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2006 : VOLUME 7

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Vision Divine - The Perfect Machine
Vision Divine - The Perfect Machine
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Scarlet
Catalogue #:SC113-2
Year of Release:2005
Time:52:13
Info:Vision Divine
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Perfect Machine (7:58), 1st Day Of A Never Ending Day (6:13), The Ancestors Blood (5:53), Land Of Fear (4:25), God Is Dead (5:21), Rising Sun (5:23), Here In 6048 (6:32), The River (4:29), Now That You've Gone (5:59)

Divine by name: Divine by nature. The Perfect Machine really is the perfect blend of progressive, melodic, power metal. Previously signed to Metal Blade, this Italian band has already shifted 150,000 copies world-wide of their first three albums. If you haven't come across them yet, then go straight out and grab yourself a copy of the stunning Stream of Consciousness, to see how melody and power should be combined to create an absolutely addictive musical metal feast. That was the best album of its kind to be released in 2004, and this is the best of its kind to come out in 2005.

The Perfect Machine takes the basic model of its predecessor but adds a greater depth to the song writing, characterised by a careful use of keyboards and a constantly changing tapestry of rhythms and pace.

Formed by former Labrynth guitarist Olaf Thorston and once featuring Rhapsody singer Fabio Lione, Vision Divine is not the usual Italian metal band. That is largely due to vocalist supreme Michele Luppi, who really must be one of the hottest properties on the scene at present. Not a trace of accent, he brings an almost American melodic hard rock feel to the band's sound.

The highlights just flood out of the speakers. The crunching power of the title track opener, the pompy vibe of The Ancestors Blood, the gloriously free-flowing guitar run that opens Land of Fear, the acoustic guitar and piano which dominates Here In 6048, and the blistering anger that drives God Is Dead. The hooks are drop dead gorgeous, there's some sensational riffing by both keyboards and guitar, and even the power ballad (Rising Sun) is fabulously balladic.

There's a story running through the lyrics, if that appeals, and the whole things been superbly produced by Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius). A sure fire winner for any fans of the likes of Millenium or Bonfire, but also plenty of appeal for those, like me, who like bands such as Circus Maximus, Pyramaze and even Redemption, that manage to blend great melodies within a more complex song structure. And if you liked their last album, you'll fall instantly head over heals in love with this one.

This is a rare album. The perfect mix between power, intelligence, aggression and melody. Buy Buy Buy!

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Ram-Zet - Intra
Ram-Zet - Intra
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Tabu
Catalogue #:TUBA013
Year of Release:2005
Time:53:39
Info:Ram-Zet
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Final Thrill (5:25), Left Behind As Pieces (4:51), Enchanted (7:05), Ballet (6:42), “Peace” (2:03), And Innocence… (5:31); Born (6:04), Lullaby For The Dying (6:34), Closing A Memory (9:13)

Ram-Zet started in 1998 as a one-man project from the rather enigmatically-monikered multi-instrumentalist Zet, but soon evolved into a full band, releasing their debut offering Pure Therapy in 2000. Intra is their third effort, yet you’d be forgiven for never having heard of them, as their profile seems almost non-existent outside their native Norway. If there was any justice in the world Ram-Zet would be making sizeable waves in the metal scene, as Intra is a very impressive release indeed.

Musically Ram-Zet touch on a number of different bases, but they’ve certainly succeeded in combining these to come up with a unique and exciting sound. Opener The Final Thrill kicks off with 100mph blast beats and a flurry of guitars, and the unsuspecting listener may well think that this is going to be a black metal album – not entirely untrue as Ram-Zet certainly take elements from the scene (particularly Zet’s vocal style, a rasping vampire croak from the deepest depths) – well they are Norwegian after all! – but there’s much more to the band than that, as can be seen when the pace drops and the guitarists start carving out chunky, technical riffs to an industrial backdrop, in the vein of ‘cyber-metal’ acts such as Fear Factory or The Kovenant. Just when you think you’ve sussed the band out they throw another curveball as the backing becomes more symphonic and gothic, and sultry female vocalist Sfinx joins in the fun. Providing a perfect counterpoint to Zet’s harsher delivery, Sfinx - if perhaps not technically as gifted as some of the better-known vocalists in the genre - does have a great range, ranging from an innocent schoolgirl-like lullaby voice to a piercing scream which gives Zet a run for his money.

Just on this single opening song, we also get some great duelling lead guitar work a’la Iron Maiden, some wonderfully worked tempo changes (particularly when the band take things down a notch, with violin player Sareeta playing a mournful melody before the band expertly bring things back to the boil), and a whole host of eerie atmospheric electronics bubbling away in the background – think of Goblin’s chilling soundtrack to Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece Susperia and you’d be in the right ballpark. The end result is an exhilarating listen that actually left me rather exhausted afterwards – and there’s still another seven songs to get though! (“Peace” being a short but much needed intermission-style instrumental where everyone – band and listener - can take a breather!).

