REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Votum - Metafiction
Tracklist: Falling Dream (9:04), Glassy Essence (6:16), Home (6:31), Faces (3:55), Stranger Than Fiction (4:23), Indifferent (4:58), December 20th (9:25)
With the aim of getting your attention from the start, this is an early contender for my album of the year. The second disc from this Polish septet is an absorbing mix of early period Riverside and latter day Wolverine.
After the enthusiastic raptures for their debut album Time Must Have A Stop, the band signed a three-album European deal with the increasingly reliable Mystic Production.
A concept album consisting of seven dark, melodic compositions, Metafiction is significantly more atmosphere-laden than the debut. It is also far mellower and less obviously progressive. It will take four or five listens for the melodies and atmosphere to sink in but this slow grower will reward you with a very long (CD) shelf life.
With the volume cranked up it soars, thanks to an excellent production which allows every sinew of the spaciously clear instrumentation to sparkle. The thoughtful lyrics are fixed around some fantastically unobtrusive yet addictive melodies. The drum work is intelligent, the two guitarists have a palette of styles to catch the individual moment of every song. A lot of their solos remind me of Satellite, Riverside and Believe in the less-is-more approach. I also really like the singer. A little smoother than Mariusz Duda, but a little less emotive than Stephan Zell. Unique and distinct, but not in an off-putting way.
This hasn’t followed Wolverine’s Still in getting the Full Monty DPRP score. The only reason is that tracks 5-7 don’t quite maintain the same high consistency as the others. Nothing is obviously wrong with them. They just don’t hit me with what’s required for a 10/10.
Whilst Metafiction and Time Must Have A Stop are dynamically different, both are truly accomplished offerings in their own right. Personally, I'm leaning in the modern, atmospheric prog direction more and more, so this is right up my street. Unfortunately, putting out a ProgMetal beast like the debut album and then completely easing it down for the follow-up isn't going to sit well with some fans who liked their heavier approach. It does break out here and there in heavy bursts. One very heavy song features growly vocals, but in the end this disc is all about the atmosphere.
Looking at it from another direction, those who didn’t like the heaviness of the debut may lap-up the mellower approach here. Fans of Porcupine Tree would definitely be advised to sample. Offering less than 45 minutes of music, this album may also be a song or two on the light side for some. In a similar way to last year’s Riverside, I’d much rather an album leaves me seeking more, than seeking the pause button.
I really hope Votum manages to get out on the European roads to support this record. The combination of their two albums in a live setting will be well worth seeing. I know this album’s only just been released, but I can't wait to hear where these guys evolve to next. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
André Matos - Mentalize
Tracklist: Leading On! (5:09), I Will Return (5:10), Someone Else (5:47), Shift The Night Away (5:00), Back To You (4:15), Mentalize (4:06), The Myriad (5:10), When The Sun Cried Out (4:40), Mirror Of Me (4:17), Violence (5:02), A Lapse In Time (2:46), Powerstream (4:13)
André Matos' solo career is beginning to shape up nicely. After Viper, Angra and Shaman, Mentalize is his second solo effort. Although, solo? No André Matos is a band and his 'partners in crime' are all established, top class musicians with whom Matos has worked with throughout his career. Only exception is the ultimate drumming talent who is new to the world of progressive, melodic metal. It is the youngster Eloy Casagrande, just 18 years of age. The other members of the band are Hugo Mariutti (guitars ~ ex-Shaman), Luis Mariutti (bass ~ ex-Angra & ex-Shaman), Fabio Ribeiro (keyboards ~ ex-Shaman & played with Angra live) and the incredible André Hernandez (guitars ~ who played in the first incarnation of Angra). No one less than Sascha Paeth (After Forever, Kamelot, Epica, Heaven's Gate, AINA) was the producer so one should know this side of the album is top notch too. More information about Matos can be found in the Specials Section.
This album has already been released in Japan a while ago and is a smash hit there and in my opinion it has every right to be. Although Mentalize has more metal influences than progressive, there are enough orchestrations and characteristics of progressive music to justify this review, but I admit the music is closer to metal than 'prog'.
