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2006 : VOLUME 22

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Arcturus – Sideshow Symphonies
Arcturus – Sideshow Symphonies
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Season Of Mist
Catalogue #:SOM 100
Year of Release:2006
Time:50:36
Info:Arcturus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hibernation Sickness Complete (5:02), Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer (8:30), Daemon Painter (5:31), Nocturnal Vision Revisited (5:13), Evacuation Code Deciphered (6:14), Moonshine Delirium (7:08), White Noise Monster (3:55), Reflections (3:40), Hufsa (5:07)

Arcturus started life in the early 90’s as a side-project for various members of the then-burgeoning Norwegian black metal scene, including the likes of drummer Hellhammer from Mayhem, and Ulver’s Kristopher ‘Garm’ Rygg. The band released a debut album, Aspera Hiems Symfonia, in 1993. Essentially still a black metal album, albeit one from the symphonic side of the genre, the album received a relatively warm reception, but Arcturus faded from view for several years. When they did re-emerge, in 1997, it was with the far more musically adventurous La Masqauerade Infernal. Still a fan favourite, this bizarre, very theatrical record plays like a series of Nightmarish Vaudevillian nursery rhymes, with the heavy side of the band balanced by increasing use of main songwriter Steinar Sverd Johnsen’s keyboards, and topped by Garm’s semi-spoken vocals – a million miles away from the blast beats and blood-curdling screams which most bands in the genre were still pounding out at that time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of this was anathema to the BM purists, but did get the band a cult following amongst more open-minded fans of metal. However, Garm’s seeming disinterest in the project, plus his hatred of touring, effectively saw the band back in storage for several more years, prior to the slightly unexpected appearance of a new album, The Sham Mirrors, in 2002. Maintaining a correlation to the previous album, it nonetheless branched into different areas, not least in the incorporation of electronica, and overall the song-writing was perhaps a little more approachable.

Little promotion activity was done for the album, and it looked like a lengthy period of inactivity was once again inevitable. However, Garm soon left the band, and this provided the catalyst for Arcturus to become more of a permanent entity, embarking on their first ever club tour, and getting back into the studio relatively quickly (for them). The result is Sideshow Symphonies, an album that sees the (full-time) debut of new vocalist Simen Hestnæs (also bassist for the popular dark metal band Dimmu Borgir). Hestnæs has worked with the band before, having sung lead vocals on Chaospath, one of the strongest and most popular tracks on La Masquerade…, so its fair to say that his promotion to the vocalist role was probably a ‘no brainer’ for the band; in addition, his larger than life presence (literally – he’s a huge bloke!) adds that extra dynamic to the band’s stage show.

Having done the preamble, I’ve now got to the difficult part – explaining exactly what this album sounds like. Arcturus certainly have a very distinct and assured sound, so when I describe the various elements that make it up bear this in mind as it might sound like the result would be something of a pig’s breakfast, which is far from the case. The core of the band’s sound is still rooted in black metal, although it’s the adventurous, symphonic side of the genre that they practice (think, for example of the likes of (latter day) Emperor, Enslaved and Borknagor). In addition there’s a heavy dose of psychedelic space metal (think 70’s Hawkwind given a millennial makeover), a touch of gothic rock (more 80’s Fields Of The Nephilim than any of the female-fronted metal acts doing the rounds at present), a splash of classic prog (King Crimson and Dark Side-era Pink Floyd being the biggest pointers) all topped off with the sort of enjoyably bombastic approach Queen employed on their more epic-sounding albums such as Night At The Opera. Even a description like this is just scratching the surface, as Arcturus only really sound like, well, Arcturus.

Of the musicians, Steinar Sverd Johnsen certainly leads from the front, his playing covering a multitude of areas from classical piano flourishes to neo-prog style keyboard runs, from spacey swirls to swathes of symphonic keys. Guitarists Knut M Valle and Tore Moren concentrate more on providing a solid foundation – whilst never overtly heavy, they can still pump out some powerful, dark riffs – but there is still room for some sinewy lead guitar in places, with the guitarists’ work on Daemon Painter and the instrumental Reflections particularly worthy of note. Vocalist Hestnæs, meanwhile, has what you might call an unconventional voice, sounding a little like Roger Waters would were he fronting, well, a Norwegian avant-garde prog-black-whatever metal band. His voice will undoubtedly be a sticking point for many, but personally I feel it helps gives the songs extra character, and fits the music quite well – which is hardly that conventional anyway.