It seems pointless to go through a track by track commentary, as there’s so much going on these songs that to describe it all would mean that this review would end up being longer than all the others put together. It’s also hard to pick highlights, as all of the songs are strong, with no filler. That said, of particular note are Left Behind As Pieces, where the head-banging inducing riffs career all other the place and Zet and Sfinx’s vocal tradeoffs are sharp as a tack; Enchanted, which features a superb symphonic mid-section which contains some very fine multi-tracked vocal harmonies from Sfinx, whilst Ballet starts as a rather nightmarish lullaby, morphs into a crazy violin-led metal jig (think Skyclad on warp-speed with twice the power) before thrashing up a storm and weaving its way through some very sinister sections. The album finishes with the epic Closing A Memory, which plays to all of Ram-Zet’s strengths, moving seamlessly from a slow and controlled opening to an all-guns-blazing riff-heavy mid section before ending, perhaps surprisingly but effectively, with a somewhat forlorn sounding Sfinx balladeering over a gentle synth wash.

The only real downside to this varied and challenging metal feast is that, as I’ve stated, it’s all so full-on and ever-changing that you do need a breather, as listening to it in one go is rather draining. It could also be said that, whilst the band’s approach sounds very innovative on the first song, the listener will have pretty much got their number by the last; this again is countered by the sheer quality of the material here which would certainly override any fears that band are writing to a formula.

All in all, a very fine metal album which all those who enjoy dark, fearsomely heavy yet varied and adventurous music would be well advised to check out.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Another Messiah – Dark Dreams, My Child
Another Messiah – Dark Dreams, My Child
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2005
Time:46:06
Info:Another Messiah
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: These Lonely Eyes (6:10), And Now I Will (5:01), My God It’s Him (6:35), I Never Noticed (6:30), Sweet Dreams (2:20), She Softly Starts to Cry (4:35), Dead Man Walking (5:16), Left to Die (5:41), The Queen Bee (3:48)

These are good times for all sorts of interesting subgenres of both heavy metal and progressive rock. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to review what may well be the first album in yet another subgenre – although I’ll be surprised if we don’t soon see many bands following their lead, working in that same subgenre. Another Messiah’s debut full-length album Dark Dreams is just terrific. It’s innovative, heavy, thoughtful, melodic, well-produced progressive metal from a band that’s going to go far.

I’ll begin with my reasons for that prediction. Partly it’s the band’s excellence, but partly it’s the current musical climate. To my great delight, the world seems to be acquiring a taste for certain kinds of progressive metal that are much beloved to me: atmospheric metal (think of, pre-eminently, The Gathering) and progressive death metal (best exemplified, of course, by Opeth). And now along comes Another Messiah with their first full-length album and, unless I’ve missed other bands’ claims, their own subgenre (as established in their promotional materials): “post-doom metal.” Well, okay – I’m not a huge fan of labels, but for those of us who take as an article of faith that Sabbath created not only heavy metal in general but also what’s come to be called doom metal, I guess it’s reasonable that – more than three decades since Sabbath’s heyday – it’s time for us to get to post-doom. Fortunately, though, this isn’t just another idiosyncratic label meant to get attention: I can really hear why the band so labels itself.

Before I talk about why I think this band really does play post-doom metal, though, I ought to remind us all of the hallmarks of plain old doom metal. Well, really, the name says it all. Great doom metal (as exemplified by such bands as Trouble, Hidden Hand, My Dying Bride, and St. Vitus) is typically slow, heavy, mournful in both sound and lyrics. Like the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, its main intention is (so it’s always seemed to me, anyway) to create and convey a mood – specifically, the mood of hopelessness. (Okay, so it’s not to everybody’s taste.) Well, you’ll find most of those elements in Another Messiah, too, but these guys are clearly also scholars of the most recent developments in metal. Elements of those two majestic bands I mentioned earlier, The Gathering and Opeth, are everywhere to be heard in Another Messiah’s music, but never to the extent that one thinks that this band is ever borrowing from or even alluding to those others. Rather, this is an entirely new amalgam of sounds, a successful one at that.

Well, okay, what do they sound like, you want to know? I need to say first of all that although they don’t sound like Opeth, they share one of that band’s strengths: great variety of sounds and moods on a single album. The music can swing from super-heavy to delicate in an instant, and Robbie de Klerk’s vocals swing along – from a heavy but clear doom/death growl to a strong, clear, melodic, expressive instrument. The other members of the band (guitarist Martijn van de Leur, bassist Erik Jacobs, and Christiaan Crouwers) make the difficult melodies and time changes seem effortless, performing with a combination of finesse and the essential lack of ego that finds them sublimating their individual skills to the service of each song. One doesn’t single out the instruments – one hears the total effect.

