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2006 : VOLUME 50

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Iron Maiden - A Matter Of Life And Death
Iron Maiden - A Matter Of Life And Death
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:EMI Records
Catalogue #:0946 372321 2 5
Year of Release:2006
Time:71:04
Info:Iron Maiden
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Different World (4:17), These Colours Don’t Run (6:52), Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (8:44), The Pilgrim (5:07), The Longest Day (7:48), Out Of The Shadows (5:36), The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg (7:21), For The Greater Good Of God (9:24), Lord Of Light (7:23), The Legacy (9:20)

Iron Maiden, the legendary British metal band who have taken all before them in the last twenty five years, somehow eschewing all prevailing trends yet still maintaining a colossal fan base, should need no introduction. However, those punters who only have a cursory knowledge of the band through hit singles such as Run To The Hills and (the charmingly titled) Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter may wonder what a review of their new album is doing on a progressive rock website. However those who know the band a little better will need no telling that at heart Iron Maiden are a band with highly-trained progressive instincts; main man Steve Harris’ love of Genesis and Jethro Tull is well documented, and this is after all a band who devoted a large chunk of an album brought out in their commercial heyday (1984’s Powerslave) to a musical interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. What’s more, one of the band’s most highly regarded records, 1988’s excellent Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, is that most progressive of items, a concept album.

The latter album is being frequently referenced by the gushing critics who have fallen over themselves to praise A Matter Of Life And Death; Seventh Son… being both used as a comparator in style and as a reference point (i.e. that the latest album is the best thing since…). In contrast, the reaction from ‘ordinary’ fans that I’ve seen posted on various webzines and forums have been a little more guarded, many ultimately labelling the album as not a bad effort, but nothing special. As to my opinion? Well, somewhere in between really…

First a bit of back story: Conventional wisdom would have it that Iron Maiden were great up until the time that Bruce Dickinson left (around 1992); endured a miserable few years in the wilderness with new vocalist Blaze Bayley, before rebounding with Bruce’s return to the fold at the end of the nineties. Again, I’d argue a little with this version of events; in my mind Maiden were pretty washed up and in need of a change by the time Dickinson left, with their last two albums (No Prayer For the Dying and Fear of The Dark) leaving a lot to be desired. The first Bayley album, The X Factor, whilst hardly a classic, was an improvement on that miserable pair, and also showcased Harris’ increased dedication to weighty, complex epics (such as Sign Of The Cross) which would be a hallmark of the bands’ work from thereon in. The band did stumble, both creatively and commercially, with the follow-up Virtual XI, and it was clear that Dickinson’s return was needed, if nothing else to get sales figures ticking over again. Thankfully, the return of Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith also got the creative juices flowing, the result being the fine Brave New World album, easily their best for a decade. Whilst not exactly departing wholesale from the standard Maiden blueprint, this album nonetheless did have the feel of a start of a new era rather than just a final salvo, so it wasn’t too surprising when a follow-up, Dance Of Death appeared in 2003. Whilst not quite of the same standard as its predecessor this nonetheless confirmed that there was plenty life left in the band yet. Now, following a well-received tour (and excellent DVD) covering the band’s early years, comes A Matter Of Life And Death.

One thing is for certain – this is an album that majors in epics. Once over the (relatively) short sharp opening burst of Different World (a similar sounding track to Dance Of Death’s opener, Wildest Dreams) we’re straight into the moody heavyweight prog metal of These Colours Don’t Run. Combining some relatively recent innovations (a slow, brooding, contemplative opening, something of a modern, high-tech sheen to some of the riffing, symphonic keyboard washes (something that probably was last used on Seventh Son…) with the more familiar traits that Maiden are known the world over for (Steve Harris’ galloping bass, duelling lead guitars, a rousing anthemic chorus and plenty of wailing guitar solos), the end result is certainly impressive, and sets the scene for what will follow. I should also mention the lyrical themes here – whilst not a concept, many of the songs deal with war – some with the futility of it, but it tends more towards seeing things from a soldier in the field’s point of view rather than aiming direct criticism at any particular regime. Weighty stuff for sure, in keeping with the musical accompaniment.

Highlights of the album are perhaps a little difficult to pick out, as it’s an album I’d rate for its consistency rather than having any particular tracks that make you really sit up and take notice (something Brave New World did with its title track, and Dance Of Death with the stunning Paschendale). However, particularly noteworthy is the middle-eastern flavoured The Pilgrim (picking up on a theme first explored on BNW’s The Nomad) – the breakdown and subsequent build up on this one reminded me of Seventh Son’s title track; The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg, which has a great central riff, twists and turns through a variety of different moods impressively, and has a real dramatic impetus, and For The Greater Good Of God, which again builds well from an intriguing, low key opening to become a strident, ‘fists in the air’ anthemic epic.