Song wise its very difficult to pick out highlights; this is an album to be listened to in one sitting. However, if I had to pick out one track which includes all the elements I like most about the band it would be Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer, a lengthy piece that travels through a number of different styles and moods yet has a real sense of cohesion and atmosphere about it throughout. Elsewhere though, other than the weak chorus of Moonshine Delirium, and the rather uneven tone of Hufsa, the material here is consistently engaging.

The main thing that has come in for criticism is the production; I can understand this – its not as sharp and dynamic as it could be, especially in contrast with the brighter, cleaner sound of The Sham Mirrors – but personally it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the album, and given the number of things going on musically its perhaps not surprising that things sound a bit cluttered at times.

Overall, a highly enjoyable release that certainly keeps up the (high) standard set up by its two predecessors. I think that many fans of heavier prog will appreciate Arcturus, particularly those who enjoy the likes of Opeth and are looking for similarly adventurous bands who simply ignore any boundaries or labels and go about produce exciting and atmospheric music on their own terms.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Andromeda - Chimera
Andromeda - Chimera
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Avalon / Marquee
Catalogue #:MICP-10567
Year of Release:2006
Time:67:16
Info:Andromeda
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Periscope (6:11), In The End (4:58), The Hidden Riddle (5:51), Going Under (6:27), The Cage Of Me (7:08), No Guidelines (6:23), Inner Circle (7:03), Iskenderun (5:30), Blink Of An Eye (12:29) Bonus: Chameleon carnival - Live! (5:12)

The last album that I acquired 'On Import' was the debut release from a little-known New Jersey band called Bon Jovi. Thanks to the worldwide reach of the internet and online record stores, the whole concept of 'import' albums has pretty much disappeared.

However the third album from Swedish ProgMetal masters Andromeda was actually released in Japan way back on January 21, yet for some reason, unless you live in France where it came out on the Replica label on March 27, it won't get a worldwide release until June 23 on the Massacre label. Therefore grabbing my second ever import album, was the only way to avoid a frustrating wait.

The band's first two releases, the intense, riff-based Prog of Extension of the Wish and the more refined II=I, have set this band as one of my favourite purveyors of classic progressive metal. No Dream Theater clones here. Thanks to the amazingly gifted voice of David Fremberg and the even more amazing guitar work of Johan Reinholdz, Andromeda have crafted a sound that is immediately recognisable as their own. Indeed you won't read any comparisons here. Andromeda stands alone, in their own corner of this ever expanding genre.

Chimera is certainly not as heavy or complex as the band's debut. That may be off-putting to some, but will probably be more attractive to a great number of people. It really is a natural, albeit slightly simpler version, of II=I. Slightly more accessible, slightly more melodic and, at the present time for me, slightly more enjoyable.

The opener, Periscope, leaves you with jaw dropping ever downwards, as it's one of the best song's the band has ever recorded - and will be a major contender for my favourite tracks of the year. From then on, the music just takes the listener to wonderful places - constantly moving, never stagnating. This is no musical ego trip but progressive metal with the song at its heart.

And if you splash out for the import - then you get the pleasant bonus of the instrumental track, Chameleon Carnival, captured live in concert.

I said this with their last album, and I'll say it again with this time around, Andromeda really should be one of the big players in the ProgMetal genre - equal in quality to the likes of Threshold, VandenPlas and Fates Warning. Hopefully the worldwide deal with Massacre will help them on the way. And if you're put off by the price of an import, then put the date of June 23 in your diary now! Awesome.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

ANDY READ



Marcel Coenen - Colour Journey
Marcel Coenen - Colour Journey
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 163
Year of Release:2006
Time:57:41
Info:Marcel Coenen
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Waiting (5:46), Abstract Impact (4:49), Patrol Saint (5:40), La Bella Mira (5:29), Traumatized To The Bone (5:47), Skill Factor (3:32), That Moment (5:19), The Shrink (5:08), V(erbal) D(efense) M(echanism) (4:17), New Race (5:02), Still Bleeding (6:50)

Colour Journey is the extraordinary second solo album of Dutch guitar hero Marcel Coenen. This album takes you on a journey through many musical styles like for example grunge, metal, fusion and instrumental rock. On this new CD - unlike his instrumental album Guitar Talk - you can also enjoy songs with vocalists, such as Mike Andersson, Colleen Gray, Paul Villareal, Joyce Dijkgraaf and Hans Reinders.