And besides all that, there are two more things that set this band apart. First, the use of an oboe – yes, an oboe ! – to add colour and interest to many of the mournful passages in the songs (and as we all know, there are few if any instruments that can compete with the oboe for mournfulness). And, like the violin featured on Dying Passion’s excellent first album Secretly, the oboe here doesn’t strike one as an afterthought, a sophistication included just because de Klerk knows how to play the oboe or wants the music to be taken more seriously because it features a symphony instrument. It plays a small but integral part in the songs.

Second – this band not only rocks but also rolls! Much as I love extreme metal, I can seldom hear that swing, that give-and-take, that we hear in good old rock and roll. Zeppelin had it, as does Iron Maiden, but the roll is absent from most modern extreme metal. In fact, the only other contemporary extreme-metal band I can think of that plays a version of rock and roll (albeit an extremely heavy, noisy, abrasive one) is Montreal, Canada’s hilariously named but excellent Ghoulunatics. But Another Messiah has that swing, that roll, too – and that alone would make them stand out in contemporary metal. The heaviness of both music and lyrics is thus tempered by an irresistible buoyancy in the performance.

I’ll stop now and simply urge everyone to get this CD. In a few years, those of us who were fortunate enough to hear this first album will be sitting back with contented (perhaps smug) smiles on our faces, as Another Messiah becomes a common name among fans of innovative progressive metal. We’ll be tempted to say but of course (out of politeness) never would say “we told you so.”

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Lunatica - Fables & Dreams
Lunatica - Fables & Dreams
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Format:CD
Record Label:Locomotive
Catalogue #:LMFR02
Year of Release:2005
Time:51:45
Info:Lunatica
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Search Goes On (4:15), Avalon (3:42), Elements (6:45), Fable Of Dreams (5:22), Still Believe (6:11), The Spell (4:48), The Neverending Story (5:36), Hymn (4:30), Silent Scream 2004 (5:23), A Little Moment Of Desperation (4:58)

Beautiful symphonic fantasy light-metal. Sound interesting? Read on.

Fables & Dreams is the second offering by Swiss fantasy-metal outfit Lunatica. If you're thinking Rhapsody or Kamelot, you can stop: this brand of fantasy focuses more on the ethereal beauty inherent in myth than the valour of fighting dragons. The symphonic backdrops serve to add depth to the band's light-metal sound, and to compliment Andrea's angelic voice.

From the beginning, the spoken-word track The Search Goes On, Lunatica simply radiate "epic." A deep-voiced man narrates the theme for the album (about a lost book of fables and dreams) over a keyboard wash and what sounds like a classical piece for flute, which then turns into a symphonic movement with a rock feel for a minute or so. The mood is set for what could be a Disney movie set to music rather than theatre. Avalon dives right into a more sympho-metal feel, with more sympho than metal. Many elements of this song, from the driving beat to the orchestrations to the melodic structure, remind me quite a bit of Feel For You from Nightwish's Century Child album. While I mention Nightwish, I should point out that Lunatica are noticeably lighter in mood and less metal-driven than Nightwish, and Andrea's often-harmonized voice is less operatic and will appeal to a broader audience of symphonic rock/metal fans.

Elements has tones of Lacuna Coil, especially in the guitar work of Sandro and Andy, although naturally with more orchestral components. The title track opens with a gentle duet between classical guitar and piano while Andrea sings harmonies. Electronic effects and a guest appearance of Jean-Marc Viller for a vocal duet make this song shine, truly putting the emphasis on "fantasy." Still Believe brings back the heavier feel, along with oceans of harmony. Andrea truly has one of the most listenable voices in the entire epic/power/sympho/fantasy-metal extended genre, and while the rest of Lunatica are no slouches they deliberately let Andrea take the spotlight.

Halfway through the album, The Spell strips away a little of the sympho for a minute, opting for driving guitars, electronic rhythmic effects, and Marc Torretti for some more traditional metal singing. While Fables & Dreams is an enjoyable listen, this song is a welcome wake-up call. A Never Ending Story brings back the Nightwish feel, adding some wicked keyboards that remind me of Rammstein. The vocal harmonies are again superb, carrying all the weight of a full choir at times.

One of the biggest treats on the album is a cover of Midge Ure's Hymn, complete with the biggest and best of all the elements Lunatica have introduced thus far. The rock rocks more, the sympho is more grandiose, and those heavenly harmonies are more pristine and amazing. I haven't heard the original, but this version is certainly one of the highlights of the album.

Silent Scream opens with piano and strings, turning into a song not unlike others on this album but quite enjoyable. A Little Moment Of Desperation rounds out the album with another driving rock track, capping things off quite memorably.