Opening song Leading On! begins with an orchestral somewhat oriental prelude. Then the modestly mixed double bass drums come in and we have an up-tempo prog metal song with nice choruses a bit in the vein of Symphony X. As melodic but also heavy as Dream Theater can be, is the second song I Will Return, the chorus, with tasteful vocal harmonies, resembles the melodic rock from German - bands like Edguy or Mob Rules. In Someone Else part of the vocals are distorted, the tempo is quite fast and Casagrande exhibits his qualities as a drummer and you can appreciate dazzling guitar solos by Mariutti and Hernandez, both guitar virtuosos. A very nice slow break in the middle section of the song, with piano and orchestrations and then the full band returns.
Next song Shift The Night Away is more like the old Angra: very melodic but nevertheless genuine speed metal, but a sudden change in tempo to a lower gear makes the difference and distinguishes Matos from for example Dragonforce. The inevitable ballad is called Back To You and here Matos proves he's able to sing a ballad too and he is still able to reach impressively high notes. In the title track Matos explores his roots again and it might well have been a forgotten but darn good Angra song. Bombastic and melodic is The Myriad, a bit slower and nice contrasts in the intonation. Ribeiro comes up with tasteful string arrangements and turns the metal into melodic progressive metal. Even more bombastic, almost gothic metal in the vein of Within Temptation is When The Sun Cried Out and again there is beautiful piece with Matos singing alone with accompaniment by the piano or piano and guitars, alternated by more up-tempo pieces.
Mirror Of Me combines old style hard rock with progressive interludes, AOR-like choruses and catchy choruses, whilst some parts are up tempo speed metal. Orchestral sounds at first in Violence but the catchy vocal harmonies are sung over the high speed rhythm patterns provided by Casagrande's double bass drums. A flashy guitar solo and a piano piece in yet another tempo is proof of the versatility of Matos as composer, because he doesn't settle for plain verses and choruses but keeps weaving these quite complicated changes in rhythms, instrumentation and vocal intonations throughout all his songs. The few orchestral notes seem almost like a misfit as the album continues with Matos singing and playing the piano. This song could easily have been arranged to be a nice 'band-ballad' but the choice for this acoustic version has a much bigger impact - as the last song of the album, Powerstream, is a piece of heavily orchestrated speed metal with progressive touches.
These twelve compositions make Mentalize a very consistent album that ranks amongst the best albums in the genre: Matos RULES and with this incredible band he will be able to strive for even more success, not only in Brazil or Japan, but surely also in Europe. Because I realize this music balances on the far edge of progressive music and might be tending more to hard rock, I will refrain from an even higher score, but I would still cordially recommend this album to all fans of bands like Angra, Shaman, Heaven's Gate, At Vance or Pagan's Mind.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Andeavor - Once Upon A Time
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||PMM Music|
|Year of Release:||1999/2009|
Tracklist: Deja Vu (4:47), Spotlight (6:32), Heaven's Gate (6:17), One More Day (5:54), Jigsaw (6:16), Crimson Tears (5:01), Face Paint (7:35), The Long Walk (4:33), Anybody's Guess (5:24), False Profit (3:57), House Of Rags (8:55), Migraine (6:21)
Andeavor - The Darkest Tear
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||PMM Music|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Under My Breath (5:44), Far Behind (5:21), Curse This Storm (5:36), Chasing The Sun (6:02), Vague (4:56), Insomnia (5:42), Tomorrow (6:30), Not Alone (5:35)
U.S. band Andeavor released their second album, The Darkest Fear, in 2009, 10 years after debut, Once Upon A Time. The band - Chris Rodler (Guitar Synth & Keys), Doug Peck (Bass & Lead Vocals), Steve Starvaggi (Drums) and Steve Matusik (Guitars) – play progressive metal in the Dream Theater/Fates Warning zone with some Rush influences.
