Reviews in this issue:
- Zero Hour - Specs Of Pictures Burnt Beyond
- Citadel - Pluies Acides
- Ghost Circus - Cycles
- Voyager - Sober [Single]
- Franck Ribiere - Bloody Karma
- Twisted Into Form - Then Comes Afflication To Awaken The Dreamer
Zero Hour - Specs Of Pictures Burnt Beyond
Tracklist: Face the Fear (9:00), The Falcon's Cry (8:00), Embrace (2:24), Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond (7:35), Zero Hour (2:27), I Am Here (4:58), Evidence Of The Unseen (8:44)
After their massively disappointing A Fragile Mind album last year, America’s premier purveyors of progressively-technical metal return to form with their forth release on the Sensory Label.
Gone is singer Fred Marshall. One can only presume he was a hired-hand brought in to get a release date for that unfortunate, and heavily-delayed album. Not that there was anything wrong with Marshall as a singer. Just that his style – more suited to the traditional US power metal bands – was woefully out of place and unsuited to deliver the Zero Hour style of ProgMetal. In his place the band has pulled in Chris Salinas from the excellent but sadly disbanded US ProgMetallers Power Of Omens. The result is a welcome return to the style that could be heard on Towers Of Avarice. Six tracks of absorbing music that brings the clear melodies of Fates Warning and early-period Queensrÿche with the technical playing and rhythms of Spiral Architect.
And the band really does hit a groove on most of this album, mixing up intensity and shade with stunning effect. The opening two tracks are built around the driving bass, drums and guitar and some subtly addictive melodic lines from Salinas. Face The Fear is as good as this type of music can get. Meanwhile the three different phases of The Falcon’s Cry come a close second, exhibiting the band’s ability to mix different tempos and moods within a single song. The second part of this track in particular is brilliant. Both openers have been getting heavy plays at home for several weeks.
Again the keyboards are notable by their absence. This gives the album a rather cold, clinical feel. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a warning to those of you who preferred the warmer colour that the keys brought to Metamorphosis.
Salinas picked up some negative feedback for his performance on the last "Power Of Omens" record, Rooms Of Anguish. Having revisited that disc recently, I do feel comments about his over-use of the higher range are unjustified. Sure, he can hit some uncomfortably-high, trouser-pinching notes. But as he shows here, he is more than capable of mixing-up the mid and lower registers to fantastic effect. Listen to the opening of the balladic I Am Here for all the proof you’ll need. Only on the over-manic title track does his use of the higher range become uncomfortable.
If like me, you absolutely loved Erik Rosvold’s singing on the first two albums, then Salinas is one of the few vocalists around who will ever come close. The resemblance to Geoff Tate is uncanny. Occasionally the band’s stylings take clear inspiration from Queensrÿche in their period up to and including Empires. Again no bad thing, but if you are worried about any ‘clone’ allegations, then Zero Hour’s increasingly aggressive and technical playing, plus the odd jazz-rock fusion twist, gives the band a clear identity of its own.
This album doesn’t quite match the heights reached by Towers... and the debut. Some of the riffing is a little samey. Jasun Tipton certainly has a trademark sound but that style does require a bit more variety. The title track in particular suffers from a an over-recycling of the basic riff.
A strong criticism of A Fragile Mind was the scattering of short instrumentals. There’s only two to be found here but it’s a shame as they really do break up the flow and structure of the album. The sort of instrumentals done by the likes of Enchant stand as valid tracks in their own right. These short bursts just appear to be padding. No more please. It was also a criticism last time around, but again the playing time is rather short. If you skip past the instrumentals it only leaves five songs and less than 40 minutes playing time. I’m definitely no fan of bands that always have to use a CDs full capacity, but at least two more songs are needed to call this a decent musical meal.