While Lunatica may not offering anything terribly new to the Sympho/Fantasy Metal genre, Fables & Dreams shows all the best elements of the genre in their full glory. Their unique blend of sympho, mild electronic effects, and light metal make this album extremely enjoyable, especially in light of the clichéd nature of much of the genre recently. Fans of Nightwish looking for something a little different will love this album, and anyone who enjoys a good, full-sounding album with crystalline female vocals will find it well worth their time. It lacks some of the adrenaline of, say, Rhapsody or Kamelot, but still maintains much of the grandeur.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

CHRISTOPHER DANE FRICK



Beyond The Labyrinth - Signs
Beyond The Labyrinth - Signs
Country of Origin:Belgium
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2005
Time:70:26
Info:Beyond The
Labyrinth
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Media Vision (6:52), In Flanders Fields (5:37), Icons (6:54), Tomorrow Is Gone (4:40), Unholy War (4:53), Digital World (6:20), The Visionary (8:17), Freak Show (4:39), Welcome To Paradise (6:06), Prophet Of Doom (5:51), Morning Rendezvous (3:51), In Perpetual Motion (6:01)

Belgian six-piece Beyond The Labyrinth may be a new name in the progressive metal world, but main-man Geert Fieuw is clearly a man with plenty of contacts in the scene – they’ve already supported the likes of Pain of Salvation and Riverside, whilst Signs (BTL’s debut offering) boasts guest appearances from the likes of Richard West (Threshold), Daniel Flores (Mind’s Eye, X-Savior) and Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged). Such musicians surely wouldn’t be involved if Beyond The Labyrinth weren’t actually any good, so its not that surprising to find that Signs is a highly competent and enjoyable genre offering.

Musically, BTL tend to meld elements from the symphonic side of the progressive metal spectrum (Symphony X and Threshold being clear influences) with an Eighties pomp-rock/ AOR feel; this is partly due to the keyboard work of Danny Focke, which at times is reminiscent of the sound you could hear on albums by the likes of Europe and Journey. Occasionally the keyboard sound is a little too cheesy (check out the fake computer sounds at the start of Unholy War – very 80’s!), but generally works well in the context of the material. Focke is no one trick pony, however, and several of his solo spots have something of a neo-prog air about them – think Clive Nolan or Martin Orford, although the grandiose church organ opening to The Visionary indicates that Focke is probably a Rick Wakeman fan as well. Geert Fieuw, meanwhile, is a talented guitarist, with the quality of both his rhythm and lead work (extended solo’s adorn several of the album’s tracks) being high. Vocalist Jo De Boeck has a controlled delivery; he sings with a noticeable accent, but its’ not really an impediment to enjoying the album. I do sometimes think he could ‘go for it’ a little more, and show a bit more emotion, but there are plenty of weaker vocalists in this scene.

Song-wise, there are perhaps no real stand-outs, but that’s a testimony to the consistency of the album as a whole – with the exception of the ballads In Flanders Fields, which I found a little dull, and Morning Rendezvous (rather saccharine and twee), each song is a solid, entertaining affair, replete with strong melodies, good solo work, a real sense of momentum and flow, and (in most cases) topped off with a memorable chorus. Perhaps a little bit of pruning could have been done (particularly on The Visionary, where Fieuw’s solo in the mid-section seems to go on forever), as at 70 minutes the album feels somewhat overlong, however this is a minor criticism in the scheme of things. In addition to the quality of the songs themselves, the album has a thick, rich sound with each instrument clearly heard on the mix (although perhaps the keyboards are a little overly dominant), and comes complete with a typically classy sleeve by renowned prog artist Mattias Noren.

Overall, Beyond The Labyrinth can be proud of Signs, it’s a strong debut offering, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them land a record deal prior to the release of their second album, tentatively due at the end of 2006.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Ricochet - Zarah: A Teartown Story
Ricochet - Zarah: A Teartown Story
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2005
Time:72:24
Info:Ricochet
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Entering The Scene (2:54), Teartown (9:30), Disobedience (5:27), Silent Retriever (5:33), Cincinnati Road (10:59), Caught In The Spotlight (5:47), Final Curtain (5:46), The Red Line (7:44), A New Days Rising (18:44)

Not to be confused with any of the following (the Dutch neo-progband Ricocher; the first live album by Tangerine Dream Ricochet; or the 80s US chart-toppers Ricochet), this release is the second from German-based heavy proggers Ricochet.

Among The Elements came out in 1995, a year after a self-titled demo caught a whiff of attention. It has taken a decade to find a new singer and a bassist to produce a follow-up, so the band can certainly not be accused of rushing things, Featuring Christian Heise (vocals); Heiko Holler (guitars); Hans Strenge (bass); Bjorn Tiemann (keyboards) and Jan Keimer (drums), overall, this is another promising release from the rising ProgRock label.