Matusik and Peck got together in 1994 to form Andromeda, Starvaggi and Rodler joining later. Rodler had formed Progressive Music Management as an independent label to help local progressive musicians recording in his home studio and this is where the debut was recorded. With the regrouping of Andeavor and the recording of a new album the debut has also been re-released and Once Upon A Time opens with the melodic onslaught of Deja Vu. There is power and fine playing but the needs of the song are never pushed into second place. Matusik’s soloing is good without being comparable to the likes of John Petrucci and Doug Peck’s vocals, stylistically akin to James LaBrie, are a little wayward at times but not to the point where it drags down the song.
Throughout the rest of the album the influence mainly focuses on Dream Theater with a fine display from the rhythm section. Tracks like Spotlight and Jigsaw move more towards ‘80s Rush territory with the use of sweeping keys. One More Day slows things down a bit, Peck’s spoken intro setting the tone to the keyboard-heavy song and Jigsaw features a piano intro before a dose of heaviness is injected, the rhythm varying to good effect. Face Paint switches tempo and feel regularly and The Long Walk makes good use of keys within its epic feel. Anybody’s Guess also continues the Rush influence with lots of melody and a nicely arranged guitar solo. False Profit has an Eastern feel and House Of Rags, the longest track, builds slowly with more Rush influence, Migraine bringing proceedings to a heavy conclusion.
Overall a fine debut and an enjoyable listen; nicely produced and entertaining with lots going for it. The slight wobbles from Peck don’t detract from the skill of the performances. There is no lyric sheet but the words here and there appear a little contrived and over the top but, no matter, this is sure to appeal to many fans of DT and mid period Rush.
The new album, The Darkest Tear, sees a change in personnel and sound with Rodler leaving the band and fulfilling the producers’ role. The loss of the keys tightens up the sound and the band manages to keep the variety and interest as a three piece with Under My Breath a fine opener. The influences are still there but the sound seems to have developed more into the bands own and, again, the performances are excellent. This album is much shorter and perhaps the brevity also helps to keep it fresh.
Far Behind again shows their liking for an Eastern feel and the use of harmony vocals for effect. Acoustic guitar adds to Curse This Storm and Chasing The Sun builds and smoulders in the fashion of many Rush tracks – only with James LaBrie singing! Nice solo from Matusik here too. Peck seems more at ease and puts in some excellent vocals although the scream on Insomnia is not the best I have ever heard and the band don’t need to rely on such ‘80s metal tricks as the track itself is great. Tomorrow uses dynamics very well with a great bass sound and Not Alone calms things down and ties the album up well with mid-paced melody.
Both of these albums are well worth a listen but, for me, the latest takes it - tight and well played prog metal with an ear for a good melody and power in spades. Good stuff.
Once Upon A Time : 7.5 out of 10
The Darkest Tear : 8 out of 10
Prymary – The Enemy Inside
Tracklist: The Enemy Inside: Part I (4:27), Part 2 (4:33), Part 3 (2:45), Part 4 (4:18), Part 5 (2:14), Inflicted (5:00), Disillusion (6:15), Edge Of Discovery (6:57), Trial And Tragedy (20:33)
US prog metallers Prymary have had a sizeable change in personnel since the release of their last album The Tragedy Of Innocence back in 2006, although with mainstays Sean Entrikin (guitars) and Chris Quirarte (drums) still on board, it’s perhaps no surprise that there’s no great change in style on The Enemy Inside, the band’s third release.
Prymary play a mix of highly technical, at times aggressive yet melodic progressive metal a’la Redemption (whom Quirarte – whose intricate yet powerful drumming stands out throughout – also plays for) and a more organic, progressive rock-style sound, replete with some great piano and organ work from (now ex-) keyboard player Smiley Sean.
Prymary are probably most in their element on the lengthier epics such as the five-part title track and the epic closer Trial Of Tragedy, as these allow the band space to stretch out and develop musical themes – shorter tracks such as Inflicted and the more modern flavoured Disillusion aren’t in any way bad, but the band do seem to be trying to cramming too many ideas in to these songs sometimes. The various band members’ technical prowess – particularly that of Entrikin and Quirarte – is never in doubt, although for the most part they manage to avoid ramming their undoubted abilities down the listener’s throat. More problematic at times are the rather abrupt changes from one section of a song to another, completely different part – these often serve to disrupt the flow of the material.