Perhaps the downside of having as consistent an album such as this (even the sole ‘weak’ track, Out Of The Shadows, still has strong points, in this case the impressive opening riff) is that things can tend towards the monotonous – as is likely to be the case with an album full of epics that are in the main structured along similar lines. It might have made sense (as on the previous two albums) to intersperse these tracks with some shorter, more direct songs, as this might help retain the average listener’s interest over a not inconsiderable running time of 70-odd minutes.

Having said all this, my conclusion would still be a positive one – in a world where too many bands are content to put out substandard releases, with Maiden the quality level remains high, and the band clearly still have plenty of drive and focus. If you’re already a Maiden fan, I’d certainly say that you can invest with confidence, but even those less familiar with the band but who enjoy heavy metal with an epic, anthemic feel should find plenty to their liking here.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



To-Mera - Transcendental
To-Mera - Transcendental
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Candlelight
Catalogue #:Candle143cd
Year of Release:2006
Time:52:36
Info:To-Mera
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Traces (3:13), Blood (5:36), Dreadful Angel (6:52), Phantoms (7:18), Born of Ashes (7:04), Parfum (6:32), Obscure Oblivion (6:17), Realm Of Dreams (9:44)

Finally - a female-fronted progressive metal band with something worthwhile to say for themselves - and they're British too! If you're becoming rather tired of the music-by-numbers approach of many of the gothic-tinged, female-fronted bands that have flooded the metal market on the cloak tails of Nightwish and the like, then To-Mera certainly offers something more than a little different.

Arriving on the scene only a year ago, the band left a lasting impression with a demo that prompted 25,000 people to sign up to their MySpace site and led to a deal with Candlelight Records.

To-Mera is based around the talents and lyrics of vocalist Julie Kiss, previously known for her role in the Hungarian progressive band Without Face. Unlike her former band, which knew where it wanted to go but didn't have the means to get there, To-Mera has both the musical direction and the ability to reach its desired destination.

The diversity to be found on this record can be explained by the wide range of backgrounds of the other members. Bassist Lee Barrett has played with Extreme Noise Terror, guitarist Tom MacLean has worked in the avant-garde jazz/rock ensemble Fubar, Hugo Sheppard's roots lie in classical piano and Akos Pirisi's inspiration from Meshuggah dominates a lot of the drum work.

Those not familiar with the more obscure ends of the metal spectrum could make easy comparisons to bands like Edenbridge and Lacuna Coil. But these couldn't be further from the truth, as Transcendental's roots are planted nowhere near the gothic scene.

The eight tracks presented here, each have a very different personality and shape. The more immediate songs include the fantastic opener Blood. The main thrust is all meaty guitars and flowing melodies, but with a sharp change of mood for the rather Flower Kings-esque instrumental section. Even more accessible are the power metal guitars, symphonic synths and beautiful vocals that makes Born Of Ashes my favourite track. Phantoms takes a similar path to the opening track but with a lighter, All About Eve influence and the tribal drums to be found on Parfum ties everything together perfectly.

Elsewhere though, you have to suspect that this won't be to everyone's taste - especially those wedded to the more straightforward, melodic sides of metal. The band makes little effort to blend its sharp changes of mood and style, and in that respect, the music may stop and start a bit too much for some. Progressive in the true sense of the word, tracks like Obscure Oblivion and Dreadful Angel jump schizophrenically between melancholy, jazz fusion, thrash, prog and sympho. Rather like the avant-garde music that the independent American Sensory and Manga Carta specialise in.

But while the instrumentation is diverse, the soothing voice of Julie Kiss ties everything together beautifully. With no male vocals to share the burden, Julie has the confidence and a distinct tone of voice to maintain the listener's attention. Add to this, the fact that the album really shows its main ideas through her lyrics, which are emotive, poetical and deal with intimate, personal subjects.

Aside from Julie - and I don't often say this - it's the keyboards that really grab my attention. Hugo Sheppard's classical influences, introduce a playing that is rarely found on a metal album. His work on the piano has some wonderful time keys. When mixed with more graceful cadences, they create some of the album's best passages.

On the whole though, Transcendental is a complexly-ambitious, epic and somewhat ground-breaking offering, that will appeal to a wide array of music lovers. Most of the songs are a sum of many parts, so this is an album where you have to give the music time to unfold its delights.