I use the term 'heavy prog', as this quintet is a purveyor of a carefully crafted blend of ProgMetal and Neo-Prog. It crosses back and forth between the boundaries that separate the likes of fellow-Germans Sylvan and ironically their near namesakes Ricocher, with the likes of Redemption, Conception and Threshold. That's not to say that the nine tracks have more than a passing resemblance to any of these acts, it's just an attempt to give their sound some very rough boundaries.

Zarah - A Teartown Story is a concept album which tells the story of a young girl - from her abuse, through to the murder of the culprit, and then her suicide while in jail. Although there's a filmic feel to it all, the band has clearly attempted to concentrate on the melodies and the structure of the songs, instead of using them merely as a showcase for their musicianship.

I particularly like the opener, for its balanced mix of styles built around a great riff, and the epic final track, which just about manages to bring off its ambitious intentions. There's a melancholy piano ballad in Final Curtain, a progressive mid-tempo rocker in Red Lone and plenty more to get your teeth into here.

The songs have been written carefully to take advantage of Christian's Heise's lower range and he manages to mix aggression with melancholy to good effect. The production is nicely balanced, allowing all the elements to have enough space, and there are no noticeable weak spots in any of the performances.

This is certainly an album that benefits from repeated plays and their songs would maybe benefit from a few more immediate melodies and riffs. But overall, this is a solid release, from a mature and professional sounding band. It will have an appeal to those who don't mind their progressive music to feature a lot of guitars, while not being afraid to frequently venture onto the lighter side of things.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Relapse
Catalogue #:RR 6671-2
Year of Release:1991/2005
Time:67:38
Info:Atheist
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Mother Man (4:33), Unquestionable Presence (4:06), Retribution (3:17), Enthralled In Essence (3:37), An Incarnation’s Dream (4:52), The Formative Years (3:30), Brains (3:41), And The Psychic Saw (4:49), plus various Demo’s featuring above tracks.

The popularity of technical, complex ‘math metal’ is at something of an all-time high at the moment, with acts such as Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Ephel Duath and Mastodon proving there is more to extreme metal than simply bludgeoning the listener into submission, instead fusing heavy riffs and shouted vocals with complex time changes, rhythms more likely to be found on experimental jazz fusion records, and more ideas per song than many bands have on albums. As with all genres that become popular attention is soon focussed on those bands that kick-started the movement in the first place, and listeners may be surprised to find that they end up not in the progressive metal or even hardcore scenes, but instead in the world of early 90’s Florida Death Metal. Not a style of music best known for its finesse and willingness to experiment you might think, but you’d be wrong. Cynic’s Focus and Death’s Individual Thought Patterns are now acknowledged as ‘before their time’ cult classics, but prior to both – and perhaps even more revered - is Unquestionable Presence, the second album by Atheist, which is finally getting a long-overdue re-release courtesy of Relapse, after criminally being out of print for a long while.

Atheist released their debut album Piece Of Time in 1989, a time when the Florida Death Metal scene was really exploding. Although highlighting the fact that the band (and particularly incredibly dextrous bassist Roger Patterson) were talented musicians, it was a relatively straightforward affair, only hinting at what was to come. Piece Of Time took an age to be properly released on a worldwide basis, so the band had plenty of time to work on new material, often debuting new songs in a live environment. Patterson was coming up with some amazing musical ideas (Atheist being somewhat unusual in that the bass parts were written first and guitar parts fitted around these later rather than vice versa), and the band recorded demo versions of these tracks before setting off an a US tour in support of Candlemass. However, whilst driving home to Florida at the end of the tour, tragedy struck – the van the band were in was involved in an accident; Patterson was seriously injured and died later in hospital.

The remainder of Atheist – vocalist/ guitarist Kelly Shaefer, guitarist Rand Burkey and drummer Steve Flynn – were obviously devastated at this loss, especially as Patterson was a long-time friend as well as a band mate, yet were determined to get these songs properly recorded and released, not least as a tribute to Patterson. Eventually finding a bassist capable of playing these incredibly complex parts in Tony Choy (ex-Cynic), they headed to the legendary Morrisound Studios to record what would become a landmark record of technical metal.

On paper this album perhaps doesn’t look too promising for progressive fans – after all, the original LP ran to just over 32 minutes and featured tracks in the three to four minute range – surely this was just going to be simple verse-chorus-verse stuff right? Wrong! Atheist manage to combine (effectively) more ideas, stylistic switches and time changes in these short tracks than many ‘progressive’ bands manage in a twenty minute epic.