New vocalist Jackson Heskett seems like a decent addition to the line-up – his slightly soulful, raspy voice can handle most styles, although is at its best on the slower, more ‘proggy’ sections. I’m not keen on his more aggressive, effects-laden shout-y efforts, particularly on Disillusion – a rather unfortunate trait that was started a few years ago by Dream Theater and has been picked up by some of their contemporaries. The production is adequate on a technical level, but the album’s sound can sometimes come across as a bit sterile and lacking emotion, particularly in the heavier sections.
Overall, whilst no masterpiece this is a decent effort by Prymary, with some strong song-writing on show. Yes, The Enemy Inside has its flaws, but those genre fans in to the likes of Redemption, Fates Warning and Zero Hour will find plenty to savour here.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Echoes - Nature|Existence
Tracklist: Epilogue [...Is Where We Start] (2:48), Rude Awakening (6:32), Leaf Motif (6:11), Lullaby (4:21), Bonfires (3:21), Unfair (6:15), Seasons Came To Pass (1:44), Far From Coincidence (4:17), Despair (5:33), Winds Of Dread (3:40), Farewell (3:32), Prologue - [Where We End...] (4:48)
Following on the heels of the excellent RC2, the debut from another Venezuelan band treads the same line between progressive rock and metal. RC2’s excellent Future Awaits made it into my Top 10 two years ago. Echoes is quite likely to find a similar spot this coming December.
Dream Theater and Vanden Plas are the clearest comparisons. However the music isn't as heavy as most progressive metal bands and there’s an abundance of symphonic and atmospheric prog to delve into. It’s a very American sounding record. The Latin influence is there but it’s very subtle - another similarity to RC2.
Nature|Existence is a concept telling a story of love found and lost over the cyclical nature of life. As the band puts it: “Break-ups are a prologue to life shifting again.” The concept is largely restricted to the lyrical essence. The tracks stand on their own, albeit each flows effortlessly into its successor, giving the impression of one (very) long song.
What may not be to everyone’s liking is that only five of the songs have vocals – with four different guest singers. For the record they are: Tobias Jansson (Silent Scythe, The Law), Nick Storr (Australian Prog rockers The Third Ending), Carl Webb (Oceanwerks) and Pedro Castillo (Tempano, Auditus). Of these I’d only heard of the latter.
Knowing this form the sleeve notes did give me a feeling of trepidation. However three factors make it less of a barrier than normal.
Firstly all four singers are very good and not wildly different in their styles. Secondly the way the tracks tend to flow into one another, means that the instrumentals often appear as just extended intros/outros. Finally, despite being complex compositions, all the tracks on this album are just swimming in great melodic ideas.
And, boy, can these guys play? Echoes consists of four guitarists, including slide and lap-steel guitar along with bass, keys, percussion, drums and sax. I bet they’re a riot live?
In short, this is a very impressive debut from a band with a very bright future ahead, especially as the music here will easily appeal to fans of both ProgRock and ProgMetal.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aspera - Ripples
Tracklist: Intro (1:30), Ripples (6:33), Do I Dare? (5:31), Remorse (6:21), Between Black & White (8:12), Catatonic Coma (5:44), Torn Apart (4:58), Traces Inside (7:51), Reflections (2:03), The Purpose (5:58)
Aspera, (Latin for 'thorns') are five musicians hailing from Skien, Norway and are active as a band since 2005 though in a slightly different line-up than in their schooldays. All members were about nineteen years of age when they conceived this album, which is quite remarkable. Although one can hear a great variety of influences, some of these guys must have listened to/have been inspired by bands like Pain of Salvation, Pagan's Mind, Stratovarius or Symphony X. The band recorded the album in their home studio but the mix and mastering were done by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Paradise Lost among others). The artwork was done by Gustavo Savez.