Fans of Lacuna Coil and Nightwish may find it too left field, but followers of Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Meshuggah, The Gathering, Riverside and Anathema should take time to add To-Mera to their shopping list.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Rhapsody Of Fire – Triumph Or Agony
Rhapsody of Fire – Triumph or Agony
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:SPV/Steamhammer
Catalogue #:SPV 800001056
Year of Release:2006
Time:62:37
Info:Rhapsody Of Fire
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Dar-Kunor [I. Echoes From The Elvish Woods II. Fear Of The Dungeons] (3:13), Triumph Or Agony (5:02), Heart Of The Dark Lands (4:10), Old Age Of Wonders (4:35), The Myth Of The Holy Sword (5:03), Il Canto Del Vento (3:54), Silent Dream (3:50), Bloody Red Dungeons (5:11), Son Of Pain (4:43), The Mystic Prophecy Of The Demon Knight [I. A New Saga Begins II. Through The Portals Of Agony III. The Black Order IV. Nekron`s Bloody Rhymes V. Escape From Horror] (16:26), Dark Reigns Of Fire [I. Winter Dawn`s Theme] (6:27)

Who or what is Rhapsody Of Fire? Well, the answer is: that it is the new name for the Italian film score metal band Rhapsody. They had to change their name due to trade mark and copyright issues and so Triumph Or Agony is their first release under their new name. Some people still may not understand why I like this band so much and also lots of music critics call their music pure kitsch. Lots of music lovers even hate this Italian bombastic power metal, but I cannot get enough of it as I can tell you that my weird music side loves this overdramatic Italian film score metal. Maybe the fact that I also adore the music of Richard Wagner and the books of Tolkien and Goodkind explain my feelings towards Rhapsody Of Fire a bit… Furthermore I consider vocalist Fabio Leone as the Pavarotti of the metal world. So, now you know all about my “love” for this extraordinary rock band!

Triumph Or Agony is the second chapter in the Dark Secret saga and the band continues their bombastic tradition with a live seventy piece orchestra and choir, featuring also an array of guest narrators and character actors, making this album almost a true Italian opera. The CD starts with a spooky voice and some opera like strings and choir passages, providing a perfect Rhapsody Of Fire overture. The title track follows and this one is an up tempo Rhapsody-all-over song with lots of harmony vocals, very bombastic musical passages and Fabio singing like a young opera god. The myth of the holy sword features very dramatic and emotional vocal parts, a really addictive chorus, a gooseflesh melody and a short but sparkling guitar solo. Il Canto Del Vento is Fabio’s debut as a songwriter and it is almost a Puccini-like mini aria, featuring Italian lyrics and really dramatic singing, which makes you wonder, again, if this music is art or kitsch?

The band is at its best during the epic (over 16 minutes) The mystic prophecy of The Mystic Prophecy Of The Demon Knight, a great example of a cinema soundtrack adapted to a metal song. This one has it all, medieval musical influences, head banging riffs, strings, choir parts, bombastic orchestral passages, narrative components, speed metal parts with grunts and also some balladesque passages. It is the absolute master piece of this great album proving that Rhapsody Of Fire is still one of the most unusual phenomena in the current metal scene and I cannot get enough of it….. Call me crazy and probably not even objective about this band, but what the heck. Just buy this new album and enjoy!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

MARTIEN KOOLEN



Cemetery Of Scream – The Event Horizon
Cemetery of Scream – The Event Horizon
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:Metal Mind
Productions
Catalogue #:MMP CD 0409
Year of Release:2006
Time:45:17
Info:Cemetery Of
Scream
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Prophet (6:11), Ganges (6:20), Komatrance (3:44), On The Border (3:49), Cold Obsession In My Eyes (6:39), Absinthe (4:16), The Secret Window (3:50), Burial Ground (5:10), In His Room (3:59), Where Next? (1:16)

Please don’t let the rather unfortunate name of this band put you off or give you a false impression of the kind of music they play. This is not death metal or black metal or any of that stuff. Yes, it is metal, but it’s that equivocal subgenre that’s come to be known as atmospheric metal – “atmospheric dark metal,” to be as precise as the press release wants to be – but with this important proviso: Cemetery Of Scream dates back to 1992 – before Anneke joined The Gathering! So, while I tend (for better or worse) to measure most so-called atmospheric metal bands whose albums I review against The Gathering – because, let’s face it, most of them are inspired or influenced by that majestic outfit – I can dispense with those comparisons here and describe the impressive achievements of Cemetery of Scream very much on their own terms.

I think what I like most about this band, and there’s a lot to choose from, are the vocals, by Pawel Kluczewski and guest singer Kasia Molenda. And what I like about the vocals is that they are strong but imperfect – and accented. The lyrics are all in English, but the singing is free of the rawk-star intonations too often heard in the vocals of both native and non-native English speakers; the enunciation of the words, especially by Kluczewski, is precise, and his voice, while powerful when it has to be, is often appealingly vulnerable, too (check out the quiet bits of The Secret Window, for example, or the spoken part of In His Room). This isn’t typical metal singing by a long shot; it’s clear and unmannered, and Molenda’s background contributions are reedy rather than ethereal (“ethereal” of course being the gold standard in atmospheric metal!) and yet all the more welcome for being so.