It would be almost a pointless exercise to go through the tracks in detail, but a brief run-through of opener Mother Man should give some idea of what’s in store. Straight away you’re dazzled by the energetic bass lines popping out at you – think of Jaco Pastorius at twice the speed and playing in a more aggressive manner and you kind of get the idea. The opening section is almost like ‘punk-jazz’, with Shaefer’s death grunts (hardly the most fearsome you’ll hear – these should be palatable to all but the most ardent hater of this style of vocals) steering the music towards heavier climes, before the band sail through a sea of choppy thrash riffs, with Choy’s counter bass lines meaning you’ve always got at least two things to concentrate on at once – no steady bass rumble for these guys. Screaming guitar solo’s that could have come from a Judas Priest album follow before we bound into a period of heads-down speed metal. But just as you’re getting in to this the pace suddenly changes completely, and we’re in mellow jazz fusion territory – close to Mahavishnu Orchestra in fact, with the lead guitar lines sounding like something John McLaughlin or even Pat Metheny might come up with. The track veers wildly between these two extremes up to its abrupt conclusion. Phew – one down, seven more to go…

As I said, I won’t detail the remaining tracks but suffice to say, from the minute the title track segues from a late 70’s Rush-like atmospheric sci-fi opening to an Obituary-style Death Metal rumble, you know you’re in for a diverse and entertaining ride.

The original album re-released (and re-mastered) by itself would be enough for many, but Relapse have gone all out on this one, more than doubling the length with the inclusion of demo’s (mostly in the pre-production stage) of most of the tracks. In most instances this would be enjoyable for a one-off listen but no more, however the twist is that these feature Roger Patterson, and despite the fact that Tony Choy does a great job on the finished versions, this is a chance to hear Patterson play the songs he helped write in his singularly unique style; it really does show what a talent the metal world lost when he died. Also included are some rhythm tracks to a couple of the songs; it would be easy to dismiss these as throwaway but again I found these interesting listening as there’s just so much going on, and as I’ve stated in this band the bass and drums are just as important as the guitars. The icing on the cake with this reissue are some interesting liner notes from Kelly Shaefer, which give plenty of insight into the recording process and life in the band.

Overall then, this is a classic underground metal album that is recommended both to fans of the bands mentioned in the first paragraph of the review and, in a wider context, for fans of adventurous, technical metal that’s ‘progressive’ in the true sense of the term.

(As a footnote its worth stating that, whilst the band split up around 1993 following just one further album (Elements), they have reformed on a one-off basis for some festival shows in Europe this summer, so many fans will finally get the chance to see this legendary outfit in concert – a chance not to be missed, I’d say.)

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Lydian Sea - Architect Of Humanity
Lydian Sea - Architect Of Humanity
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2005
Time:70:55
Info:Lydian Sea
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hope (6:19), Providence (4:06), Indecision (5:49), Running Dry (5:04), Affection For You (5:56), Architect Of Humanity (4:54), All That Ends (5:26), Media Curtain (5:26), Rise (3:34), Beneath Time (8:04), Embracing Light (5:06), Temptation's Shadow (5:04) Land Of The Free (6:07)

The second release from this exotic sounding American band, The Architect Of Humanity has been generating a bit of a buzz across the specialist websites of late. So I grabbed a copy from a friend for a weekend, and all I can say, is that the buzz certainly doesn't fall into the 'lot of fuss about nothing' category.

Formed in 2000, Lydian Sea's first album came out four years ago. But due to poor distribution and promotion, it doesn't seem to have generated much of a stir outside of their home city of Chicago. (Friendly tip - try sending your albums to a few websites and magazines yourselves!)

Lydian Sea combines easy-to-grasp melodies with power, progressive rhythms, great vocals and quality musicianship. There are some cleverly worked melodic statements to be found within, as well as a clear desire to steer well clear of the instrumental showcasing, which distracts from so many bands of this ilk.

Among many plusses, are the vocals of Danny McCartney who has a very close resemblance to Ray Alder in both phrasing and tone - if not quite that same richness, or ability to hit the high notes when the need arises.

Another notable performer is guitarist, keyboard player and seemingly band creator Ron Gonzalez, who also shares vocal duties. The constantly evolving play, between guitar and keyboards, is one of the distinctive ingredients to the Lydian Sea sound.

Weighing in at just over 70 minutes, the 13 tracks each stand on their own two feet. I didn't get enough time to absorb individual tracks for a detailed breakdown - aside from the opener, Hope which I had to put on 'repeat' several time as it is such a tasty slice of Fates Warning inspired metal.