However, I absolutely prefer the five instrumental songs on this album. Especially the two amazing tracks Abstract Impact and La Bella Mira. Both feature brilliant guitar playing by Marcel as these two songs are loaded with heavenly licks, shreds, riffs and solos, putting him right in the same league with guitar masters like Vai, Satch, Friedman and Urso. Especially the outstanding melody in La Bella Mira is almost second to none and gives me shivers down my spine every time I listen to it. The other three instrumentals are also worth mentioning, especially New Race, an up-tempo guitar rocker reminding me of guitar pickers like David Chastain and Vinnie Moore.

From the vocal songs I really like Waiting (Malmsteen-like classic hard rock) and V(erbal) D(efense) M(echanism), which is actually a mysterious, dark grunge song, very Alice In Chains-like actually. The least interesting songs are That Moment (a rather boring piano ballad) and Still Bleeding, which is a bit too gothic for me, although the emotional guitar solo "saves" this song in the end.

All in all, a fantastic album, showing what Marcel is capable of as a guitar player. A must for guitar lovers and is it not time that this amazing Dutch guitar player becomes world famous!!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

MARTIEN KOOLEN



Sphere Of Souls - From The Ashes ...
Sphere Of Souls - From The Ashes ...
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 171
Year of Release:2006
Time:58:06
Info:Sphere Of Souls
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: From The Ashes.. (6:56), Sweet Sorrow (4:34), Loss (3:01), Beneath The Surface (4:26), Empty (3:40), Until Death Do Us Part (3:24), Extinct (5:19), Room 9 (5:16), No Salvation (5:35), Untruth (5:05), Lies Inc (4:16), Room 6 (3:52), Epilogue (2:42)

One label that has really upped its game in progressive circles in the past couple of years, is Lion Music. Run by guitarist Lars Eric Matsson and based in the rather obscure Aland Islands in Finland, in the past few months it has thrown out some super albums from the likes of Section A, Venturia (reviewed below) and the weirdly-named proggers Lord Of Mushrooms.

Now you can add to that list, the keenly-awaited debut album from Sphere Of Souls. The name may not mean much to you yet, but for fans of Dutch progmetallers Sun Caged, this should hold no fears. Sphere Of Souls features former Sun Caged pair, singer Andre Vuurboom and Joost van den Broek who handles keyboard and production duties. Former Autumn Equinox bassist Kees Harrison and drummer Ruud van Diepen create a solid backbone, rhythm guitar is handled by ex-Imperium guitarist Rob Ceronne, whilst lead guitar work is provided by Anand Mahangoe.

The resulting From The Ashes... is very much in the Sun Caged, Dream Theater mould - and pretty good it is too.

The first thing to mention, is the huge shift in Vuurboom's vocals. Whilst I rather liked it, for many, his vocals on the Sun Caged debut were rather one-dimensional and too much on the wailing side of high-pitched. Here, he occasionally drifts to his former style, but overall there is a much softer tone to his tone and pitch - much more akin to James LaBrie than before. Likewise, if you found the instrumental excesses of Sun Caged a little too.... well, excessive, then here things are kept much lower key. The keys of van den Broek add some great little melodies and atmospheres, whilst the work of Mahangoe is restrained to some great little solo bursts.

Of the songs, there is a good balance between direct, progressive metal and more atmospheric moments, with a few ballads thrown in. The opening title track is fantastic. Built on a repetitive, heavy, cutting riff, its possesses some great vocal and keyboard lines which really sink into the memory. The lighter Fates Warning mood of Room 9 and Extinct are very effective, as are the crazy rhythms of No Salvation.

Some of the tracks lack the melodies and the musical surprises to make this a real killer album, and there's an over-reliance on the songs just fading out, instead of having a natural conclusion. But as a debut album From The Ashes... has allowed the band to carve out its own identity. There should be enough here, to delight fans of Sun Caged, Dream Theater and Andromeda, whilst also having maybe just enough breadth of style to please followers of Fates Warning and Shadow Gallery.

The official release party for From The Ashes... was held at Plato, in Helmond, Holland on Friday 12 May.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Pyramaze - Legend Of The Bone Carver
Pyramaze - Legend Of The Bone Carver
Country of Origin:USA / Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Nightmare Records
Catalogue #:NMR 256
Year of Release:2006
Time:47:51
Info:Pyramaze
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Era of Chaos (1:17), The Birth (5:52), What Lies Beyond (4:26), Ancient Words Within (5:37), Souls in Pain (5:16), She Who Summoned Me (5:53), The Bone Carver (5:06), Bring Back To Life (4:55), Blood Red Skies (3:30), Tears of Hate (5:59)

Melancholy Beast, the debut album from this Danish-based sextet was one of my favourites of 2004 and still stands as one of the best from the progressive power metal genre in recent years. The follow-up, pretty much takes off from where its predecessor ended up.

