Reviews in this issue:
- Redemption - The Origins Of Ruin (Duo Review)
- Threshold – Dead Reckoning (Duo Review)
- Novembers Doom – The Novella Reservoir
- Thought Chamber – Angular Perceptions (Duo Review)
- Therion - Gothic Kabbalah
- Sun Caged - Artemisia
- After Forever – After Forever
- Serenity - Words Untold & Dreams Unlived
- Symphorce - Become Death
- Memories Lab - Empathy
Redemption - The Origins Of Ruin
Tracklist: The Suffocating Silence (6:37), Bleed Me Dry (6:55), The Death Of Faith And Reason (4:51), Memory (9:30), The Origins of Ruin (2:47), Man Of Glass (5:05), Blind My Eyes (5:55), Used To Be (6:08), Fall On You (9:24)
Andy Read's Review
Here's a question for you. Is Redemption the best progressive metal band to emerge in the past decade? From the evidence contained within The Origins Of Ruin, the answer had to be a resounding 'Yes'.
The band's third album sees composer, guitarist and keyboard player Nick van Dyk continue his alliance with Fates Warning frontman Ray Alder and Agent Steel guitarist Bernie Versailles, following their widely-acclaimed 2005 release The Fullness Of Time.
Listening to the two albums back-to-back, you can only admire (or envy) the special musical gift that van Dyk has. The skill with which he has composed the nine tracks on offer here, has crafted an album that just gets better and better as it slowly reveals its charms with each listen. Hearing the blistering riffs and the clever keyboard flourishes that are this album's biggest strengths, the only debate is whether he is a better guitarist or keyboard player!
Redemption really is the perfect combination of the best elements, of the genre that is heavy metal. From Progressive Metal, there are the extended solos, the complex, multi-layered arrangements, and tracks that aren't worried about passing the five-minute mark. From Melodic Metal, there are strong hooks, harmonies and catchy guitar and keyboard melodies. Whilst from Power Metal, there is the double bass drum and the speed and heaviness that gets the neck-a-rolling. The production from the renowned Tommy Newton is emphatic in its power and dynamics, and captures all the elements perfectly.
Whereas the band's self-titled debut in 2002 was a pure concept album, and where Fullness... also included a four-part suite, this time van Dyk has allowed each song to stand alone. Even so, there is a clear lyrical theme that ties most of them together dealing with human weakness and the breakdown of relationships.
Indeed, if you seek thought-provoking lyrics, which get you looking in on yourself and your life, then the lyric sheet here will be a treasure chest. Try this from Used To Be: 'Windows open but the doors are all closed. But if you step through, then you might forget the way back home. Will someone introduce me to the man I used to be' or from Suffocating Silence: 'We all know words can kill, but their absence is more lethal still'.
The best songs are at the beginning, end and middle. Suffocating Silence has a faultless flow and structure, built around a crunching van Dyk riff and some flowing Alder melodies. It's the band's best song yet … until you get to the lengthy Fall On You. A multi-dimensional song, this just throws out great riffs, melodies and atmosphere as if it's the end of season song-writing sale. Meanwhile the title track is a beautiful, direct piano ballad that has the atmosphere of Fates' classic APSOG and shows why Alder is one of the world's premier metal vocalists.
The weakest song is the relatively one-dimensional and hook-absent Man Of Glass, whilst Blind My Eyes and Used To Be don't quite reach the peaks found elsewhere.
Whether this is a better album than Fullness.. is a tough question. It may not quite have the brilliant peaks of its predecessor but neither does it have as many 'lows'. I find it a more coherent and consistent album and with repeated listens, it leaves a richer and more lingering taste. What I can definitely say, is that if you could combine the best five tracks from this album, with the best five from its predecessor, then you would have one of the best progressive metal albums ever produced. Whilst by taking the least impressive from both discs, you'd still have one of your favourite albums of the year!
In around five years time, I believe both of these Redemption albums will be considered classics of the genre. Therefore I have no qualms about awarding this disc a rare 10 out of 10. For anyone who enjoys progressive, power or melodic metal, that should be the only recommendation you need.
Tom De Val's Review
US Prog metallers Redemption started life as something of a project band based around the talents of songwriter/ guitarist/ keyboardist Nicolas van Dyk. The band’s debut self-titled effort appeared in 2002, and featured a guest spot from renowned vocalist Ray Alder, best known for his work with Fates Warning. A burgeoning friendship between van Dyk and Alder led to the latter becoming a full member of the band in time for their second release, the critically acclaimed The Fullness Of Time. The reaction to this record probably helped seal a deal with the InsideOut label, and with the departure of Threshold to pastures new Redemption surely have a call, along with the likes of Symphony X, of being one of the premier Prog Metal acts on the label, given the quality inherent on The Origins Of Ruin.