However there was easily enough to warrant placing an order for my own copy and I'd suggest anyone into mid-period Fates Warning or up-tempo, modern, heavy rock, would find this a worthwhile investment. Downloads of all tracks are freely available from the band's website, so you've got no excuses. Very promising.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Galloglass - Heavenseeker
Galloglass - Heavenseeker
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Limb Music
Catalogue #:LMP 0510-085
Year of Release:2005
Time:59:36
Info:Galloglass
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Burden of Grief (4:12), After Forever (5:39), Perished In Flames (4:34), Dawn Of A New Age (4:15), Banished From Eternity (4:45), At The Shadowcross (4:42), To Kneel Is To Suffer (4:50), Heavenseeker (4:43), Signs (3:51), Beyond The Mirror (5:07), Kings Who Die (5:14) Bonus Tracks: 12 Golden Years (3:49), 13 Fragments (3:47)

Heavenseeker, the second album by German metallers Galloglass (named after the great Irish and Scottish Highland warriors), brings together the stereotypical over-the-top compositions and wall-of-sound approach of Power Metal with a healthy seasoning of symphonic elements and a unique clean vocal approach.

Heavenseeker has the potential to be a benchmark album for the waning Power Metal genre. Vocalist Carsten Frank, guitarists Norbert Geiseler and Kai Muhlenbruch, bassist Dirk Kuhner-Zelmer, and drummer Arnd Lorenz, with the help of violinist Harmut Richter and a female choir of unlisted origins, pull off an energized and emotional (t)rip through 13 tracks with the energy and clout of Blind Guardian and the symphonic overtones and clear vocals of Rhapsody.

While Heavenseeker offers a slight twist on the genre, it is most certainly a "Melodic Epic Power Metal" album (in the very words of their label, Limb Music). From the opening notes of Burden of Grief it is plain these guys aren't messing around. Their playing is superb, and the band's talent is not once brought into question. The constant double-bass drumming is sure to get any metaller adrenalized, and guitar licks like the intros to Perished In Flames and To Kneel Is To Suffer will keep air-guitarists happy for weeks. The lone bit of reprieve from the moshing comes with the last track, Kings Who Die, which sounds much like Blind Guardian's The Bard's Song (for the rest of the album, think A Night At The Opera).

Which brings me to the part of this album that may turn some people off: Much of it sounds the same. It's a good same, but especially during the inter-verse riffs it seems like the band reused a few pieces to fill in the holes. Listeners who don't enjoy a solid hour of heavy, pounding beats may want to look for something a little lighter, but anyone who enjoys a good wake-up for the ears with some sing-along moments and killer guitar solos (Burden Of Grief especially comes to mind) this will be a pleasant surprise in a genre of raspy, growly voices.

I happened across the Limited Edition of this album by pure chance, and must honestly recommend just buying the standard version. The two bonus tracks, Golden Years and Fragments, aren't anything too special (although not bad), and Kings Who Die brings the album to a nice close without them. The 103-minute bonus DVD features a slideshow of images from the liner notes, a 10-minute photoshooting film (with all dialogue in German), a 33-minute "Making Of" video (again in German, although I gathered at least some of the dialogue here is entertaining), and a 12-song concert from Wilhelmshaven, Germany in 2004. Die-hard fans of the band may appreciate the extras, but the mediocre quality of the DVD concert and the trivial nature of the other features aren't likely worth the cost to the average listener or newcomer to the band's music.

Heavenseeker is a reasonable bet for fans of Blind Guardian, Rhapsody, and similar European Power Metal bands, or anyone with a heavy streak looking for something new. Galloglass has proven they have the chops and the skill to put out a powerful album, and they'll definitely be a band to watch on the scene.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

CHRISTOPHER D FRICK



Age Of Silence - Trilogy Of Intricacy
Age Of Silence - Trilogy Of Intricacy
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Candlelight
Catalogue #:Candleo129cd
Year of Release:2005
Time:16:01
Info:Age Of Silence
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Idea Of Independence And The Reason Why It's Austere (6:23), Mr M Man Of Muzak (4:09), Vouchers, Coupons And The End Of A Shopping Session (5:29)

The follow-up to their debut album Acceleration, this seems to be a holding piece, to keep the band in the spotlight until the second album is released next year. Just three tracks and running for under 20 minutes, I guess this is what used to be called an EP.

For those of you not familiar with Age Of Silence, then I don't really know how you'd classify the music contained within the abstract cover art. Hopefully the following background will shed some insight. The band consists of musicians from the Norwegian Black Metal scene, including Lazare (Borknagar, Solefad) on vocals, Eikind (Khold, Tulus) on bass, Hellhammer (Mayhem, Winds, Arcturus) on drums, Andy Winter (Winds) on keyboards and Extant and Kobbegaard (By Pale Light) on guitar duties.