Stylistically Legend... differs only around the fringes. The main ingredient of the Pyramaze sound remains the galloping and chugging riffs, thundering drums and the occasional flowering of keys. The recruitment of a permanent second-guitarist, in Toke Skjonnemand, adds an extra dimension and power to the band's sound. Vocals are again handled American singer Lance King (ex-Balance Of Power), who is on top form, albeit with his trademark, heavily-layered harmonies used more sparingly than before.

As the title suggests, the eight songs on offer are tied around the story of a young man brought in to save the world from being consumed by evil. A bit cliched, there is a narrator who opens and closes the story, but the concept very much adds to, as opposed to distracts from, the songs in their own right.

It's certainly a very strong album, that will appeal to most power metal fans and especially lovers of Melancholy Beast, but after numerous listens, I can't say it's as strong as the debut. The progressive elements are less visible, the songs lack enough dynamics to allow the listener to set the tracks apart from each other, and for me there just aren't the great hooks that could be found on Melancholy Beast. What Lies Behind is the first single, but for me the strongest tracks are the up-tempo, Celtic-tinged Bring Back Life and the solid, driving riffs and soaring vocals of the title track.

However, the band is set to appear at the Bloodstock Open Air Festival on July 14th and this is a well-above average release, from a band whose profile is deservedly on the rise.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Mother Of Sin - Apathy
Mother Of Sin - Apathy
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Steelheart Records
Catalogue #:STH 0524
Year of Release:2005
Time:44:20
Info:Mother Of Sin
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Apathy (6:45), Cover My Eyes (4:12), Beyond Fear (5:27), Introspective (1:54), Buried A Life (4:49), Mother Of Sin (4:20), Insomnia (1:46), Part Of Creation (7:31), Into The Fire (3:33), Hate (4:03)

Mother Of Sin is not the most subtle progressive metal band and the first few tracks certainly give a very speedy and trash metal like first impression. The music is all full of speedy loops and a driving rhythm section. It seems like a large step away from prog metal, a label the band pins upon themselves. But then around track three it begins to dawn that there are indeed prog metal influences.

For a debut this is all very good but if you know part of the band members legacy, it is clear where the professionalism of this band takes it's roots. Former Elegy vocalist Eduard Hovinga founded the band (One of the reason's I know Elegy: Ayreon's Ed Warby played on Elegy's debut album). An interesting detail: Mother Of Sin's drummer, Gerry de Graaf, did some studio work for Vengeance (another Arjen Lucassen connection and to make it complete Ian Parry connects those two, he was vocalist for both Elegy and Vengeance). Besides de Graaf all the other Mother Of Sin bandmembers played in H2 first, in fact the Mother Of Sin website still has H2 in it's domain name.

This dutch band does leave an impression and although it is not all very original (but orginal engough), it is all airthight and melodic . No "sloppy, just too fast, can't keep up loops" on this album. The performance leaves nothing to be desired and the loops are on the good side: tasty and speedy but without becoming guitar masturbation that lead to nothing. Unlike a lot of other new bands Mother Of Sin certainly manage to play this all very well.

This album's title track, Apathy, certainly deserves the label power metal: it is full of said speedy loops and double bass drums. But then all of a sudden the middle part is like a typical metal ballad just to pick up the speed again towards the end. The second track, Cover My Eyes is a bit more progressive in nature - it has some quirky (but good) tempo changes, and again speedy guitar loops and a very nice guitar duet. Beyond Fear, has more of those tempo changes but shifts the balance to prog metal with a bit of power metal. Introspective starts off as a Jordan Rudess keyboard piece that ends in guitars. Buried A Life starts of with a typical power metal beat, Hovinga's voice has a leading role. The title track Mother Of Sin reminds of Aina, whilst the instrumental Insomnia is again filled with speedy loops. The same can be said of Part Of Creation which has some speedy loops bordering on trash metal, and the vocals are great here! Driven by the beat of the drum Into The Fire seems very straight forward but has some original guitar and bass loops. Hate is almost like a classical piece played with cascading guitars.

This album has kept me wondering what names to use for reference. Because of the different styles used it should not be one name only. Names like Symphony-X, Aina, Stratovarius and even a bit of Dream Theater but most of all it reminded me of AtmOsfear (a not so well known band, I know).