Redemption’s sound may not be wildly original in that you can clearly hear their influences, but they have managed to stamp their own identity within the basic prog-metal template. There are certainly elements of Dream Theater (both in the song-writing and in the highly technical guitar playing), Symphony X (though with a much dampened-down symphonic element) and Enchant (albeit heavier and more complex). What there isn’t, strangely enough, is much of a Fates Warning influence – although this isn’t so much of a surprise if you take into account that the main song-writer is van Dyk rather than Alder. What stands out in the band’s sound is their ability to balance melody with technicality, and the impressive way they sustain the dark, regret-tinged mood of this release right the way through the album’s length.
The Suffocating Silence is a fine lead-off track and gives a good indication of the band’s style. Following a suitably overwrought quasi-classical intro, the heavy riffs kick in to lead us into a song which has close ties to the heavier side of latter-day Dream Theater (think The Glass Prison or The Root Of All Evil). The dark and heavy verses are tempered by an atmospheric, anthemic chorus, with keys well used throughout to add colour and texture to the sound. Alder’s powerful and commanding vocals are impressive throughout, and there’s a good momentum to the track, although you could argue that it goes on a minute or two too long.
Bleed Me Dry continues in the same dark vein – even darker in fact. The pummelling, hypnotic riffs, some great lead work from guitar and keys and a strong impassioned chorus are all noteworthy. There’s no let up with The Death of Faith And Reason, where the riffs fly by fast and furious, and Alder sounds like a very angry man indeed. Memory finally sees the foot taken off the pedal, if just momentarily, with a slow build up which majors on a Tubular Bells-like keyboard melody, before some Threshold-esque riffs interrupt the calm and set the scene for a number of pace and mood changes as the song moves through its various stages. A song of regret, Alder’s delivery is particularly good here as he gradually brings more emotion into his voice as the song finally reaches an almost AOR-like chorus which could almost have come from an Enchant track. The solo’s are as technically proficient yet melodic as always, although perhaps go on a little longer than necessary.
The title track is a relatively brief ballad which provides a neat respite from the epics that dominate the album. Man Of Glass again features some powerful riffs in the verse section before melting into a very melodic, relatively ‘soft’ chorus. There’s a definite let up in heaviness here compared to the first four tracks but the song still has plenty of pace and momentum and features some scorching solo spots. Blind My Eyes is not so strong however, a somewhat anonymous mid-paced track lacking a memorable chorus. Thankfully Used To Be gets things right back on track, again a song which has some resemblance to Enchant’s material but ups both the heaviness factor and the darkness of mood. To finish things off, Fall On You is a suitably grandiose epic that builds slowly from an acoustic-led introductory section before moving through as series of pace and mood changes as befits a track acting as the album’s grand finale – although again a bit of a trim in the overall length would have improved the song’s impact in my opinion.
No doubt about it, Redemption have produced a strong piece of work here which is certainly one of the better albums in the prog metal genre that I’ve heard this year. Nick van Dyk is clearly emerging as a song-writer of note, and he’s clearly no slouch as a guitarist and keyboard player either. The music is aided by a top-notch production job from Tommy Newton, who manages the trick of making the album sound fearsomely heavy whilst not sacrificing the melodic nuances that can make an album stand out from the crowd. Most noteworthy of all however is the performance of Ray Alder; I’ve never really realised what an exceptional singer he is –perhaps due to the fact that I’m not the world’s greatest Fates Warning fan. Whether it’s down to a different syle of singing, or the fact that he’s fronting a band whose sound is much more to my liking I’m not sure, but from first note to last he puts in a stellar performance here.
Not a perfect album – as I’ve stated in my review some of the songs seem to go on a little longer than necessary; there is the occasional bout of ‘musicianship for musicianship’s sake’, and the track Blind My Eyes is a little below par – but overall this is a strong release which should be lapped up by the majority of prog metal fans.
Threshold – Dead Reckoning
Tracklist: Slipstream (4:53), This Is Your Life (3:41), Elusive (6:10), Hollow (4:00), Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams (9:44), Fighting For Breath (8:16), Disappear (4:17), Safe To Fly (5:06), One Degree Down (8:33)
Martien Koolen's Review
I have been a fan of Threshold’s music ever since their debut album Wounded Land back in 1993. What immediately gripped me was their power, the amazing guitar riffs and melodies and the wonderful voice of Damien Wilson. However when new vocalist Andrew Mac McDermott joined the band their sound grew even better and he also brought an enigmatic and unpredictable edge to the live shows. Their last release Subsurface was one of the musical highlights of 2004 and at that time I was even wondering if Threshold could top that spectacular album. It has been three years since Subsurface and I am glad that their new album is finally out there. Dead Reckoning is a fantastic new album, a masterpiece of melody and power and a must for melodic prog metal lovers. The band signed to Nuclear Blast last year and I am not quite sure why they decide to do that as NB is a true metal label and I thought that Inside Out was a better “place” for Threshold. Fortunately the music has not changed that much, although when I listened to the first track called Slipstream I heard some grunts in the background and I thought to myself, oh no, please do not go that way… You can also hear some grunting during Elusive, but luckily that is hardly noticeable.
As I said the CD kicks off with the amazing song Slipstream which is really a song that sticks in your mind for the rest of the day, it is very melodic, it features a sparkling solo by Karl Groom and Mac’s vocals are extremely well. This is your life would be suitable as a single as it has a very addictive and super catchy chorus and it is Threshold all over.
Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams is the first master piece. A power ballad-like prog metal song with majestic guitar parts, inventive structures, razor sharp hooks and magical vocal parts. Mac and Karl really shine in this epic and this is a song that I am really looking forward to hearing them play on stage. The second gem is called Fighting For Breath which is a song filled again with beautiful, emotional melodies and prog parties. The last track on the album One Degree Down is also a very melodic prog metal song with addictive musical passages, brilliant vocals and extremely well played guitar parts.
Dead Reckoning is heavier but more accessible, it is huge and very diverse and maybe it will be my prog metal album of the year 2007. So bands like Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and even my all time favourite Rush will have difficulties in topping this amazing album.
Louis Koot's Review
Dead Reckoning is the title of the eighth studio album of the UK progressive metal formation Threshold. The term ‘dead reckoning’ stems from the time when sailors had to navigate on the sea without the use of modern day technology, therefore relying on the stars and other natural resources to find their way. An interesting title it is but one that contradicts the music totally. Threshold has no problems finding the way when it comes to their thoroughly constructed progressive metal. Everything seems to fall in place perfectly.
Starting off with the production I can only be in awe again of this crystal clear sound that is massive in the heavy department yet transparent enough to reveal the numerous symphonic details. It comes to mind this might be Threshold heaviest effort to date. But at the same time there is this familiar accessibility that is mainly build up with the layered harmonic vocals. A song like Slipstream grabs you by the throat with huge metal riffs but has a chorus that is easily transmitted to your upper brain to reside there comfortably. The occasional grunts from guest Dan Swano (Edge Of Insanity) are a nice little twist to spice up things without alienating the listener who can’t stand death growls. Underneath the chorus of this song there is an appealing guitar lick. The ending of Slipstream shows the amount of care that went into the construction of the vocal harmonies. I have to admit it took me a while to get used to singer Andrew ‘Mac’ McDermott when he followed up Damian Wilson quite some years ago but by now there is no doubt he is the singer that fits Threshold the best. Second track This Is Your Life is even more easy-going with a chorus that will have you singing along quickly if you want it or not. At the same time this song is major heavy and intense.
It is clear Threshold went into great lengths to make the songs little pieces of art. This might sound exaggerated but I find that the petite symphonic or even electronic intermezzo’s in contrast to the rough guitar parts really bring the music to life. Not all songs are instantly convincing though. Like Elusive for instance that lives up to its title, as I haven’t yet made up my mind if I like this song or not. But the very symphonic opening of Hollow is just breath taking. This track has some great dynamics with piano and guitar bringing variety in intensity. The slight electronic sounds contribute to the charm of the song. I think guitar player Karl Groom has a very distinct sound when it comes to the guitar solos. They are never overdone in ways of pointless shredding but flashy enough to please the guitar freaks. Further more they work inside the framework of the songs. Just pick for example his outstanding but short solo in Disappear. Long time Threshold guitar player Nick Midson is not present on this album as he decided to take a break from the band.
The centre part of the album is the long song Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams that will surely please the progressive rock fans the most. This track brings back memories to some of their older and long songs like Into The Light and Surface To Air. At the same time it has some quieter parts that give the listener opportunity to breath and works well in the middle of the album. Keyboard player Richard West is given more room to shine but the same applies here as with the guitar solos: it always fits the compositions really well. Unlike a Marillion for instance as they sometimes jump from one part to a completely different other part in a song making it sound at least a bit odd (or adventurous depending on your point of view…). Fighting For Breath has more of West’s synthesizer wizardry among which a sparkling metallic sounding keyboard solo. I shouldn’t forget to mention the awesome foundation that gives most songs their profound heaviness. Drummer Joanne James and bassist Steve Anderson lay down the rhythm curves for those huge guitar riffs. Very evident at the beginning of One Degree Down before the song unfolds as a carousel of musical ideas. A grand symphonic finale with melodic guitar wraps matters up in a satisfying way. Like I said: everything falls to place perfectly.
At this moment the shorter and more accessible songs (This Is Your Life, Hollow, Disappear) are my favourites. But I have no doubt that when I get more or less tired of those the other songs start growing on me and get more captivating with the passing of time so they will finally have me hooked. That is the beauty of it all! This is definitely an album that will have a claim on my disc player for a long time. I had my reservations about the fact if Threshold would succeed to top their great Subsurface album but yes, I think they have!
Novembers Doom – The Novella Reservoir
Tracklist: Rain (4:16), The Novella Reservoir (5:23), Drown The Inland Mere (6:00), Twilight Innocence (5:59), The Voice Of Failure (5:52), They Were Left To Die (5:30), Dominate The Human Strain (5:30), Leaving This (7:28)
Chicago’s Novembers Doom were formed back in 1989, but have taken some time to make any headway in the metal scene, with their earlier efforts being seen by many as a pale imitation of more innovative bands across the pond in the UK such as Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. It was really only with the release of 2005’s The Pale Haunt Departure that the band started to be taken more seriously by the metal fraternity, the involvement of such luminaries as Dan Swano (Edge Of Sanity and a thousand others!) with the mixing and legendary death metal guitarist James Murphy with mastering showing that the band had certainly earned the respect of their peers. Both are on board once again for the follow up, The Novella Reservoir.