And that’s really the difference between this album getting a 9 (‘Brilliant - one of your top 5 albums of the year’) and an 8 (‘Excellent - recommended to all’). Specs Of Pictures Burnt Beyond… is genuinely recommended listening to anyone who enjoyed Towers… and anyone who likes technical, aggressive ProgMetal with a sense of melody and some stunning musical performances. If Salinas can stay on board and contribute fully in the writing for the next album, then there are all the ingredients now available to produce something quite stunning on album number five. For the reasons mentioned above, this won’t quite get into my top five of the year but it easily stands as the best pure, ProgMetal album of 2006. Buy with confidence.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Citadel - Pluies Acides
Tracklist: Les Erants (5:29), Ether (8:39), Drop-Dead Gorgeous (6:54), DNA (9:06), Watching You (6:22), Ancient Smiles (9:07), Les Hordes (3:56), B.Lutins (7:46), Invaders (:), Doorway (:), Clouds (:)
According to their biography, French band Citadel formed in Paris in 2002 and after initial forays into Alternative Rock have moved in a more progressive direction with their second release, Pluies Acides (Acid Rain), released on the Musea label. The band comprises Frederic Martin-Bouyer on guitar and vocals, Julien Zordan on bass (he also supplies organ and both he and Frederic add piano) and Michael Galand on drums. Additional lead vocals on a couple of tracks plus some backing vox come from Astrid Karoual. Three of the songs are sung in English, five in French, with three instrumentals. I’m not going to attempt to translate the French lyrics but the English ones aren’t that inspired. Doesn’t matter though as the music is generally very good and this usually carries the day for me anyway.
First impressions on this album are of a very good band that plays together particularly well. Is it prog? Not very. Is it good? Yes it is! They are prog in the same way that Muse or Radiohead are without sounding like either - good modern rock with a view to expanding their sound. The songs are well written and generally move along at a fair old canter, typical of a traditional power trio. In their biog Muse and Pink Floyd are mentioned as influences and these are pretty good reference points. Also early KC raises it’s head now and again as does later period Rush fleetingly. Vocals are pretty good from Frederic but Astrid’s contribution, although it adds colour and depth to the sound, could have been stronger with a slightly better singer. I love the rhythm section, they keep the whole thing focused and moving along, the bass being particularly strong. Good production gives a particularly live sound to proceedings and the guitar is very tasteful and always interesting. It may be a little too straight-ahead for some – as I say, not very prog – but as a modern sounding rock album with prog tendencies it’s a very enjoyable and melodic listen with most tracks around the 5min+ mark without much padding.
First track, Les Erants, opens with a nice guitar and bass part and you immediately get a very indie feel before the guitar moves into more metallic sounding staccato runs and a driving chorus. The bass takes over on Ether with a loping intro and very good interplay between the band. Good contemporary rock. Drop-Dead Gorgeous sees Astrid take the mic for the first time adding variety to the mix. On DNA you get another driving, straightforward opening where the English lyrics don’t quite work leading into the mid section which sees synth strings over a busy bass and an epic sounding organ – the first prog moment and it’s a good one. Watching You starts with a quiet piano and an ominous build with distorted guitar. A couple of minutes in and it’s all high energy stuff but, again, a better vocal would help.
Ancient Smiles starts with a steady tempo and, again, good instrumentation. Better male and female vocals this time and (almost) a rap section. Much jazzier than the rest is Les Hordes, which also features an angular guitar line; the acoustic and fretless bass could make this the most prog track on the CD. B.Lutins features echoed vocal and distorted guitar moving into a quite flamenco sounding section before giving way to fast, indie flavoured rock with some screamed vocals. Invaders is an instrumental with a staccato opening leading into a Rush-like inventive mid-section. Doorway is stately and vocal led; bit Floydy, with the build-up reminiscent of Yes. All distorted slightly to good effect and very impressive. Last track Clouds is an orchestral synth and percussion instrumental and gives the distinct vibe of being from a soundtrack, bringing the likes of Cape Fear and Vertigo to mind. It’s out of place after what has gone before but is very well done and enjoyable. There then follows 13 minutes of silence before you come across a hidden extra track – straight ahead feel, melodic with some inventive elements and a buried vocal line.
