duelling which have could come straight from a classic Judas Priest album, more catchy riffs than you can shake a stick at, and some of the best (and most hyperactive!) drumming (courtesy of main songwriter Brann Dailor) you’ll hear on a release this year, whatever the genre. Yet far from seeming like a lot of disparate influences thrown haphazardly together, Mastodon have managed to make an album that has both a unified feel, and is more accessible than the output of many of their contemporaries mentioned above – primarily because they have mastered the art of a good melody, and how to structure a song that will be compelling from beginning to end.
Vocally, the band veers between hardcore shouting, more metallic growling and clean vocals (the latter being particularly effective on Seabeast and Naked Burn). Although not everyone will take to the shouting and growling, this is generally delivered in a more accessible manner than is often the case with heavier bands, and in any case suits the music.
Perhaps most attention will inevitably be focused on the 13-minute-plus epic Hearts Alive. Here is where the Rush comparison really comes into its own - especially in the opening section, which resembles (to an extent) the introductory part of the classic The Trees. From here, the band move smoothly through a variety of musical styles, weaving a sea of hypnotic, almost psychedelic riffs which help drive the song through a variety of tempos and moods. Despite being lengthy, its never dull, and when I saw them in concert recently in London (where they were frankly outstanding) it served as a very effective opening number, despite (or perhaps because of) being a little a-typical of their output.
In fact, the only criticism I really have is the fact that the production doesn’t quite capture the sheer power of the band’s live performance; its perhaps a little slick and clinical, with the bass-heavy throb that was all over its predecessor Remission noticeably lower down in the mix. However, this is a minor quibble and certainly isn’t enough to deflect from the high quality of the material.
Overall, then, Mastodon have produced a very high quality album which will undoubtedly feature somewhere in my best of the year list. Although clearly you’d have to have some affinity with the heavier side of metal to enjoy this, the beauty of the album is that its sheer diversity should ensure it appeals across the many different sections in the genre. It will certainly be interesting to see where the band go from here. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of adventurous metal, don’t hesitate – get hold of a copy of Leviathan ASAP!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Hourglass - Subconscious
Tracks: The Hammer's Strike (17:33); Altered State (4:43); Mists of Darkness (20:09): i) The Mist (instrumental), ii) Washed Away, iii) Silent Suffering; Thread the Needle (4:34): Exit Wounds (32:27): Farewell, The Soldier, The Unbeliever, Daddy's Little Girl, The Believer, Widowed, The Soldier Alive.
Write down this list: Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery, Threshold, Under the Sun, Everon,. Now quickly add Hourglass. Based on their new album, Subconscious, they may well prove to conquer your personal top 5 in no time. The best description I can give is a “lighter Dream Theater”. I mean that as a compliment. Their music is technically craftful and musically fresh. The album is produced well and the compositions are, one word, daring. Which newcomer has the guts to open an album with a 17-minute epic? Hourglass clearly set high standards and succeed in living up to them.
So what does Subconsious have to offer? Three epics and two shorter pieces in between. The first track, The Hammer’s Strike , is a potpourri of typical progressive metal elements. Apparently, Hourglass are keen to keep you from getting hooked by piecing together rough licks and riffs in one rollercoaster ride of musical prowess – Zappa by metalheads, anyone? Their guitarist and composer, Brick Williams, really shows talent, supported by clever and rocking drum, bass and keyboard work. The occasional guitar/keyboard duels really shine. Once you’ve given the disc a couple of spins, you get beyond the “jumpy” feel of the song – they draw intersections from a number of styles -- and you hear how well these guys play. At first, perhaps, singer Cody Walker’s voice sounds a bit “nice” for this type of music; no grunts or screams. But this too grows on you and in the end I find his performance very likeable, making for a tasteful group sound.
Before launching into the next epic, Hourglass offer a funky sort of Stairway to Heaven or Kansas type track, called Altered State. Propelled by bass and acoustic guitar, tasteful vocal harmonies and drum patterns receive ample space to make the song with its singalong chorus shine. After the mad ride in the first track, this laidback tune comes as a welcome change. And again it shows some mastery of different musical styles from the musicians. I read somewhere that some of them are music instructors, which I understand judging by the CD. Also, this second track offers a moment to take note of the crystal clear mix of the album: a transparent group sound and highlights in the right places.