I often see Novembers Doom’s current sound described as a mix of Opeth and heavy Viking metallers Amon Amarth, and opener Rain certainly holds true to that description, the band wasting no time and tearing straight into a fearsomely heavy mid-paced thrash attack that bears some resemblance to Opeth’s The Leper Affinity. Vocalist Paul Kuhr delivers the lyrics with a harsh growl, although those who are wary of such a vocal style shouldn’t worry too much – if you can handle Mikael Akerfeldt’s efforts then you should be able to handle Kuhr’s, as his delivery is more approachable.
Jangling acoustic guitars introduce the title track, which incorporates a more symphonic feel, particularly in the spiralling chorus, where Kuhr sings the somewhat despondent lyrics in a clean, strident voice. The aggressive, technical riffing on Drown The Inland Mere brings Nevermore to mind, with the bludgeon of the verses again tempered by a more restrained and melodic yet no less dark chorus. The guitar solo on this track is worthy of note, being very much in the style which Gregor Mackintosh was utilising on Paradise Lost’s Draconian Times album.
Next track Twilight Innocence is something of a surprise, and a welcome one at that – a tender, affectionate acoustic ballad, boasting strong, emotion-drenched vocals from Paul Kuhr as he sings what is effectively a paean to his young child. Unlike many such ballads this avoids lurching into sentimentality, and is an effective way of breaking up the heaviness and adding some extra variety to proceedings. The razor sharp riffs of The Voice Of Failure soon plunges the listener back into the heavy stuff again, with another darkly sombre chorus contrasting well with the heaviness in the verses. The solo’s are certainly in an Opeth vein, and there’s even a Middle Eastern tinge to some of the playing towards the latter part of the song.
They Were Left To Die is probably the song that most fits the ‘doom metal’ tag as most fans of the genre will know it, with its crawling verses full of spoken/ chanted vocals leading to a growl-fest of a chorus. Dominate The Human Strain soon shakes the listener out of any torpor they may have fallen into though, probably even beating the opener in the fast and heavy stakes. The album ends on a mellower if not exactly a cheerier note with Leaving This, where a lazy, acoustic-led verse (where the main melody sounds eerily like The House Of The Rising Sun) flows into a chorus which has hints of modern day Katatonia to it, with Kuhr’s clean yet despair-drenched vocals pitted against a wall of thick yet not overtly heavy guitars. The lengthy and rather mellow extended instrumental section at the end of the song is redolent of modern day Opeth – the more pastoral sections of Harlequin Forest comes to mind.
Novembers Doom have certainly upped their game with The Novella Reservoir – this is a classy slice of doom-tinged, riff-heavy metal with undeniable progressive elements. The sound is top-notch (as you might expect given the involvement of Swano and Murphy) and a typically evocative Travis Smith illustration on the cover just adds the icing on the cake. Particularly recommended to Opeth fans, but really this should have a broader appeal – in fact I think anyone who likes their metal dark, heavy, yet melodic should enjoy this.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Thought Chamber – Angular Perceptions
Tracklist: Premonition (2:17), Sacred Treasure (7:00), A Legend’s Avalon (5:46), Balance Of One (6:16), Mr. Qwinkle’s Therapy (5:31), Transmigration Of Souls (6:40), God Of Oblique (5:08), Silent Shore (3:39), Accidentally On Purpose (4:51), A Mind Beyond (7:38)
Tom De Val's Review
Inside Out seem to be using the fact that Enchant’s Ted Leonard is the main vocalist on this album as the focus of its marketing push, but in reality the driving force behind this band (or, more realistically, project) is Texan guitar virtuoso Michael Harris, best known (if at all) as a solo artist with a string of instrumental albums behind him, the best of which was arguably his fine 2001 release Sketches From The Thought Chamber. The seeds for this group album were obviously sown then, so it has taken some six years for the project to finally come to fruition. In the meantime Harris did try his hand at a more song-orientated approach with his Words Collide album in 2003. In my review some of my concluding criticisms were:
"Perhaps the next step forward for Harris would be to hire an outside vocalist, and to concentrate on writing stronger songs and developing a more unique style to make him stand out in the overcrowded prog metal genre."
Well, getting Leonard in (a far superior vocalist to Harris himself) certainly meets one of these requirements, whilst it’s pleasing to note that there has been a significant step up in quality on the song-writing front. Identity-wise it is still quite diverse (not necessarily a bad thing!), but obviously Leonard’s unique voice ties things together nicely. In addition to Leonard and Harris, Thought Chamber includes bassist Derek Blakeley, keyboard player Bobby Williamson and Rob Stankiewicz on drums. All three provide some sterling work, with Blakeley’s funk-infused playing being of particular note, and really adding some extra groove to proceedings.