So, all in all a very well played and enjoyable album. Vocally good but not great, the slightly sub-standard female singing lets it down on occasion. The mix of French and English is interesting and shouldn’t put anyone off. With an excellent rhythm section and interplay between the band it’s more than just an average modern rock album which, while retaining elements of their Alternative beginnings, looks to move towards a more wide-ranging approach. A good way to spend an hour and after the second spin I liked this album a lot. Not great but showing promise for the future, these guys can certainly play and aren’t stuck in the past. Muse is probably a good point of reference but they lack the histrionics present in the work of that band. The next album should be well worth hearing.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ghost Circus - Cycles
Tracklist: Broken Glass (4:23), Cycles (5:38), Tricks of the Light (9:43), The Distance (5:55), Accelerate (6:09), Let It Flow (4:53), Send/Return (7:56), Mass Suggestion Part 1 (7:32), Mass Suggestion Part 2 (3:46)
WARNING: Non-prog rock review in progress.
Ghost Circus’ Cycles is in no measure a “prog rock” recording, despite its release on the ProgRock Records label. It neither harkens back faithfully to any of the significant bands or sub-genres of progressive rock in its heyday, nor advances any particular style of popular music out of its traditional context into novelty of sound and expression. Cycles is rather AOR: album-oriented rock. To my ears, if you combined the Alan Parsons Project, Queen, late 70’s Pink Floyd, elements of the 90s grunge era (a la Stone Temple Pilots or even Dishwalla), 80s bands like U2, The Fixx, The Outfield, and Mr. Mister, solo Peter Gabriel, the overly compressed guitar tone heard incessantly on MTV’s Headbangers Ball, and a small dose of neo-prog keyboards, you’d have Cycles, exactly. Which doesn’t make the CD bad: far from it; it’s actually more impressive than not. But is it an offering that the DPRP audience will snap up eagerly? Doubtful.
Ghost Circus is a duo: Chris Brown (vocals, guitars, bass guitar, keyboards) from Tennessee and Ronald Wahle (drums, percussion, keyboards, guitars) from The Netherlands. Mr. Brown is the band’s lyricist as well. Now, I will readily admit that the production value of Cycles is absolutely stellar, more so perhaps because a) the tracks sound like they are fully wrought by a four- or five-member band; and b) the tracks were created remotely, via transmission across the Atlantic between the U.S. and The Netherlands. Cycles is in that regard a strong achievement: It always offers a robust sonic texture and always possesses a sharp, crisp studio perfection that never borders on the saccharine.
There are a few standout tracks on Cycles. The title track is a nice tight composition that features an excellent bit of chorus and some Brian May-style guitar work. (I will say that Mr. Brown’s vocals grew on me out of my original negative assessment. He is very raspy and sings in a low register, but ultimately he is on key, melodic, and phrases well. I want to say that he’s very reminiscent of Peter Gabriel in solo mode, though perhaps not as finessed or emotive.)
The Distance is a beautiful acoustic tune that is laden with compelling hooks. (And what’s an AOR album without hooks?)
The proggiest track by far is Send/Return which is an instrumental and showcases well the duo’s ability to draw out a motif and develop it over time. It is still not quite in the vein of say, early 70s progressive rock, but it does blend a modern sensibility with at least some understanding of art rock expansiveness.
There’s not ultimately a lot of Cycles to condemn. The lyrics are a tad weak in places and there’s no absolutely stunning moment on the disc, but after three listens I had an earnest warmness for Mssrs. Brown and Wahle’s work. I’ll give Cycles a 7 and say that fans of neo and 80s arena rock may be quite taken with this CD, but fans of the old-school style will likely find the album decent but uncompelling.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Voyager - Sober [Limited Single Edition]
Tracklist: Sober [radio edit] (3:26), Garden Of Love (2:04), White Shadow(5:05), Sober [LP mix] (5:12)
Hailing from Perth, Western Australia, Voyager hit the scene a year or so ago with the release of their remarkably original debut album Element V. The five-piece packed a whole range of metal and rock influences into their sound, yet managed to create a very accessible disk that ranged from melodic rock to death metal (only in short bursts!). Their reputation was enhanced with a short European tour this Autumn, which included an appearance at the prestigious Progpower Europe festival.
This single is their musical return to the scene and features both the radio edit and full version of the track Sober. This shows a more focused approach than anything on their debut album whilst retaining subtle changes of pace and mood and the clever mix of heavy guitar riffs and lighter electronica. The vocals are great, there’s a really good hook to the song and the slight gothic vibe will no doubt broaden the appeal. This has real potential.