Ripples opens with Intro: a rather soundtrack like piece of music, almost EM with some voices from radio broadcasts. Intro flows right through into the title track, a prog-metal song in the vein of Pagan's Mind. Immediately it becomes clear we have four fine musicians at work. Nice hooks, tempo changes, tasteful choruses and a good lead vocalist named Atle Pettersen, as long as he sings in his lower regions, as well as in the choruses, which feature really nice harmonies. When Pettersen forces his vocal chords it doesn't sound quite so natural. In my humble opinion this is the only serious criticism on this album, but since the vocals are an important part of the music, this weighs rather heavily where the rating is concerned. In the second part of Ripples we have a virtuoso keyboard solo by Nickolas Main Henriksen, in the style of Stratovarius' Jens Johansson, as well as some stunning duets between Henriksen and guitarist Robin Ognedal matching the ones by Dream Theater.
A bit more mellow are the vocal parts of Do I Dare, a nice pop song with Journey influences and several more heavy instrumental interludes in the vein of bands like Artension, Kenziner or Andromeda. Whilst in the slower pieces of Remorse, the band and especially Pettersen sound like Pain of Salvation and Daniel Gildenlow. A very impressive varied composition with references to Symphony X but definitely no copy cats.
The longest track on this album is called Black & White and next to the prog-metal characteristics there are some fragments that remind of early Spock's Beard. Outstanding craftsmanship from drummer Joachim Strøm Ekelund and Rein T. Blomquist on the bass. The fine melodies with catchy choruses are alternated by heavenly instrumental pieces, a nice bit of classical piano, as well an awesome sliding guitar solo. A haunting opening for Catatonic Coma is followed by rather heavy riffs in the vein of Evergrey, then in lower gear with a 'telephone voice' by Pettersen, and then the tempo goes up again with the melodic chorus. Symphonic keyboards accompany Ognedal when he plays his axe like a genuine guitar hero but Henriksen too plays his synth like the top keyboardists in the genre. At the end of the song I get the feeling there are some Therion influences as well.
Beautifully sung are the verses in more mellow song Torn Apart featuring the piano. Ognedal's guitar sounds a bit like Petrucci's and the choruses again are catchy but heavier as well. In Traces Inside we hear Symphony X influenced instrumental parts and Pettersen stretches his vocal chords to their limits, but, as on the whole record, the harmonies in all choruses are unsurpassed. Nearly acoustic is the shortest song Reflections, featuring piano, acoustic guitar and a good vocal performance by Pettersen. A bit of 'orchestral headbanging' in the last track The Purpose, partly coming close to Dream Theater's music, only the harmonies and at times the majestic and bombastic keyboards make the distinction.
Undoubtedly this album will stand a good chance of becoming my favorite debut of 2010. It has this unbelievable combination of power, dynamics, catchy melodies, stunning compositions and progressive as well as metal and classical characteristics. Although I'm not totally blown away by the vocals, Pettersen can compete with most vocalists in the genre and most certainly the musicians can challenge almost any colleague in the business. A most impressive album by highly talented and extremely young musicians and the beauty of it all for me is, it contains lot of original ideas! A must for all prog-metal fans and highly recommended for metal-fans looking for more than basic verse-chorus-verse music.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Seventh Wonder – Mercy Falls
Tracklist: A New Beginning (3:05), There And Back [Overture] (3:02), Welcome To Mercy Falls (5:11), Unbreakable (7:18), Tears For A Father (1:58), A Day Away (3:43), Tears For A Son (1:43), Paradise (5:44), Fall In Line (6:09), Break The Silence (9:29), Hide And Seek (7:46), Destiny Calls (6:17), One Last Goodbye (4:21), Back In Time (1:14), The Black Parade (6:57)
Mercy Falls is the third album and most ambitious project of this Swedish prog-metal group until now. It is a concept album with fifteen tracks that tell the story of a father that suffered a car accident and enters into a state of coma. So far, the resemblance with Ayreon's Human Equation is striking, the rest of the story isn’t. The accident is the tragic starting point in a story which unfolds itself through the different personalities around the sickbed in Mercy Falls clinic, including his son and his mother. The overall feel of this CD is very much alike Dream Theater’s masterpiece Scenes from A Memory. The quality is comparable as well.
When first listening to Mercy Falls, I was overwhelmed by the near industrial perfection of the instrumental performance by these five top-of-the-art musicians. However, their sometimes scaring precision is compensated by the fabulous and passionate vocals by Tommy Karevik, whom I consider to be one of the best male singers of the contemporary rock scene. What a range and what a power!