The album opens with the short instrumental Premonition, a shred-tastic piece which gives fair warning to Enchant fans that will this will be a far heavier and more virtuoso-led affair than they may be used to! Premonition segues into Sacred Treasure, with Harris grinding out some heavy riffs before the song settles into a more choppy rhythm. Initially Leonard starts in a register that is a little lower than we’re used to hearing from him, but come the chorus he is soon hitting the high notes he’s known for. The song is a little similar to Enchant’s own The Thirst (from their 93 debut Blueprint For The World), although it obviously has a slightly heavier edge. Harris also wheels off a very IQ-esque solo around the mid-section of the song. Strong riffs and interesting instrumental breaks combine to make an enjoyable opener.
A Legend’s Avalon is one of the highlights of the album, from the wonderfully OTT opening lines ‘To A Timeless Universe…’ and superb opening solo from Harris onwards. Tight coiled riffs and Leonard’s strong, controlled delivery on the verse leads to an impassioned AOR-informed chorus, whilst the solo spots here are particularly impressive, with Bobby Williamson shining. Following this, Balance Of One is a more conventional power metal number with a vaguely modern feel to it, although the track perhaps suffers a little due to the fact that Leonard doesn’t seem too comfortable with this more aggressive style. Mr Qwinkle’s Therapy is an instrumental, very much in the vein of Harris’ solo work – i.e. its slightly tricksy and chocked full of notes, but still emphasises melody and groove over showmanship.
Transmigration Of Souls is a reasonable if unspectacular number that is dominated by solo spots. There is a middle-eastern feel to some of the guitar work, whilst again I got that early Enchant feel from one of Harris’ soaring solos towards the end of the track. God of Oblique ups the ante, an exuberant, groove-orientated rocker with a great chorus. Silent Shore allows the listener to take a breather; its’ a nicely restrained, slightly folk-rock-ish, peaceful track, with Leonard stretching his vocal chords to impressive effect. The riff-heavy, energy-infused instrumental Accidentally On Purpose features some great slap bass playing from Derek Blakeley, some bluesy hard-rock style soloing from Harris, and some great keyboard and guitar interplay.
A Mind Beyond rounds out the album in typically bombastic style, with a stately, portentous build-up leading to a militaristic, see-sawing rhythm in the verses. The build-up takes its time, and is not topped with the big chorus you might expect. There are some fine Queen-influenced moments on the song, although I feel the songwriting could have been a bit tighter on this one, as some of the latter parts of the song degenerate into rather aimless jamming.
Overall, this is a pretty good if not spectacular, effort from Harris and co. Prog metal fans will doubtless find much to enjoy, but should approach in the knowledge that this is a far more technical affair than they might expect given Leonard’s involvement. That said, Harris, for someone of his obvious talent, is relatively restrained on the majority of tracks, and has focussed on melody and rhythm here. Being a project involving musicians who weren’t all in the studio at the same time, the album inevitably has a bit of a ‘cut and paste’ feel to it at times, and doesn’t always flow as seamlessly as I would perhaps have liked, but in general the quality control is kept pretty high, and all concerned can be pleased with their efforts here.
Andy Read's Review
Technically brilliant, yet song-writingly inconsistent progressive metal. In a nutshell that’s exactly what you’ll get if you take the plunge and buy this debut album from American newcomers Thought Chamber.
The band is lead by renowned guitarist Michael Harris. Best known for his work in Arch Rival and numerous solo albums, it is actually his 2001 release Sketches From The Thought Chamber from which many of the songs here, as well as the band’s name, developed.
Angular Perceptions contains three instrumentals and seven proper songs. Whilst Harris contributes vocals to one of these, the main attraction to many fans of progressive music will be the involvement of Enchant vocalist Ted Leonard.
I’ve been a longstanding fan of Ted’s voice and was interested to see how he would cope with a much heavier and intense form of music. The answer is, that he has brought it off with aplomb. At times his voice is barely recognisable from the softer vibrato he utilises with Enchant. Here he utilises a much wider range with an impressive strength and power. Once or twice, as in halfway through Transmigration Of Souls, the upper range is just a step too far, but overall Leonard puts in a really convincing performance.
The one track where his vocals don’t work is Balance of One. Or rather, his vocals didn’t work until I read the promo sheet properly and realised that is the song on which Harris sings!! The production is excellent in allowing plenty of space for each instrument to shine, and when Harris concentrates purely on the need to write a good song, then all the pieces fall together with some impact. The first two tracks are superb, especially Sacred Temple with a great groove, some great melodies and some well-executed progressive time changes. Similarly, the lovely pop/rock chorus built around a chunky Sabbathesque riff carries the listener happily through A Legend’s Avalon. Later on, the balladic Silent Shore wouldn’t be out of place on an Enchant album.
The problem, is that Harris just can’t resist the temptation to repeatedly go off at odd tangents of instrumental excess. This is ProgMetal, so you expect songs to have extended solo sections. But they should at least have some relationship to the main song. For the most part here, the solo sections could just as well be random inserts from Harris’s instrumental albums. Add this to the two instrumentals, and with the flow of the album constantly interrupted, my attention tends to wander. Further add the fact that the later songs aren’t of the same standard as the opening pair, and you do get a frustrating feeling of inconsistency.