The next track is an epic called Mists of Darkness. As far as I’m concerned this three-part track offers the best one on the album. Hourglass take their time to weave this musical tale. It begins with a few layers of synths, leading into a easygoing rock song that picks up speed along the way. Halfway through the song turns into a contagious rocking progmetal midsection. Sweeping synth and guitar solos are duelling. Williams seems to know every trick in the book. Walker’s singing ain’t half bad either here as he hits a few notes in the higher regions without getting into trouble. Eric Robertson adds keyboard passages that are never dominant, but always add the necessary progressive touch to Williams metal idiom. The moods in this song swing from somewhat reminiscent of UK, to Steve Hackett and to the American hardrock bands of the eighties. When they launch into part three of this track things get really progmetal-ish, and I mean this in the hard sense of the word.
As I said, Hourglass alternate those big epics with shorter interludes. Well, short... Thread the Needle still clocks in at over 5 minutes. Even thought the links page of their website shows a variety of rock influences, both progressive and metal, this third track clearly is an homage to Dream Theater. Pounding double bass drum, rocking and screaming guitar and voice, complex rhythms and changes, the works. Although to my ears this track is the most difficult one to listen to, it does show once again their musical excellence.
All the ingredient that Hourglass spell out in the previous tracks find their home in the last and longest track, Exit Wounds. It consists of seven parts, a narrative from different perspectives about family-members going to war. The various parts highlight various perspectives and emotions regarding this tale, reflected in turn by several musical patterns, styles and moods. Thus this opus magnum is a delightful progmetal epic, with sensible lyrics leading up to about existential and even religious questions such as: why do people make war, what happens to our life after death, what do other people mean to us? Surely there is too much going on in this track to do justice to in such a brief review as this. Let me just point out that Hourglass manages to build rich musical contrasts into their songs, as is evidenced by the last bars of Exit Wounds with a delicate piano and vocal section to round off an otherwise robust album. We will be hearing more from them!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Hubi Meisel - EmOcean
Tracklist: Lost in the Waters of Sargasso (4:48), Poseidons Trident (5:19), Nocturnal Breeze (4:23), Dolphins Wake (4:24), Underwater Fears (3:33), FantaSea (4:07), The Souls of Atlantis (12:57), Sapientia Vitae (5:51), Azure Dreams [instrumental] (2:07), Aqua Phoenix (3:42), Aero Nautical (4:18), EmOcean (6:14)
Bonus Tracks (Europe/USA) : Crystal Moon (3:24), Tears of an Enchanted Sea (6:06)
German vocalist Hubi Meisel is probably best known for his work with Progressive Metal band Dreamscape on their well-received album Very. EmOcean is his second release, although with his first solo album Cut consisting of rock/metal style cover versions of seven 80s pop classics - I'd prefer to see this has real debut.
His band is made up by guitarist Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged), drummer Daniel Flores (Mind's Eye) and bassist Jean B. Affonço (Absolute) with Vivien Lalu (Shadrane) on keyboards. The concept of the album deals with the mysteries of the underwater world - notably the Bermuda Triangle, Sargasso Sea and Atlantis.
From the opening track you know exactly where this album is going with a blend of melodic power and progressive metal elements, albeit mainly with mid-tempo songs that concentrate on atmosphere thanks to Hubi's distinctive voice and some excellent keyboard work.
It has its moments - the opener Lost In The Waters of Sargasso is cool - but overall it's just all a bit too nice and safe! Hubi has the sort of distinctive, high-pitched, velvety voice that some people could take an instant dislike to. I don't mind his style, but just find it all a bit staid. The songs too are just a bit tame. The arrangements or melodies don't really draw me in and despite repeated plays, very little has stayed in my mind. Disappointing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Cea Serin - Where Memories Combine
Tracklist: A Fracture in Forever (1:57), Embracing the Absence (7:32), Meridian's Tear (10:20), The End of Silence(9:31), Scripted Suffering: Within and Without (8:24), Into the Vivid Cherishing (12:32), Bonus Tracks: Sudden Faith Part I, Sudden Faith Part II, An Evening at the Suicide Cafe
A couple of years ago, I remember reviewing an independently released, four-song CDR by this American-based duo called The Surface of All Things. Even though it came minus any packaging or even a track listing, it stood out for some great guitar work and bags of daring individuality. Where Memories Combine is Cea Serin's first full-length debut and this time comes with a full track listing and packaging!
The lack of information on the original four-song demo again brings a bit of confusion as to how this all relates to their previous work. But I recognise several elements (the Irish Riverside-style dancing used as percussion and the Stephen Hawkins-style voice box) to guess that some of the tracks on that release are reproduced here.
Cea Serin's name apparently means 'what you are all about'. From the tracks on offer here, it is rather difficult to place exactly what Cea Serin is all about - but I guess that's the intention. Combining composer Jay Lamm's clean and death vocals with obscure lyrics, offbeat arrangements, ever-changing rhythms and multi-coloured musical textures has won them strong admiration in some quarters for their originality. But personally I just can't see the attraction. It's well-executed with plenty of passion and there are some great segments especially the guitar work of Keith Warman. But as a whole, I find it all a bit incoherent and drawn out.