What I like most about the album are the unconventional but strong melodies which take some time before you learn to appreciate them. Paradise is a good example of this, a great song that in addition contains also one of the best guitar solo’s of Mercy Falls. Several tracks somehow seem to have two choruses, which only underlines the melodic qualities of the album.
I am seriously wondering why this talented group is so little known. Is it because the rhythmic complexity and musical density require too much patience and time to be grasped by the general public? I must admit, I had to listen many times before I got to understand the concept, learned to appreciate the melodies and started to recognize the variations on recurring themes throughout the album.
Maybe it also has to do with the sometimes neurotic double bass drums by Johnny Sandin, which for example in Unbreakable and A Day Away continue to hit every eighth note for long parts of the tracks. It maybe a minor point in these very good tracks, but am I the only one who dislikes this? Perhaps for some listeners the many rhythmic changes and mathematically calculated arrangements might also be a bit too much. That’s a pity for them because there is so much interesting and mind-blowing to enjoy on this album. And this is also true when it comes to Sandin's impressive Mike Portnoy like drumming qualities.
As if Seventh Wonder knew they had to compensate the intensity of their music, they created a balance by inserting short acoustic tracks. In the emotional Tears For A Father, for instance, Karevik is accompanied by guitar and in Tears For A Son by piano and strings. Another example is the heart breaking One Last Goodbye, which is in a sense the dramatic conclusion of the story. It’s a shame that a beautifully sung part by Karevik in this track is being disturbed by a dialogue of actor’s voices. This is a mistake often made in concept albums and was not necessary for the story to be understood. This song however ends beautifully with a very brief duet between Karevik with (an anonymous) female guest vocalist, reminding me of Shadow Gallery’s Room V.
Keyboard player Andreas Söderin is the most modest instrumentalists of Seventh Wonder. Although he hardly tries to hide his admiration of Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, he doesn't indulge in too much virtuosity, although on Welcome To Mercy Falls, he clearly shows he is perfectly capable of playing a fast keyboard - guitar duel. A bit more variation in his lead sounds would be welcome though.
The sound of the six string bass guitar of Andreas Blomqvist has a very recognizable fingerprint. Although his bass lines stand at the service of the overall compositions they add an interesting layer to several compositions.
The best tracks on the album however strike a balance between melodic, relatively quite parts and heavy riffs and instrumental expeditions. The 9.5 minute long Break The Silence, combines these elements and brings together the best of what Seventh Wonder has to offer: a multi-vocal intro, heavy riffs, complex rhythms, catchy vocal melodies and an instrumental expedition with duelling guitars culminating in a climax synth solo: definitely the highlight on this album.
Mercy Falls is a dense, intense, complex album, full of suspense. It’s a masterpiece and if you’re up to investing some time and energy understanding the concept, definitely a must have for any serious progmetal fan.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
AtmOsfear - Zenith
Tracklist: Beginning (1:11), Loss Of Hope (7:53), Generations (12:10), Reawakening (7:27), Scum Of Society (12:58), Spiral Of Pain [i Fall - ii Joseph’s Theme - iii Elisa’s Theme - iv Fatal Reunion] (23:36)
Originally formed back in 1996, Germany’s AtmOsfear have a work rate that almost equals that of Peter Gabriel – just one EP and one full-length CD (2003’s DPRP recommended
Inside The Atmosphere) have appeared prior to Zenith, their new opus. It’s probably no surprise therefore to find this release to be on the lengthy side – there’s been plenty of time for the band to come up with new material!
The fact that in their time AtmOsfear have supported the likes of Evergrey, Vanden Plas and Pain Of Salvation gives you an indication of the style of music the band play – progressive metal of the darker variety, dominated by churning riffs, symphonic keyboards and Oliver Wulff’s downbeat vocals. Wulff sounds a bit like James LaBrie in his more considered moments, and probably helps himself by singing in a controlled mid-range most of the time – when he tries for a more theatrical approach he sounds a little strained. The overall sound is rather murky and indistinct – possibly deliberately, given the nature of the material, although I would have preferred a clearer mix.