The music is perhaps a bit heavier than fans of atmospheric metal are accustomed to. Guitars are front and centre on this album, for sure, and the drums play a big part, too. The songs are mostly compact and melodic, the music nicely underscoring the vocals, keyboards mostly acting in a supporting role. I also very much like the tasteful (and infrequent) use of electronic percussion and samples – always only what suits the song, never intrusive. Cemetery Of Scream, that is, is essentially a rock band working successfully in this genre – not a band (or so it seems to me) conceived to play a certain kind of music and conforming to the genre. That’s probably because the original incarnation of this band predates the whole atmospheric metal genre as we’ve come to know it – they’ve sort of written their own rules.

A word about the lyrics wouldn’t be amiss here, even though (or perhaps because) they’re written and sung in English despite the band’s being Polish. Well, I think they’re very good indeed, and I mean in no way to be patronizing when I say that. Most of the songs are lyrically dark indeed – the titles alone portend their darkness! – but they’re neither clichéd nor melodramatic. Burial Ground and Komatrance seem to me especially heartfelt, but the lyrics are uniformly good.

I’ve saved for the end the sole real problem with this album: its production. I’m happy to recommend the album just as it is, but my rating would be even higher were the production not so thin and midrangey – this fine music deserved depth and power. I mentioned earlier that the guitars and drums really drive the songs, and unfortunately it’s with those instruments that the production really fails to do its job. The power chords grate and the drums go tunk-tunk-tunk where they should hammer; and the arpeggiated plucked chords on steel-string that underlie the final track, Where Next?, are annoying rather than pleasing. I’ll be blunt: though I expect to listen to this CD a lot in the months to come, I know for a fact that I’d play it a lot more if it had anything like the kind of production such an otherwise musically excellent CD ought to have.

But there you have it: despite that one flaw, this is a fine album, pleasing in its song-writing and execution, a nice example of – what? – alternative atmospheric metal from a band that, at least in Poland, may well have invented the genre.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Project Creation - Floating World
Project Creation - Floating World
Country of Origin:Portugal
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR320
Year of Release:2006
Time:71:45
Info:Sonic Pulsar
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Floating World (7:13), Living Under A Blue Sky (4:21), The Desert Planet (2:21), The Civilization (7:24), Mechanical Dragonflies(5:55), Arriving (5:28), Warming Up The Machines (4:53), Artificial Satellite (7:11), Intervening (2:27), Creating Atmosphere (3:26), First Species (4:26), The Shining Planet (4:25), Cheops (5:08), Returning Home (7:00)

Hear ye, hear ye! Project Creation is the new band of Hugo Flores (Sonic Pulsar). After releasing two fine solo efforts (Playing The Universe, Out Of Place) he definitely hits the mark with his latest effort, namely Floating World.

Floating World is a rock/metal opera based on a sci-fi theme which is about the inhabitants of a dying world who take off on a planet-like space ship (well, a floating world really). Being the first part of a trilogy Floating World is mainly settled in prog metal territory but also borrows elements from progressive rock, folk rock, space rock and hosts two vocalists (one female and one male) and seven instrumentalists to aid Flores on this journey, including a flutist, a cellist and a sax player. The latter three really add an extra dimension and depth to the music which is already quite layered and well constructed.

Unfortunately, one cannot escape the feeling of a Dutch band’s influences all over. Yes, after listening to this record I’m sure many will think of Ayreon as the main reference. They may be quite right, but Flores takes this inspiration, fuses it with some Magellan or Carptree influences and takes it way beyond one can imagine. So even though there isn’t anything extraordinary new, I wouldn’t call this one a clone. Another good thing -at least for me- is that the music is much more direct and not as over-produced as Ayreon which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less progressive.

Most of the songs contain wonderful melodies, as well as layered compositions which make this CD quite an enjoyable listening experience. There’s a great deal of technical prowess; but no shredding or show-offs, thankfully... Most of the songs differ from each other in regard of style and mood, yet they form a fine unity in the end. Complex, silent, furious, elegiac, atmospheric, spacey, folky passages are all aplenty in this CD and show us how a “diverse” record should sound like. I don’t see the point to mention some standout tracks for conceptual albums, since mostly there are none. Floating World is no exception regarding this issue and must be listened right from the start till the end. Trust me, it’s a quite rewarding process and will be worth your time.

Fans of Ayreon will surely enjoy this record all over. It may be evidently more of a “low-budget project” compared to the Dutchman’s efforts, but it still delivers the goods. I don’t see a reason why Flores can’t be the next Lucassen of our time. Yes, dear reader. If you have a tendency towards Arjenesque efforts, you shouldn’t miss this one. But as someone who is rather distant towards Ayreon and such, even I liked this record from start until the end. Does it mean that it’s better than Ayreon? Not necessarily, but fans of the genre should definitely check this one out. Normally I would give this one a straight niner, but the production could have been a lot better. So, if you don’t care about minor disturbances in sound quality, you may regard my conclusion as 9.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