If you are into speedy power metal with a touch of progressive: Mother Of Sin may be your kind of band, they know what to do (and do it). Fast guitars, a typical metal voice and a tight rhythm section, just give this album a spin. You won't be disappointed - this is a very interesting new band!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

DRIES DOKTER



Venturia – The New Kingdom
Venturia – The New Kingdom
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 173
Year of Release:2006
Time:44:49
Info:Venturia
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: New Kingdom (5:31), The Unholy One (4:09), Words Of Silence (5:56), Take Me Down (4:15), Fallen World [Is There A Reason?] (6:13), Walk On To Daylight (4:14), Candle Of Hope Through A Night Of Broken Fears (6:05), Dear Dead Bride (8:26)

Venturia are a relatively new progressive metal outfit from France. On glancing at the fairly typical cover art for their debut offering The New Kingdom I wasn’t necessarily expecting a great deal, but thankfully the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ comes into play here, for Venturia have produced a very fresh and energetic take on the genre, and show that they have something unique to offer – other than, of course, being a progressive metal band from France…

Musically, Venturia certainly incorporate many elements from ‘traditional’ progressive metal – the chunky guitar riffs ground out by Charly Sahona are at times reminiscent of Threshold, whilst guest keyboard player Kevin Codfert (also of the highly regarded outfit Adagio) has a style not dissimilar to Kevin Moore in his Images And Words-era Dream Theater days, whilst also incorporating a more symphonic, classical style reminiscent of the likes of Michael Pinella (Symphony X). Yet the band also incorporate many AOR and even eighties-style pop elements into their playing (particularly bassist Thomas James, whose cod-funk style of playing is strikingly different from the genre norm), and whilst the musicians get plenty of chances to show their chops (a good example being the entertaining instrumental Candle Of Hope Through A Night Of Broken Fears) they never lose sight of the fact that a good melody is king. Catchy choruses abound here, and the vocalists who deliver them are the icing on this particular cake.

When the promo material specified that US-based male vocalist Marc Ferreira sounded not dissimilar to Darren Hayes of 90’s pop group Savage Garden it didn’t exactly fill me with great expectations (not exactly my favourite band!), but whilst this has an element of truth to it, his vocals in fact work very well in tandem with the heavier sounds made by the instrumentalists – a refreshing change from the usual conveyer-belt of James LaBrie-alikes that plague the scene. To be fair Ferreira can belt it out when the song requires it, but it’s the more restrained, pop-inflected approach that works best. Joining Ferreira on vocal duties is female singer Lydie Robin, who again has a voice which you’d expect to be fronting a pop outfit rather than a metal one; the combination of Robin’s and Ferreira’s vocals work very well on the occasions that they’re utilised in tandem, and if I had a criticism it would be that this combination isn’t really utilised as often as it might be.

Its difficult to pick out highlights on such a consistently strong album, as each song is equally strong, perhaps with the exception (from my own perspective) of the ballad Walk On To Daylight – and that’s more because the style of the track isn’t to my personal taste, as it is still well executed in its own right. The title track certainly gets things off to a cracking start, fizzing with energy and ideas and featuring strong vocal hooks; Words Of Silence builds very strongly from its balladic beginnings to become a soaring mid-paced epic with a very strong anthemic delivery from Ferreira; Fallen World incorporates a heavy dose of eighties-style US AOR into proceedings, whilst the first part of the epic closer Dear Dead Bride, with its symphonic keys and rather gothic feel, actually had me recalling the moods created on IQ’s recent Dark Matter release. Plenty of variety here then, and that’s what helps make this album such a refreshing and enjoyable listen.

In conclusion, Venturia have produced a high-quality addition to the prog metal genre with The New Kingdom, boasting a sound that should not appeal just to genre purists (although they should enjoy it too) but also to fans of AOR, symphonic prog and even plain and simple eighties-style pop rock. Lion Music have already impressed me this year with excellent new releases from Mind’s Eye and Sphere Of Souls, and Venturia continue this run of good form for the label. A very encouraging debut.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Canvas Solaris - Penumbra Diffuse
Canvas Solaris - Penumbra Diffuse
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Sensory Records
Catalogue #:SR3030
Year of Release:2006
Time:48:39
Info:N/A
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Panoramic Long-Range Vertigo (3:53), Horizontal Radiant (11:24), Accidents In Mutual Silence (4:18), Vaihayasa (4:22), To Fracture (7:45), Psychotropic Resonance (4:56), Luminescence (12:00)

Describing themselves as 'a three-man, brutal jazz outfit with music based on outer space', this is the second full-length release from this Georgia-based, instrumental, TechMetal trio. And if that sentence was a bit of a mouthful, then trying to take in everything that they've crammed into 48 minutes here, will certainly fill you to the point of belly bursting.