Zenith takes a little while to get going – following the atmOsfear-ic intro (ho ho), Loss Of Hope sets the tone with its down-tuned riffs and icy synths yet fails to gel overall, whilst Generations, despite a strong chorus and some good guitar work, finds the band all too often wandering aimlessly into pointless instrumental breaks. Things soon pick up, however, with Reawakening being a fine instrumental with a leading role for keyboardist Stephan Kruse, and the edgy Scum Of Society which fair gallops along in places, whilst having a passing resemblance (particularly in the talk-y vocal section) to Dream Theater’s Take The Time.
The album will however probably be judged ultimately on the quality (or otherwise) of the epic Spiral Of Pain – and thankfully the band pass the test here, managing to maintain interest for at least a good proportion of the song’s length. It certainly benefits from some strong recurring musical themes which help give it a cohesive structure, and there’s a good balance between riff-dominated sections and more considered, almost orchestral parts. Yes the song outstays its welcome a little but this criticism can, to be honest, be levelled at most multi-part epics.
Overall then, despite an unpromising start, I ultimately found this to be an enjoyable disc. I think the band would benefit from getting an outside producer in, and some of the song-writing could be tightened up a bit, but whilst it’s no masterpiece this is a decent slab of progressive metal. This album should be of interest to those who enjoy the darker side of the genre, and in particular to fans of the bands mentioned in the introduction to this review.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Vitriol - Vitriol [EP]
|Country of Origin:||Italy|
|Record Label:||Independent |
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Whisper (1:13), My Journey (6:45), Never Again (5:21), Butterflies (8:11), Devoured (7:18), The Descent (9:05)
Vitriol is a prog metal band from Italy which has released a self titled debut EP. A review on their website speaks of a demo recording, but I guess the review dates back from the time it used to be a demo, because the product in front of me does not sound or look like a demo. Perhaps the playing time is a hint to the origin of this recording but also that is bit fuzzy. In between the songs there is twenty to thirty seconds of instrumental segments which are not declared. The music of Vitriol is influenced by of course Dream Theater and by Fates Warning and Queensryche, but I also hear some Symphony X. Much double bass drumming with the guitar supporting that rhythm and vocal lines or guitar/keyboard solos for the additional melodies.
Vitriol is not another power/speed band from Italy, they provide mature compositions and you can hear that the song writing comes on first place. The guitar and keyboard solos are good, very melodic, not speedy at all and the keyboard solos are more dominant, and better.
After the opening instrumental Whisper it is My Journey that from the start grabs your attention. The opening tune does not cover all, at first listen it might sound as yet another average metal band. The vocals are whispered which usually suggests the vocalist is not good, but on the other songs he shows that this is not the case. Towards the end they lift the whole thing up and that part is constructed a lot more interestingly. Perhaps not a good choice to start an album with the least interesting part.
Never Again is the easiest composition on this album. It starts with a furious bass but there is also room for some mellow bass parts for a darker atmosphere. Not complex enough to remain interesting for many spins and not catchy enough to be an easy scoring song. Maybe Never Again does not do much for me because I know the best song directly follows this one. By far Butterflies is the best composition on this album, a powerful ballad with many twists and turns. The singing is soulful, the melodies are good and the transitions are perfectly timed, a great song.
The title Devoured and the start of the song made me think of Fear Factory. On this song even more the rhythm is constructed by the drums which are strictly followed by the guitar which leaves a powerful pounding layer. The progressive elements are also put in otherwise this song would be a standard metal song. The Descent reaches the level of Butterflies and has the power of Devoured combined with that. Many transitions to melodic parts and also parts where it becomes more powerful but without the Fear Factory elements. More powerful rock instead of the nu-metal bits, yet another great song.