Most of the main tracks weigh in at between eight and twelve minutes and without too many great melodies (Into The Vivid Cherishing apart) they have the feeling of being drawn out beyond their worth. The 'clean' vocals have a great depth in tone that I really like to listen to. However the death vocals tend to squawk and croak rather than growl. Fine if you like it but it sounds rather forced to me and after a while just grates. And is that a drum machine or is it just a bad production sound?
Overall there are some good ideas floating around here and if they could shorten the songs to focus on the good ideas and add a few more memorable hooks, there is clearly potential. However, progressive death metal has become a fairly tried and tested formula in the past two years and listening to this now, nothing really stands out as specially new or invigorating.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Dust Connection - The Dust Connection [EP]
Tracklist: Armour to Shatter (6:16), Out Of Nowhere (6:07), Desert Session (9:17), Temporary (8:05)
During "ProgPower" one of the band members of The Dust Connection offered me this extended play CD (demo). Now if a demo is used as a 'business card' only, then we would not be reviewing it, but as this CD is also available for order through their web site then that qualifies it for a review. Furthermore it would have been a pity if this demo was not brought to your attention as it has all that a good progmetal album should have. Having said this it might be unnecessary to point out what the "sound-a-likes" of this band are, but I will name them anyway: Dream Theater, Pain Of Salvation and (surprisingly) Arena.
My first impression of this band during ProgPower was a positive one and this demo does not change that, in fact I am even more positive about them now. In my ProgPower review I said I did not really like the live voice of Jeroen Voogd, and on this demo there are some bits and pieces that make me remember that comment, but then there are also (many more) examples on this short album that make clear Jeroen has a superb voice, perfectly matching this music. On the parts that are not OK, I think he's just trying to hard to get some extra emotion in his voice - it is totally unnecessary - he does more than well in that division.
The Dust Connection was built on the remains of Forever Times, a band that released one CD (the review can be found here). Three members of that band: Robert Spaniks (drums), Martijn Balsters (guitars) and Niels van Dongen (bass guitar) joined together with Jeroen Voogd (vocals) and Sander Heerings (keyboards) formed The Dust Connection. I do not know the music of Forever Times but adding Sander Heerings to the band was a very good choice: I love his keyboards and they form the centre to many of the compositions. But the music is not made up of keyboards alone, the guitars and drums are a good match to the keyboards, they are not at all lagging behind.
Armour to Shatter is introduced by a haunting keyboard loop, the guitars take over and take the lead in a more metal structure. The breaks make it progressive. It is especially in this track that Jeroen is overdoing his vocals. The solo is a good example of why I am so fond of these keyboards. The next track, Out Of Nowhere, is a mellow track with a small bite, somewhere in the middle the tempo goes up. I am a sucker for weeping guitars and Martijn knows exactly how to do them. Jeroen's vocals in this one are excellent, the high pitched parts, outstanding. Desert Session is the most progressive track of the album, a speedy start that fades into Vangelis-like keyboards, whilst the drums and guitars take it to a more prog metal track. A mellow middle part with once gain Martijn's weeping guitars, you might understand why this is my favourite track. Temporary starts of quietly, building up in tempo, again Jeroen's vocals are very good and the small details of keyboards and guitars throughout this song show The Dust Connection is ready to take the next step: about time they record a full length album.
This special edition demo CD is accompanied by a DVD that contains the video clip to The Grand Final a pretty good track but in my opinion it misses some of the finesse the four other tracks have. But is not a bad track. The video is shot outside, in a forest and in-doors, in front of a screen moving because of a wind machine. Martijn does his guitar solo while his long hair is blowing in the wind. A dramatic effect is obtained by a number of close-ups in the video. It is not really original but the still images and the "Behind the Scenes" footage make you appreciate the extra effort (and extra money) the band put in to get this video-clip shot.
From their web site you can download two complete tracks from this album and the band encourages you to distribute these tracks as much as possible. If you like progmetal just download these two tracks and then maybe also buy the demo to get the other two tracks. Because the DVD track is pretty good, I suggest you get the special edition version. One might argue that the price is a bit high just to get these two extra tracks but keep in mind that by buying the demo you support the band. Of course you can use the downloads to decide if you think the demo is worth the money.
I think The Dust Connection have done a good job on this CD, but as it is only a four, (five if the DVD is included), track demo I am not offering a rating (to do so would not make a good comparison). However I would still like to recommend this CD to all progmetal lovers and I look forward to the release of the full album which I will buy without any hesitation.