YALCIN INEL



Speaking To Stones - Speaking To Stones
Speaking To Stones - Speaking To Stones
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC188
Year of Release:2006
Time:51:12
Info:Speaking To Stones
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Still Life (6:43), Rescue Me (5:12), Waiting for.... (5:25), Down (4:57), My Final Sin (9:00), Close to the Sky (5:01), Shallow (10:02), Nothing (4:52)

How easy is it to gain the interest of somebody by saying that a band sounds like Dream Theater? In my eyes it is a very tough job and you always run into the risk of getting people to believe that the band you are talking about is just another copycat. Having said that, I will try to justify why Speaking to Stones is a very interesting ensemble and - to me - one of the rising forces in the field of melodic progressive metal. The band is a four-piece and comprises guitarist Tony Vinci, bassist Dave Callari, Rich Dellapietra on keyboards and vocalist Richard Fink IV. The majority of the material is written by Tony and the rest gradually added their own building blocks to the completion of this debut album, which took more than two years to be finalised. Notice the absence of a drummer in the line-up - what you hear in the album is drum programming.

Speaking to Stones' music is described by their label as incorporating influences as diverse as progressive and RnB, Marillion, Soundgarden, even Peter Gabriel. Well I do not know if it is a disappointment but I didn't discover SUCH diverse influences. My description would be an amalgam of Enchant with Dream Theater. One could also identify elements of Fates Warning and Marillion or even Queensryche and Conception. Apart from these classical influences I also see an AOR component, which I find positive because it gives a special colour without appearing out of the blue.

The vocalist is really spectacular and the way he sounds as well as the way he sings is striking. Furthermore, it's a singer with two faces: one is very tender, that you could at times mistake as Enchant's Ted Leonard (as in Waiting For...), but the other is harsher, possibly a bit in the likes of Ark's Jorn Lande. And basically, this by default transforms the nature of the track. The guitar work is of very high quality and at times brings Douglas Ott to mind, at times John Petrucci, or to go a bit further, it has a certain AOR feeling to it. Very pretty and "clean" solos adorn the final product, together with the abundance of acoustic moments. The main difference in the music with Dream Theater is that there are not too many solos, no changes that seem "unexpected" - the approach to song writing is more simple, direct and...poppy. Keyboard solos are only present in a couple of instances and more as a guest, while throughout the album the synths mostly fill up the atmosphere.

Most tracks are rather short, with very catchy refrains, combining melodic singing but also some harder parts. Still Life is definitely one the best songs out there in the genre, and I more than recommend to give a listen to it in their myspace page. Some songs are more mid-tempo like Rescue Me and other are ballads, like Waiting For... and Close to the Sky. The surprise though are the two long tracks, My Final Sin and Shallow, which are more of a challenge since you clearly see the group departing from 5' song writing and going towards more ambitious and technical areas. Both are very good tracks, the latter a bit too reminiscent of Dream Theater's Home though and the former a bit too long. The vocal melodies are really well done and thus the refrains are really interesting and complement perfectly the technical solos and heavy riffs. The album closes with an acoustic ballad, Nothing, that again points to the AOR side this time of Dream Theater.

Without playing something particularly innovative or being pioneers, these guys play it VERY well. There are very few weak points in this album. Shortly, I doubt that there are many fans of melodic prog metal out there that will dislike this release and therefore this album is definitely recommended. Great song writing and vocal melodies, great guitar work and a vocalist to remember. I think that they should get a.s.a.p. themselves a drummer, depart a bit from the legacy of DT, and maybe their next work will be a milestone in the genre. Absolutely great debut from this rising force. If you are into well-played melodic prog metal with a strong catchy AOR-oriented component, you don't have to look further...

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Spheric Universe Experience - Mental Torments
Spheric Universe Experience - Mental Torments
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Replica Records
Catalogue #:RPL 017
Year of Release:2005
Time:69:06
Info:Spheric Universe
Experience
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: So Cold (6:08), Now Or Never (7:04), Burning Box Gala (6:21), Saturated Brain (7:41), Moonlight (6:02), Halleygretto (2:41), Mental Torments - [pt.1 Solitude, - pt.2 Reminiscence, pt.3 Losing Control, pt.4 Inner Peace] (15:28), Echoes Of The Stars (10:51)

A few negative reviews stopped me from picking up this CD when it was released last year. The failure of the record label to provide this site with a promo, meant that we never got to experience this particular spheric universe.

Well, I finally got around to picking up a copy and this really is a wee gem that I’m sure many readers of this site who haven’t sought out a copy yet, would really enjoy (hence this short review).

Formed in 1999 as Gates Of Delirium, after some line-up shifts in 2001, they changed their name to Amnesya. Another line-up change in 2002 brought the move to their current moniker. Mental Torments is their second full-length album.

What you have here, takes elements from Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Spiral Architect, Pain Of Salvation, Styx and Watchtower and blends them into a very intense, yet occasionally melodic, style of technical progressive metal.