Thought Chamber is a band/project that clearly has all the ingredients to produce a really great ProgMetal album. In parts, Harris has admirably blended those ingredients together to make some songs that will have an equal appeal to fans of Enchant and Dream Theater.
If he can only leave the instrumental excesses to his solo albums and concentrate on his obvious song writing abilities, then I’m sure a second album will be far more consistent.
Therion - Gothic Kabbalah
Disc 1: Der Mitternachtlöwe (5:38), Gothic Kabbalah (4:33), The Perennial Sophia (4:54), Wisdom And The Cage (5:01), Son Of The Staves of Time (4:47), Tuna 1613 (4:23), Trul (5:11), Close Up The Streams (3:55)
Disc 2: The Wand Of Abaris (5:51), Three Treasures (5:20), Path To Arcady (3:54), TOF - The Trinity (6:18), Chain Of Minerva (5:21), The Falling Stone (4:46), Adulruna Rediviva (13:37)
Nuclear Blast promotional literature bills Gothic Kabbalah as:
"15 songs ... of pure musicality and subtleness. Expect some surprises..... This is the next level, the new rising sun of Symphonic Metal. Therion are once again challenging the listener in a very positive way. Gothic Kabbalah is a trip through mysticism, metal and maturity. A trip that you will never forget!”
This is probably just as well since I have been struggling for some time now to describe the album. It is certainly symphonic - the band has four vocalists for solos and harmonies; plenty of keyboards for strings, horns and general synth sounds. Put it all together and you get songs of epic proportions. The music journeys through classic metal, operatic and symphonic metal via prog rock, death metal and folk metal.. There is some kind of genius at work putting elements of Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Helloween, Dio, Queensryche, Ron Geesin and Phantom of the Opera together without the whole thing collapsing under its own weight. This is due in part to a polished but not overly clinical production. Each instrument can be clearly heard but there is still an organic richness to the sound that emulates a live performance in a concert hall.
The vocal sound on this album has changed from previous releases. Mats Levén is joined by Snowy Shaw as Christopher Johnsson has retired from singing. This takes the band even further from its early death metal days. The grunting Cookie Monster male vocals have gone altogether to be replaced by dramatic Phantom Of The Opera and 80s metal vocals.
The theme for the album is the ancient world and its pre Christian religions and symbolism. The music cleverly incorporates themes from European and Arabic folk music to set the scene. Some of the lyrical content sounds clichéd, but that’s understandable since the subject matter has been plundered by rock bands for the last 30 years now. What Therion do best is to mix musical styles and influences to create a sound all their own.
A lot of tracks start out well, but lose their way part way through. The opening track Der Mitternachtlöwe for example kicks off the album well (‘90’s Def Leppard gives way to a Ron Geesin horn section before moving into a gothic metal track. The keyboard interludes and Banjo riff break the track up into neat sections and keep the track interesting for a while, but then it starts getting repetitive. Did this track need to be nearly 6 minutes long? As an opener it would have been better kept to a punchier 4 minutes. On the other hand, The Wand Of Arabis has a sound that builds such that each verse - chorus repetition is given greater depth as additional guitar, keyboard and string parts layer the sound beautifully over a mid-pace metal base.
Gothic Kabbalah is creative, entertaining, displays both great technical musical and vocal skills from all concerned, but is also too lengthy, confused and variable to be a classic album. There are a number of stand out tracks on the two discs: Gothic Kabbalah; Son Of The Staves Of Time; Tuna 1613; Trul; The Wand Of Arabis; Three Treasures; Path To Arcady. If you put all these songs together there would be 40 to 45 minutes of excellent symphonic metal. As it is though, Gothic Kabbalah has too many ideas, too much music. All good, but rarely great.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Sun Caged - Artemisia
Tracklist: Lyre's Harmony (7:22), A Fair Trade (6:26), Unborn (6:27), Bloodline (9:30), Painted Eyes (4:26), Engembert The Inchworm (4:36), Afraid To Fly (7:09), Dialogue (8:24), Departing Words (8:05), Doldrums (7:31)
With only guitarist Marcel Coenen remaining from the band that released their self-titled debut album four years ago, fans could be forgiven for thinking that Sun Caged Mark II would be an entirely different beast.
After having spent a good month with the band in their new home of Artemisia, I can put any fears of wholesale changes in their musical direction to rest. Despite a virtually new line-up, the band's second album holds more than a respectful musical nod to the past. The traditional Sun Caged sound is very much still present with some catchy vocal melodies, virtuoso guitar mastery, odd time signatures, ever-changing vocal keys and complex chord sequences, all topped off with a powerful sound and dynamic production.
New singer Paul Adrian Villarreal is certainly more accessible than his predecessor. I personally quite liked Andre Vuurboom, but could see how is prediliction for the upper echelons of vocal possibilities, could grate with some people. However I'm still not totally convinced by the Sun Caged vocals. Whether it's the singer or whether it's the vocal melodies I'm not sure. With no sleeve notes (or lyrics or even an album cover!!) for the promo, which I have to work with, it's unclear whether Paul was actually involved in the song writing process.