But now, dispel all preconceptions that those names may have given cause to arise in your mind, as this is way, way removed from Black Metal. Combining elements from thrash metal, progrock, psychedelia and avant-garde, this is a real exploration of the experimental - and not a grunt or growl to be heard. Indeed the vocals are pretty cool. The layered harmonies are very off-beat, but work brilliantly in a Pain Of Salvation sorta way. The keyboards provide some really abstract layers, while the guitars move between choppy riffs and longer, drawn-out chord backdrops. I dunno, but a lot of it reminds me of Light Of Day.. period Green Carnation - albeit on a somewhat experimental field trip! Arcturus would be a more predictable - but not necessarily more accurate - comparison.

It took a few listens, but I must admit to finding this an absolutely fascinating listen. After a few spins really started to draw me in. It does really help, if you take the time to read the lyrics, which take the form of anti-consumeristic verse, with a heavy sniff of black humour. Take this for a song title: The Idea Of Independence And The Reason Why It's Austere. Quite brilliant.

So, if you're the sort of person who likes nibbling caviar, while watching a Woodie Allen film, with a Black Metal album playing in the background, this musical morsel will be bizarrely beautiful.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Lapse Of Irony – Between Dreams And Dread…
Lapse Of Irony – Between Dreams And Dread…
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2005
Time:26:25
Info:Lapse Of Irony
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Nostomania (4:10), Matter Over Mind (5:19), The Haunting (5:22), Burden Of Bad Blood (4:28), Athazagoraphobia (6:22)

Between Dreams And Dread… is the debut offering of this somewhat oddly monikered six piece outfit from Arizona, and sits firmly within the burgeoning female-fronted gothic metal genre. Eschewing the operatic, over-the-top style favoured by many of their contemporaries, Lapse Of Irony instead take their cues from the likes of Lacuna Coil, particularly vocal-wise, with Bethany Hodges’ confident delivery clearly in the mould of Cristina Scabbia. This is dark atmospheric gothic metal, with clear nods to the likes of Paradise Lost (Burden Of Bad Blood sounds – musically – like something that could have come from PL’s early 90’s albums such as Icon) and Katatonia (check out the jangling guitars and languid style of The Haunting). Like Lacuna Coil, Lapse Of Irony do beef up their sound somewhat with the insertion of some heavy riffs into the songs, although they don’t seem so assured when heading into heavier territory. This is something that needs to be worked on, as the band do seem to lack a sense of dynamics, with some of the songs sounding rather one dimensional. In an ever-increasing pool of similar acts, they also lack their own clear identity, although the dextrous, jazz-like bass lines on The Haunting offer an interesting possibility for future endeavours.

There are however plenty of positives – for what is essentially a demo, this is very well recorded, with the intricate guitar sound particularly impressive. Musicianship is of a high standard too, and if it wasn’t for the rather amateurish cover art and booklet this could easily pass for the work of a more mature band with a bigger budget. Furthermore the band certainly have a strong sense of melody, and prove on stand out cuts such as the atmospheric Mind Over Matter and closing epic Athazagoraphobia that their song writing isn’t too shabby either. Overall then, hardly essential but certainly a promising start for Lapse Of Irony, and fans of the likes of the aforementioned Lacuna Coil and The Gathering could do worse than giving Between Dreams And Dread… a go.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Winterfell - The Veil Of Summer
Winterfell - The Veil Of Summer
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2005
Time:54:08
Info:Winterfell
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Threnody (7:50), Autumn Knight (4:48), The Iris (4:17), Legacy (5:25), Asatru (6:37), Once and Again (6:46), Campaign Of Shadows (5:49), The Beggar King (5:53), Catacombs (7:08)

After five years in development, the self-financed debut from this US-based band has finally been unveiled for public scrutiny. A while unlikely to set the world alight, it's a pretty decent stab at blending power, progressive and traditional metal into a something listenable and believable.

There's the expected heavy riffs, melodic choruses and forceful vocals with a smattering of progressive time signatures, acoustic sections and some fine soloing. The strongest songs are those where the band take a more traditional route. The Metallica-inspired Asatru (think Back To The Front) has some furious guitar licks, there's a good groove to Legacy and the Sabbath-esque riffing on Once and Again works well - the Maiden-esque sound that it evolves into is less successful. The Eastern-tinged instrumental work on Catacombs is also memorable, but the attempts at injecting a more Dream Theater type of metal are just dull..

But if they are going to attract a label's attention, the band really has to sort out the vocals, and add a bit more variety to their song writing. Robb Graves sounds very strained, especially the hard work that he makes of Campaign of Shadows. And while the band comes across as a tight and competent unit, the songs are a bit one-paced and one-dimensional. The deeply dark and unceasingly heavy riffs, all sound a bit samey after a few tracks.

The acoustic elements could be used, to inject a more frequent change of pace, and if they want to appeal for a more progressive crowd, I can't help but think that the introduction of keyboards would add greater depth and interest. The album can be purchased from the band's website.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

ANDY READ




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