Of the two other tracks Garden of Love is a short atmospheric neo-progish track that sounds lovely but stops before it really develops – hopefully this will be just the opening of a fuller track on the album. White Shadow stands on the band’s more metallic side, with a few mild death influences and a heavy nod to Euro power metal bands. Despite being a bit too obvious and derivative, the chorus is pretty catchy and I like the drive of the guitars mixed with the touches of electronica. The LP version of Sober has an extended guitar solo and an extended ending which gives it a more rounded feel.
It appears that Sober will feature on the band’s upcoming CD, uniVers – I’m not too sure about the other two. However this single stands as a delicious early taste of what is to come and on this evidence Voyager could really be a name to watch in 2007.
There’s also a low and high resolution video for the single on the disk. The CD single is available to buy as a download (5 Australian dollars) from the band’s website. If you want to try before you buy, the video is freely available on the band’s YouTube site. Give it a go.
Franck Ribiere - Bloody Karma
Tracklist: A New World (5:48), AND Discovery (3:40), This Little Thing In Everyone’s Heart (4:00), Bloody Karma (4:39), Lost In The Jungle (4:35), A Better Life (4:25), Funky Satellite (5:36), Boogytoshok (4:17), Sphinx Attack (4:10), Euphoria (4:20), Deep Dream (3:28)
After his first instrumental album with the "Double Heart Project" (featuring Chris Poland and Cyril Achard) guitar player Franck Ribiere now releases his first instrumental metal guitar album called Bloody Karma. The CD is filled with musical components from metal, rock, fusion and blues and his guitar influences range from Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert and John Petrucci to Shawn Lane and Frank Gambale. It is an album for guitar freaks only, so you are warned!
A New World opens this CD in a rather spectacular way as it is a marvellous ballad-like song with melodies reminding the listener of Satch and Urso. This Little Thing In Everyone’s Heart is the second highlight and it is again a ballad-like song with great melodies and gooseflesh solos. Lost In The Jungle is a rather heavy track with lots of Oriental influences and therefore this song reminds me of Marty Friedman, especially the speedy solos. But the best song, for me, is the last one, called Deep Dream, a sheer amazing ballad, featuring a bass guitar and keys intro, followed by a heavenly melody and solo.
This is not only an album for shred addicts as Ribiere uses influences from jazz, rock, blues and boogie. Furthermore the CD has a perfect sound production so that Bloody Karma really sounds crystal clear. A must album for lovers of Satch, Vai, Urso and Coenen.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Twisted Into Form -
Then Comes Afflication To Awaken The Dreamer
Tracklist: Enter Nothingness (3:32), Instinct Solitaire (3:35), Torrents (4:15), The Thin Layers Of Lust And Love (7:04), Tear (2:12), Manumit (3:43), The Flutter Kings (4:25), Erased (2:51), House Of Nadir (6:40), Coda (6:04)
Naming your band after an album by Bay-Area thrash legends "Forbidden" could be taken as giving some idea of where your musical roots lie. But using that same logic, naming your album after a quote by 19th century Danish philosopher "Soren Kierkegaard" would lead to a totally different conclusion.
Having spent a few weeks with the debut release from this Norwegian band, I can safely say that Twisted Into Form definitely owes more to the latter – this is metal for the thinking man (or woman).
The band is made up of musicians with a long pedigree in technical and innovative progressive metal. The core of the band contains ex-Spiral Architect guitarist Kaj Gornitzka and singer Leif J. Knashaug, plus drummer David Husvik (Extol) and ex-Lunaris bassist Erik Aadland. The final result is technical progressive metal with jazz/fusion extensions and a bit of thrash - so maybe the Forbidden reference is valid too! Throw in a bit of Spastic Ink, Gordian Knot and Zero Hour and you won't be far off knowing what lies within.
The musicians have been working together since 2000 and the album was recorded over the period of January 2004 to March 2006. It’s clearly been a labour of love, which really benefits from a great sound courtesy of Neil Kernon.
Whilst there is an acceptance of the need for a central melody to some songs, this is more about stretching the boundaries of the genre. As a result it’s not the sort of music that really hits it for me. However I can appreciate the quality to be found here and would suggest that it will hit the mark for fans of the above bands or anyone wanting to stretch out to some intense guitar playing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10