The singer thankfully isn’t a screamer and can utilize plenty of emotion in his voice. He isn’t quite up there with the best but he has his own style. As long as you don’t mind the wee bit of a French accent, then he adds, more than he subtracts, from the songs.

Talking of the songs, the opening track is an absolute gem, with some great riffing and keyboard embellishments, all wrapped around a superb collection of time signatures and a chorus with a melody to die for. I often just insert the CD to play this one track.

There are more great vocal harmonies on the second track, which also boasts an effective sax (or clarinet) interlude which offers an effective, lighter touch after the four-minute mark.

There are three instrumentals on offer and a couple more-balladic tunes. On the heavier edge, Saturated Brain has some fantastic drumming at the start, before moving between a powerhouse verse, that stands as a heavier Dream Theater, and a chorus that could have been lifted off the last Sieges Even album.

The centrepeice of the album is the four-part title track. It uses its 15 minutes to give a masterclass in technical metal, one that easily compares to the likes of Watchtower and Spiral Architect.

This won’t be everyone’s taste, and the quality does rather rise and fall within each track. There’s also a lack of coherence across the album. There are just so many ideas that the band never really settles on its own sound. As a listener, I find it hard to really relax into the album, as it’s mood, pace and groove is constantly changing. The opening two songs and the title-track are very impressive, elsewhere I like only bits of songs.

However, for those who don’t mind that ever-shifting platform and especially those who enjoy technical, progressive metal with a heavy reliance on instrumental workouts, this should tick more than enough boxes.

Footnote: This album is available from French-based Replica Records, although I got mine from the US-based Nightmare Records. The US version comes with a bonus track, the instrumental Sidereal Revolution that’s well worth a listen.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Before Eden - The Legacy Of Gaia
Before Eden - The Legacy Of Gaia
Country of Origin:Brazil
Format:CD
Record Label:Just for Kicks
Hellion/Lasers Edge
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2006
Time:56:02
Info:Before Eden
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: [Nomad Soul (6:06), Wizard Of The South (5:58), Essence (5:08), The Legacy Of Gaia - [I. Earth Cry (1:01), II. Enemy Eve (6:19), III. Toast Of Mankind (5:40), IV. Nova (8:48), V. Tomorrow´s Gone (5:51), VI. Everland (3:41)], Reality (7:36)

I know next to nothing about this Brazilian band, as this was picked up on import through a recommendation from a few friends. Though having now listened to it, what I do know, is that this is a band with huge potential. It appears that this is their third release, following a self-titled debut in 2001 and a three-track demo put out a couple of years later.

The opening track is superb. Nomad Soul kicks off with a real biting, technical riff, before lush layers of keys are added and then the rich vocals of Jaison Peixer take things to an even higher level. This guy can sure rip a tune, and from his performance on the ten tracks here, has the potential to develop a really distinctive voice.

As for Nomad Soul, think early Dream Theater mixed with the heavy riffing and darker vibe of Savatage for a rough idea of where this band is coming from. There's a clever change of pace in the middle too, that reminds me a little of Rush.

The next three songs are on an equal par, Enemy Eve in particular has some great riffs and Peixer shows he is as comfortable on the high, as he is on the low notes. Everything is done with impressive power and passion. There's a real energy to this band's playing which I enjoyed.

The second half of the album doesn't live up to the earlier promise. The snare drum, which has been high in the mix throughout, begins to annoy; the song-writing isn't as good; and the hooks are not so catchy. A couple of the tracks also fail to develop from the initial musical idea.

But again, praise has to be given, as these songs show a band willing to try out a few new ideas and not just sticking to a tried-and-tested formula.

Anyway, if that is enough to interest you, I picked up this from US-based Lasers Edge, but it's also on Hellion in South America and Just For Kicks in Germany. There are also full tracks and samples to be downloaded from the band's website as well as a new song from their next album due in 2007. A band that is well worth further investigation - by fans and labels alike.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



SpiRitual - Pulse
SpiRitual - Pulse
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Sensor Dark
Catalogue #:SR3032
Year of Release:2006
Time:45:22
Info:SpiRitual
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: This Battle Is Yours (5:38), Symphony Of Life (7:37), Nahash (5:48), Pulse (8:32), Khundas (4:58), You Believe (5:13), Save and Heal (4:36), Nowhereness (2:36), plus multimedia section.

Now, here's a new sub-genre for the progressive metal market. SpiRitual is the new project from Stefan Hertrich, PC game soundtrack composer and the songwriter for long-running German gothic metal band Darkseed. With some justification, the label that he's given his new creation is 'Ethno Metal'.

Supported by a truly international collection of musicians, with Pulse, the 29-year-old has set out to mix brutal death metal vocals and grindingly, down-tuned guitars, with the ethereal sounds of ethnic instruments and soothing female vocals from the centuries-old cultures of Asia and North and South America.