Evolving out of the death metal/mathcore scene, Canvas Solaris' music will fit nicely into the collection of anyone who has a taste for the likes of Spiral Architect, Cynic, Dillinger Escape Plan and even King Crimson, Tangerine Dream and Gordian Knot.

But this is no heavy-for-the-sake-of-it musical onslaught, as the songs are infused with heavy elements of acoustic and electronic sounds, amid numerous atmospheric passages.

Led by guitarists Nathan Sapp and Ben Simpkins (who also plays the bass), alongside sticksman Hunter Ginn, the songs on Penumbra Diffuse come complete with titles such as Panoramic Long-Range Vertigo and Psychotropic Resonance.

Now, the musicians among you, will no doubt get a whole level of pleasure from actually understanding what the various members are doing from a technical and instrumental point of view. However, as a musical instrument retard, I can only close my eyes and sit back and listen. And while I must say, that this isn't my normal music of choice, I am mesmiracly drawn in by the sound that this trio have concocted every time. I especially enjoy the frequent use of traditional instruments, such as castanets, conga, djemba and Morrocan clay drums, which provides a great vibe and contrast to the beat and rhythms.

There's a clear songwriting sensibility at play here. The clever, melodic interplay between the ever-changing elements, somehow manages not to be eclipsed by the unavoidable complexity of it all.

Like a huge roller coaster, it may not be a totally enjoyable ride, but each time I get to the end, I have to admit that I'd rather like to stay on for another go.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Novembers Fall – Mythaeon
Novembers Fall – Mythaeon
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CDR
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2005
Time:23:34
Info:Novembers Fall
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Question Of Eternity (8:04), Angst Im Wald (3:00), Coral Island (12:29)

I reviewed Novembers Fall’s previous CD, Broken Memories, a few months back, and I praised it with reservations. Now here we have their latest effort, a brief three-track demo, and I’m happy to say that the band is getting better. Not only that, but they’ve partly remedied what I saw as perhaps the greatest fault of their previous CD, which was a certain consistency of dynamics throughout – the songs typically went full-tilt beginning to end, succeeding admirably at what they were attempting but perhaps not attempting as much as they should. Well, on the first and third tracks of this latest brief album, they address and pretty much correct that flaw.

I say they “pretty much” correct it, because their success isn’t unqualified. The most impressive piece here is, not surprisingly, the twelve-minute final track, Coral Island, and it’s also the one on which the band really stretches out. Almost exactly halfway through the song, Novembers Fall’s typical heavy-duty riffing and black/death-metal screeching and growling fall silent, and we’re treated to a gorgeous short interlude, moody arpeggios on guitar backed by tasteful, spare percussion. The crashing starts again soon after, but the song rides out on a long, quiet passage backed by synthesized wind, the track fading to a satisfying ending. A fine piece, this, with two provisos.

First, although the bulk of the track alternates successfully between loud and soft, the first few minutes (after an obligatory lulling intro section) overdo the dynamic changes, to the degree that I actually find them – I hate to say this, but it’s true – comical. It almost seems as if they set themselves a challenge: “How suddenly can we switch between loud and quiet – and how loud and how quiet can we be?” That passage soon ends, and, as I say, the rest of the song is really good, but they haven’t quite nailed the dynamics.

And second – and more seriously – not only on this track but on the other two as well, Novembers Fall still sounds a bit too much like the mighty Opeth. As I said in my review of their previous disc, I respect a band that has the chops even to attempt to emulate Opeth’s sound, and this band certainly has those chops; but their overall sound is too similar, even more so on this disc than on the last, to that of progressive-metal’s current premier band. They’re going to have to set themselves apart a bit more, I believe.

That said, you know, this is a fine, brief album. Except for my complaint about the comical dynamic changes, much of what I said about Coral Island could be said about Question Of Eternity, the CD’s first track – essentially very fine stuff. That leaves the three-minute Angst Im Wald, which is, in some ways, the best track on the album. It slows down briefly (and slightly) in the middle, but for the most part it’s an all-out assault, the thrashing and growling starting from the first beat and hardly letting up. What did I say about the musicians’ chops? Those aren’t in question; and, on this song, they just pour it on. The band’s decision to sandwich this brief, furious song between the two “epic” ones was a tasteful one – the album seems nicely balanced, despite its brevity.