Having seen the band perform recently at the Headway Festival, I would suggest that the songs might not have been written with his voice in mind. On stage he came across with a very melodic, bluesy twang to his voice that I don't really detect here.
Song-wise the album's better tunes are at the start. Lyre's Harmony, A Fair Trade, Unborn and Bloodline are all quality ProgMetal workouts. The band still has that tendency to go off at odd and often long tangents with the instrumental passages. However with a title like Engembert The Inchworm, and placing it neatly in the middle of the album, I can forgive the schizoid, guitar-shred instrumental.
If you don't enjoy songs with extended, offbeat instrumental workouts then this will pass you buy. However for anyone who enjoyed the band's first album, then this will be an easy purchase. The weaker songs on the second half of the disc, means this just falls short of a whole-hearted recommendation. With a new singer now on board, let's just hope we don't have to wait four years for album number three.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
After Forever – After Forever
Tracklist: Discord (4:36), Evoke (4:23), Transitory (3:28), Energize Me (3:09), Equally Destructive (3:31), Withering Time (4:31), De-Energized (5:09), Cry With A Smile (4:25), Envision (3:56), Who I Am (4:35), Dream Flight (11:08), Empty Memories (4:55)
The best Dutch rock band of this moment has finally released their finest album to date called After Forever, as it is a “compilation” of everything the band has done so far. The album has lots of atmosphere (Decipher), progressive aspects (Invisible Circles), catchy melodies (Remagine) and lots of power (Prison Of Desire). The new album is a splendid musical mix of pop, industrial, progressive, metal, classical and rock elements, perfectly produced by Gordon Groothedde. There are also some well-known guest appearances on the CD, namely Doro and Jeff Waters of Annihilator. The entire album is filled with heavy guitar riffs, killer grooves, keyboard layers, amazing melodies, but most of all with the fabulous, unbelievable voice of Floor. Her vocals are so crystal clear on this album that one wonders how this will sound on stage. Especially in brilliant songs like Cry With A Smile (an extraordinary ballad), the epic Dream Flight and the out of this world chill to the bone power ballad Empty Memories her golden voice enchants the listener.
But there is a lot more to enjoy on this album, take for example the up tempo song De-Energized with sparkling guitar solos of Mister Annihilator and Sander Gommans. Or the wonderful song Who I Am featuring the German metal lady Doro, a couple of really doomy riffs and some Eastern influences. Energize Me is the first single of the album and that one could well turn into a hit single as it has a really addictive chorus that will stay in your system for days to come…
However the musical highlight of this CD is without any doubt the longest track called Dream Flight, a song with lots of diversity. It is bombastic, you can enjoy grunts (not really my thing, but they fit in here nicely), the keyboards are very dominant, Bas Maas (the other guitar player) sings a couple of lines, and there is again the magical throat of Floor, giving me gooseflesh almost during the entire eleven minutes.
Need I say more, this album will become After Forever’s real musical breakthrough and that is well deserved after four studio albums and their tenth year anniversary. Buy or die!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Serenity - Words Untold & Dreams Unlived
Tracklist: Canopus 3 (4:31), Thriven (6:23), Dreams Unlived [instrumental] (0:51), Reduced To Nothingness (4:55), Forever (6:43), Dead Man Walking (4:54), From Where The Dark Is Born (6:18), Words Untold [instrumental] (0:58), Circle Of My 2nd Life (5:33), Engraved Within (6:22)
I like this. I like this a lot. With an album that simply has too much class and maturity to be their debut release, Serenity has become the first band from Austria to ever grab my attention.
The quintet was actually formed six years ago, but thanks to a major line-up change as well as a rethink to their musical direction, they took a while to get going. A demo two years ago and the chance to support Ronnie James Dio was enough to send them into the Dreamscape Studios in Munich to record their self-financed, first full-length disc, which was duly snapped up for a worldwide deal by Napalm Records, a label currently trying to expand its repertoire away from the more extreme end of metal. The resulting Words Untold... is a truly accomplished slice of melodic, progressive power metal that should raise the band's profile considerably.
Musically, Serenity lies alongside the more direct, melodic ProgPower metal, best performed by the likes of Kamelot, Morifade, Sonata Arctica and Lanfear. At times they remind me of a less progressive VandenPlas. There is a touch of symphonics in the keyboard arrangements and it's not progressive in the widdley, extended soloing style of say Dream Theater. The highlight is the opening Canopus 3, which due to the clever vocal harmonies and deep riffing, bears more than a passing resemblance to Threshold. But pretty much every song has something to warrant many repeat plays.
As long as you don't mind the slight Germanic accent that brings to mind Klaus Meine, the vocals of Georg Neuhauser suit the music perfectly. But it's the guitar of Thomas Buchberger that adds real class to the 10 tracks. The deep riffing provides a tight, intense and ever-changing musical backdrop that really gets the head-a-banging, whilst his crisp, melodic solos are top class.