It's certainly true to say that many bands have played with bringing ethnic influences into metal - fellow Germans Avalon, Australian band Endusk and Israel's Orphaned Land are just three. But it is always there as a supporting influence, never given a starring role.

With SpiRitual, Hertrich has set out to give each element equal exposure, taking the listener on a fascinating, and often mesmerising, musical odyssey. There's flute and percussion from Columbian Shaman Kajuyali Tsamani; some North American female vocals and flute; Indian female vocals are provided via British artist Zero-G; and other vocals by singers from Russia and Germany. Darkseed drummer Maurizio Guolo and a trio of German guitarists provide the more metallic tones.

Hertrich has previously explored distant cultures with 1999's Betray My Secrets and 2004's Shiva In Exile for which he won the award for 'best new age/world album' in the American Just Plain Folks Music Awards. And certainly the blend of world music and death metal may have crossover potential for audiences of both genres.

Musically the mix of two totally different genres works surprisingly well. It's not so much that there are great individual songs here - nothing really jumps out at me in terms of melody or instrumental passages. It's more the overall effect, achieved by the mixing of the two disparate ingredients. At some points on Pulse one element is allowed to shine on its own, but more often than not, Hertrich manages to overlay one with the other in a very effective way.

The main problem I can see, is in finding an audience for this. The two genres are at two such different ends of the musical spectrum, that I'm unsure how many world music fans will be ale to take the death metal and vice versa. I'm actually rather partial to world music and it was that element that I enjoyed here, far more than the death metal growls which I'm less keen on.

For those of you who enjoy exploring the ideas behind the music in greater depth, there's a multi-media section where Hertrich explores the ideology behind his creation through the written word and work with the Russian video team Deviant Creations. There's also contributions from German author and scientist Christian Ratsch, a world-renowned anthropologist and seemingly a major influence on Hertrich's music.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Time Symmetry - Fate In Grey
Time Symmetry - Fate In Grey
Country of Origin:Spain
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2006
Time:52:28
Info:Time Symmetry
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Game (5:24), When The Voice Is Gone (6:50), Cold Mountain Train (6:29), Woman From Loneliness (6:40), Autumn (4:36), Alone He Wanders (7:49), Fate In Grey (6:23), The Portrait (1:19), Sibyl Vane (7:28), Naiad (5:24)

This is a very impressive debut album from a young Spanish band that before the days of the internet would, in all likelihood, never have been heard of outside of their home town or village.

Time Symmetry tread a very listenable middle ground in the progressive metal field. The guitar work tends to keep the rhythm rather than overload the sense with deep heavy riffs. There's plenty of ever-changing time signatures and a smattering of extended solos, but there's also a lightness to the band's sound that has the potential to appeal to rock fans in general. Yet there's also enough hard edges to please the more metal-orientated among you.

If you can ignore the accent, then the singing of David Rubio is emotive, and carries some really good melodies. The instruments meanwhile control the mood of the song rather than act as a showcase for the skills of their owners.

It took a few listens for me to fall into the pace of this album but it's had a constant place on my CD player for a little while now. There's just a certain charm in the melodies and groove that grows on me with every play. A couple of guest musicians are brought in to add an extra depth to the sound. Woman From Loneliness, includes some cool saxophone playing by Daniel Centeno, while the last two tracks feature female vocalist, Mamen Castano.

A lot of thought also seems to have gone into the band's website which is one of the most original designs I've yet to see. There are tracks to download as well as purchasing information. However I can't tell you too much more as it's sadly all in Spanish - which is a bit of a missed opportunity, as an English option would be a great way to spread the word about this excellent new band to music lovers outside of their own country. And that, I think, is where we started.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Bloodbound - Nosferatu
Bloodbound - Nosferatu
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:AOR Heaven
Catalogue #:AORH1212
Year of Release:2006
Time:53:04
Info:Bloodbound
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Behind the Moon (6.27), Into The Dark (4.31), Nosferatu (6.23), Metal Monster (4.24), Crucified (3.50), Desdemonamelia (4.14), Fallen from Grace (4.45), Screams In The Night (4.40), For the King (3.49), Midnight Sun (3.51), On The Battlefield (5.57)

Just a brief mention for this disk as it will undoubtedly be of interest to anyone who has followed the fortunes of Swedish band Tad Morose. Having been a great fan of that band's recent albums and especially having had the pleasure to meet and interview them after a festival performance in Sweden a couple of years ago, I was hugely disappointed when I heard that vocalist Urban Breed had quite the band earlier this year. The oft-quoted 'musical differences' being given as the reason.