I like this band a lot, despite my criticisms, and I’m going to recommend this brief CD (which, according to the band’s promo letter, you can “download . . . completely and for free” from their homepage). If you’re a fan of progressive metal, you’ll love this CD, and you’ll want to follow the band, because, as I predicted last time and confidently repeat, they’re going places.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Irepress - Samus Octology
Irepress - Samus Octology
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:All Indians,
No Chiefs
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2005
Time:45:01
Info:Irepress
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Pah No (6:40), Samus (4:59), Pistole (3:56), Snayk's Tale (4:02), June-Ipper (4:55), Fiddler Yee-Ryding (4:35), Frid Ohm/Martin E.E.K. (6:51), Nonografistole Adendum (Trampled to Death, By Love) (9:00)

The Irepress are a now-quartet consisting of Jon DiNapoli and Bret Silverburg on guitars, Shan Dave on bass, and Sheel Dave on drums. Their music could best be described as the twisted blend of Incubus and Ephel Duath, an almost-jazzy jam-based hard rock with equal parts melody and metal. The Irepress formerly had two vocalists, Jarrett Ring and Shomik Bhattacharya, who both left the band before this release (both were present on The Duplication of H.A.V.O.C., and Shomik was still with the band for the release of Ghrintoure Be).

It should come as no surprise, then, that Samus Octology sounds like maybe there should be another element - say, a vocalist. The opening track, Pah No, could be a great backing rhythm to some really wicked vocals, but lacks more than a little on its own. Samus carries more weight, and with its clean, jazzy lead has a nice melody. Pistole continues this feel, with a break in the middle that brings to mind Moonflower-era Santana. Minus the heavy parts, both Samus and Pistole have more than a little in common with the latest Dredg album Catch Without Arms.

Snayk's Tale continues this feel, and while the band is beginning to find a sense of melody, I must admit the last three songs sound a bit too similar for an instrumental band. The drums, in particular, are too high in the mix and too heavy, as is the rhythm guitar often. Ephel Duath and Incubus tossed in a blender, and parts of each drawn out, describes this album well...the problem lies in the discretion used in drawing those parts. At times the overall feel of a song seems to come together, then is violently torn apart by a pretty melody over raw, chunky guitar riffs and overblown drumming.

The next cut, June-Ipper, falls into this same mould, and the middle section again shows the dramatic dichotomy between beauty and brutality. It's the sonic equivalent of a cannonball through a painting of a rose garden. Fiddler Yee-Ryding backs things off a bit, returning to the nightclub jazz vibe for the first half of the song, before jumping straight into Andromeda territory. This song finishes, and Frid Ohm/Martin E.E.K. begins, with sweet guitars and [Bill] Bruford-esque drums that sound remarkably like Yes' great Soon. Frid Ohm then picks up that heavier pace again, before fading to birds chirping and beginning what I imagine is Martin E.E.K.. This latter again brings to mind a smokey bar's house band, with bursts of what I consider unnecessary loudness that don't really serve much purpose. In all honesty, this song probably did not need to be nearly seven minutes long, as the last four drag on monotonously.

The final track, Nonografistole Adendum, opens with some very cheerful, chirpy guitars (seriously, it sounds like two songbirds courting), and about two minutes in starts with the random heaviness again. I must admit I'm not sure exactly what the band was going for with this approach, but it begins to get irritating after about the fourth track. An otherwise fluid and reasonably musical melody gets torn apart by spurts of thrash-style noise before continuing as though nothing had happened. If these guys were a hard rock or metal band, with a singer, the heavy parts of this album could probably be extended to make a reasonably enjoyable listen. Without a singer, the heavy sections don't have enough melody to make them interesting on their own, and the light sections are too interrupted to really be enjoyed. If The Irepress would make up their mind and settle on ONE sound, they could end up in the same class as Andromeda...they're not a bad band, they're just hard to listen to if you want to listen to anything consistent.