Mastered in Helsinki's famous Finnvox Studios, the sound strikes the perfect balance between heaviness and crispness, whilst the cover art should catch a few eyes on the shelves. Surely a contender for newcomer of the year. As I said at the start, I really like this.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Symphorce - Become Death
Tracklist: Darkness Fills The Sky (4:53), Condemned (4:52), In The Hopes Of A Dream (5:08), Death Has Come (5:22), Inside The Cast (4:38), No Final Words To Say (4:56), Towards The Light (4:11), Ancient Prophecies (4:59), Lost But Found (4:11), Lies (8:50)
Symphorce are a band whose main players – vocalist Andy B. Franck and guitarist Cede Dupont – are probably best known for their ‘other’ bands – respectively, Brainstorm and Freedom Call. Yet whilst Symphorce have probably been seen by many as something of a side-project in the past, this is in fact their sixth album – pretty good going by any standards. In addition, given that Brainstorm’s last album Liquid Monster was slightly disappointing, and Freedom Call are never really likely to emerge from the foliage of the over-crowded Euro power metal tree, it would be no surprise if Franck and Dupont started to take Symphorce a little more seriously, especially if they keep pumping out albums of the quality of Become Death.
Musically, whilst Symphorce may well have once have made music that leaned on the ‘symph’ side of their name, its very much the ‘phorce’ part that’s in evidence on Become Death. Heavy, mid-paced riffs, brooding atmospheres, a rock-solid rhythm section and Franck’s powerful, controlled vocals are the key ingredients here, although the band never forget to include plenty of melody within their songs. They are also masters of the anthemic chorus, with almost all of the songs boasting one. In terms of comparators I would say a slightly more straightforward, less heavy Nevermore is closest to the mark, whilst Promised Land-era Queensrÿche also comes to mind. In terms of some of the dual leads from Dupont and Markus Pohl Iron Maiden are an easy but obvious reference point. Brainstorm also come to mind – perhaps inevitably given that Franck sings for both bands, and they operate in broadly similar genres – but there is probably more light and shade and a stronger emphasis on melody in Symphorce’s work.
Symphorce clearly like to show that they don’t operate in a vacuum, and the songs on Become Death are liberally scattered with some intriguing and surprising elements that you perhaps wouldn’t expect – the breakneck double-bass drumming that opens Darkness Fills The Sky almost makes you think you’ve picked up a black metal CD by mistake; Condemned weaves a dark elecronica motif into its structure; both In The Hopes Of A Dream and Inside The Cast have gothic keyboards and riffs which sound similar to the style Paradise Lost were pursuing circa One Second, whilst the stunning arpeggios on Ancient Prophecies wouldn’t disgrace an album by Egyptian-inspired technical death metallers Nile. Traditionalists need not worry too much though, as in the end these are merely interesting flourishes which add colour but don’t detract from the meat of the songs. Highlights are hard to pick out, but personally speaking the likes of the stately, anthemic No Final Words To Say and the raging yet melodic riff-fests Towards The Light and Death Has Come probably made the strongest impressions.
Symphorce do there best to blot their copybook with the inclusion of an awful ‘hilarious’ secret track at the end of Lies (so 1990’s lads..), but in the end it can’t detract from a very solid and enjoyable release which should find favour with those who like their metal dark, heavy and melodic.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Memories Lab - Empathy
Tracklist: Epilogue (3:52), Hydra (3:34), Just Excuses (5:00), Final Day (7:35), Tears and Blood (4:22)
Starting life as a progressive metal cover band, it wasn't long before this Italian five-piece became confident enough to start writing its own songs. On the basis of this five track demo, I'm glad that they did.
The disc opens with a gently lamenting Epilogue where a good keyboard melody is carried by a lightly plucked guitar. The band then moves up several gears with Hydra and Just Excuses morphing into each other to form one long song which has the dark, brooding mood of Remedy Lane era Pain of Salvation mixed with the rougher riffing of rising Greek metallers Wastefall. There's a good use of dynamics across this pairing, with piano and orchestration mixing it up with some heavy guitar.
The standout track comes in the shape of Final Day where a wonderful loopy bass run and some lilting guitar conjures up a superb Wolverine meets Seiges Even sound, with a nod of respect to disbanded Hungarian progmetallers Stonehenge. The keyboards add a nice progrock vibe to the more metallic crunch of the guitars and there's a clever Sabbathesque weight to the second part of the song.
We close with Tears And Blood where Stonehenge meets Pain of Salvation on a second date with Wastefall. This is the least effective song. Whilst the band retains a good sense of dynamics and melody, the guitar really jars, becoming just a noise in the background. The production, which sounds sharp elsewhere, becomes too crowded and the vocals are not as strong as before.
However there is more than enough to show that Memories Lab is a band with many tricks up its sleeve. It has a sound that borrows from elsewhere but brings its influences together in a way that sounds fresh and exciting. Singer Giovanni Girone has that typical Italian twang to his voice but has a nice touch of soul which matches the music perfectly.
Apparently these tracks are to be developed further as the basis for the band's debut concept album. I await its arrival with interest. In the meantime check out their MySpace page (link above) for a free taster.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10