New Swedish band Bloodbound was his chosen destination, which at first caused a bit of alarm. Image-wise they all dress up in gory costumes, painted faces and stand around crucifixes - more death metal than what I'm used to. Thankfully appearances can be misleading and the music on offer on their debut album is top-quality, melodic metal that owes a heavy debt to Iron Maiden. The guitar work is breathtaking in its simple effectiveness and each and every song has an instant lovability. Needless to say Urban's vocal performance is fantastic, showing again why he has a reputation as one of the best metal vocalists around. This will be an instant hit with fans of Tad Morose's last two albums, as long as you don't mind that there's not a progressive twiddle in sight.

As a rather ironic footnote - Urban Breed has now left Bloodbound - along with several other members. The irony is that his replacement is Kristian Andrén, who used to be the singer with - yes you've guessed it - Tad Morose. It's a small world.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Prymary - The Tragedy Of Innocence
Prymary - The Tragedy Of Innocence
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR350
Year of Release:2006
Time:61:41
Info:Prymary
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dirty Room Part I (2:55), In My Shell (7:34), Soul Deceiver (7:10), Oceans of Insolence (5:54), AMiracle (5:38), Born Again (2:05), Only Love (6:10), What Little Girls Are For (9:35), Running Away (7:00), Dirty Room Part II (3:02), Ask the Angels (5:45), Choices (9:53)

A thought-provoking concept album is the second release from this progressive rock and metal band from Southern California. Twenty-five years ago, the wife of the band's drummer, Chris Quirate, had her life ripped apart in the horrible tragedy that is child abuse. Even more life-destroying was that the abuser was the man who was supposed to love and care for her - her father.

The band has spent two years in getting the right material to do her story the stark justice that it deserves; to create a strong message to other victims that you do not have to suffer in silence.

The result is a very thought-provoking collection of music that uses every aspect of the product to drive the message home. There's high emotion in the singing and playing, subtle and direct lyrics, complex rhythms and a professional use of the presentation, that gives the clear impression that a lot of thought has gone into this release.

The band features two members of the impressive Redemption, drummer Chris Quirarte and bassist James Sherwood, along with singer Mike Di Sarro, guitarist Sean Entrikin, and keyboard player Smiley Sean.

The Tragedy Of Innocence is a sharp step up in class in all departments by this quintet from their self-titled debut released three years ago. Prymary brings a more progressive rock touch to their music than most bands in this genre. Not as instrumental-based as Dream Theater or Zero Hour, there's more going on here than Redemption or Fates Warning.

This album has a dark, heavy atmosphere - especially in the second half of the disc - that lingers long after the closing track has faded from the room. There's some great performances from all the musicians, especially with a huge improvement in the vocals of Di Sarro who really lives and breaths the emotions from beginning to end.

An absorbing listen, song-wise it's not a classic but this stands as a fine piece of musical artwork and a bold statement on the tragedy of innocence.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Red Circuit - Trance State
Red Circuit - Trance State
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Limb Music
Catalogue #:LMP 0602-089 CD
Year of Release:2006
Time:41:33
Info:Red Circuit
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Under The Sun (5.19), Is It Gold? (3.34), The Veil (3.54), Where You Are (4.44), So Hard To Be Like God (3.38), Search For Your Soul (4.14), You Might Have Been Queen (4.02), The Screen (4.51), Go Straight (4.52), Trance State (4.17)

Those who take an interest in all things Vanden Plas-related will certainly want to have a closer look at this new ProgPower Metal ‘supergroup’ project. Red Circuit is the brainchild of German producer Markus Teske, best known for his work with the likes of Vanden Plas, Symphony X, Saga, Neal Morse, and Ian Parry's Consortium Project.

This time however he has stepped from behind the production controls to show off his talents with the keyboards and song-writing, bringing in Vanden Plas vocalist Andy Kuntz to co-produce the album. Another reason to take note of this disk is that vocal duties are handled by Chity Somapala – a bit of a journeyman singer whose credits to date include Avalon, Firewind, Ivanhoe and Moonlight Agony and so on. Guitar work is contributed by a string of special guests that includes Adagio's Stephan Forte, Vanden Plas shredder Stephan Lill and French solo virtuoso Patrick Rondat.

Musically, this sits in the melodic ProgPower Metal category with pretty much every song having a mid-paced heaviness that certainly couldn’t be described as exhilarating, but is very listenable. There are frequent comparisons to a lighter and far less progressive Vanden Plas, especially in respect of Teske’s keyboard work, which is excellent. There are also similarities to Somapala’s previous work especially Firewind, and Avalon when it gets more progressive.

For my tastes, I would mark this down as an okay album but one that doesn’t really excite. It’s not a disk that I think I will return to very often in the future. While I know Somapala has his fans, I’m not one of them, finding his voice too smooth. He lacks the edge and bite, or the expression and soul that I seek in a metal singer.

The songs too are a little one-dimensional for me. There’s nothing bad on this album but equally nothing that has that ‘Wow!’ factor. Fans of mid-paced melodic metal wit a touch of progression (Cloudscape, Avalon, Firewind or other such bands on the Limb label) may however love it.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ANDY READ




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