That said, I think The Irepress have potential. This album just doesn't do much for me, largely because of the apparently random swings between musical moods. If that doesn't bother you so much, and you are a fan of instrumental jam-based hard rock, this album might be worth checking out.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

CHRISTOPHER D FRICK



Satyrian - Eternitas
Satyrian - Eternitas
Country of Origin:Europe
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 168
Year of Release:2006
Time:59:53
Info:Satyrian
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Eternitas (4:40), Invictus (4:08), Feel The Rush (6:42), My Legacy (3:49), The Dark Gift (4:33), Sacred Lies (6:44), The Bridge Of Death (3:42), Fall From Grace (4:24), No Tears, No Embrace (4:50), The Haunted Lovers (4:06), This Dream (5:08), Evigkeit (3:58)

This is a CD filled with gothic music, influenced of course by bands like After Forever, Epica, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish and Evanescence. So you know what you can expect: lots of piano, female high vocals, lots of emotion, heavy guitar riffs, grunge vocals (I hate those!!), strings and lots of bombastic musical passages. I have heard it all before, but then at a higher musical level actually. Vocalists Kemi Vita (The Dreamside), Roman Schoensee and Judith Stuber cannot really "convince" me of their singing qualities and the songs all sound a bit too familiar and rather the same after you have reached song number 5…

The absolute "horror" is a track called The Bridge Of Death, a folk "rock" song reminding me of the tiresome Italian folk rock band Elvenking. The typical gothic clichés can also be found on this album, just listen to This Dream and Evigkeit and you can figure it out yourself. Some people would label those songs "art"; I would rather call them kitsch! Satyrian is not really my cup of tea!

Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10

MARTIEN KOOLEN



Silent Voices - Building Up The Apathy
Silent Voices - Building Up The Apathy
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Low Frequency
Catalogue #:LFR314061CD
Year of Release:2006
Time:59:52
Info:Silent Voices
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The World's End (9:46), Distorted (6:58), Once Lost Life (6:06), Blood of Eden (7:46), Corridors (6:06) Hallowed (6:35), Realm of Flames (6:07), Into The Flow (10:20)

I reviewed this band's last release Infernal a year ago and dismissed it as little more than an apology for Dream Theater. Having ploughed through the eight lengthy tracks on offer on this, the forth album from this Finnish-based band, I can hear nothing to change my mind. The song's are maybe a little heavier and direct but everything is stretched out by extended instrumental workouts, that in most cases add nothing at all to the basic songs.

Silent Voices features members from such bands as Sentiment, Requiem and Sonata Arctica and clearly hopes to cash in on the current popularity of fellow countrymen Nightwish and Children of Bodum. The World's End is a solid enough opener, that just about holds the attention, despite a wandering fret-fest from the guitars. After that though, the quality of the songs just make the whole experience a test of tedium.

The singer is okay in the lower ranges but painful when he tries to hit the higher notes, and once or twice the harmonies and accents really make me cringe. The Dream Theater influence is stamped on every track and may provide enough of a reason to buy for fans of JamesLaBrie and Co. And to Silent Voices' credit, there is a fair mixture of Eurometal and US Power Metal influences thrown to broaden the mix.

But overall - and I seem to be saying this a lot lately - this has all been done much better, many times before. Forgettably average.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Avian - From the Depths Of Time
Avian - From the Depths Of Time
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Massacre Records
Catalogue #:MAS PC0499
Year of Release:2006
Time:55:05
Info:Avian
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Through The Past And Into Forever (0:45), As The World Burns (5:07), Black Masquerade (4:56), The Fear (4:17), Final Frontier (5:08), Across The Millions (1:10), Time And Space Part I: City Of Peace (6:03), Single Blade Of Vengeance (4:43), Blinding Force (4:52), Time Is All We Need (4:49), Queen Of The Insane (6:05), Last Moon (1:32), The Depths Of Time (5:06)

American singer Lance King should be known to many, due to his work, initially, with the spellbinding and more progressive Balance Of Power, and more recently, with Danish ProgPower band Pyramaze (to name but two).

If, like me, you've always been a great fan of his vocal abilities, then I'd recommend you steer well clear of this release from US band Avian. Because, for any reviewer new to the trade, then this is the album that you can store as a reliable reference point, for whenever you want to use the word 'average'.

The material is so pedestrian and predictable, that even King's multi-layered vocals are unable to lift it above the mundane. Plodding melodic metal, with a dusting of progressiveness.

The instrumentation, while perfectly competent, could have been lifted straight out of the rent-a-riff website. The production by Dave Ellefson (Megadeth) and the normally-reliable by Tommy Newton, is also well below the expected standard - especially in the muddy vocals.

Once or twice, there are hints of the sort of quality that Pyramaze of BoP can produce. But after giving this a few of spins, I can't say there is a single track worthy of taking off for my MP3 player. At least in that respect, Avian has managed to achieve a rare feat!

Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10

ANDY READ




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