Vitriol has released a very fine debut album. Too bad the album is a bit short especially considering the last three songs are the ones that really matter. My Journey is not bad but I usually start playing this album at number four which is allready halfway and only leaves three songs. Still I think Vitriol shows a lot of potential and if they can create an album filled with songs like Butterflies and The Descent then that would receive a warm welcome.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
At War With Self – A Familiar Path
Tracklist: Reflections (5:56), Diseased State (3:12), A Familiar Path (9:35), The Ether Trail (2:28), Ourselves (6:29), Etude No. 10 (4:03), Concrete And Poison (8:01), Hope (2:44)
Glenn Snelwar is the key figure behind At War With Self (AWWS) and he continues his tradition of creating interesting and varied prog based metal with a new album titled A Familiar Path. If you are familiar with his previous releases,
Acts Of God and
Torn Between Dimensions, you will immediately recognize the flair that is the originality and varied pieces making this work an appropriate next step in the Snelwar saga.
Glenn’s recognition as a recording artist began as a member of Gordian Knot back in 1999. There he laid enough groundwork with his guitar playing to get his name spoken in the company of well-established musicians. This, along with the strength and complexity of his song writing, has propelled him to a bona fide progressive rock stalwart and his guitar prowess has continued to shine.
This album contains mandolin work alongside powerful metal riffing; such a seeming contradiction is becoming a useful trademark for Glenn. The beginning of this disc is a 6-minute instrumental that sends a distinct message for the listener that this album is a storm of musicianship and not your usual vocal style song set. Also present are the rotating time signatures and polyrhythmic counterpart within the same song as well and diverse structures from one song to another.
By the third song vocals join in and are interspersed throughout the disc. They seem to bring back the dark hard rock vocal styling of Alice In Chains while the musicians maintain a complexity that touch upon such vicissitudes that remind me of Pain Of Salvation. Additional vocal effects are used to add more to this complex work and where I normally don’t care for the band-pass filter vocals that are so commonplace anymore, the layering of female vocals here made it interesting.
Snelwar drew Escher inspired artwork on the CD jacket that lends itself to some interpretation of the symbols and devices. To me, this only adds to the depth and breadth of placing oneself into the work. This multi-instrumentalist has added to an already stacked talent set and this all-encompassing approach really shows it.
Now for the bad news: Comparing the previous two albums of AWWS it sounds as if this one has taken a step backward in production quality. This otherwise good album sounds like it was recorded in a box. There are even places where it actually sounds like the resonant frequency of the room this album was recorded in was not considered and thereby tarnished the final product. The overall sound is subdued and it changes flavours throughout the recording, and not in a good way.
While there is a place for under producing some albums for specific effects or tone, this style of music needs an ebullient taste that brings out the dynamic nature of the many instruments here. This album especially has so much to show off but where technical proficiency is part of the gig, I like to be able to get a good solid grip on it without having to compensate with the volume knob.
At War With Self is rich with talent but doesn’t go to the technical extreme like the über technicians Spiral Architect or Blotted Science, nor are they fusion derivative like Gordian Knot. This band focuses more on creating easily digestible riffs separated by refrains and using melody as the framework for their songs. I like the way Snelwar expertly uses the combination of acoustic elements with the electric – the combination and how it is used is extremely well done.
Finally, my review may be tainted with a certain expectation on sound quality, but if that isn’t as critical to you then this is a very strong album. This is a good progressive metal release that would score 1 or 2 points higher with a good recording. I just can’t score this any higher when I was left wanting and wondering to myself, “I hope they release a re-mastered version soon!”
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Proghma-C - Bar-do Travel
Tracklist: Kana (9:05), FO (6:40), Spiralling To Another (9:31), Spitted Out (3:21), Spitted Out [Out] (3:57), So Be-live (3:57), I Can’t Illuminate Without You (5:48), Naan (2:30), Army Of Me (8:57)
My interest in this new Polish band was piqued by their name being added to the roster for this year’s Progpower Europe festival. The band’s website boasts of a combination of Tool/Perfect Circle, progressive sounds and a touch of post-metal. Intrigued, I was keen to see whether this was one of the bands I dare not miss or one of the bands that would provide time for a ProgPower dinner break!
Proghma-C was formed in 2002 with the aim of combining trance, ambient, rock, pop, new age, death, fusion and progressive influences to form their own unique sound. If that doesn’t capture the broad range of influences, then a scan of the bands that they have so far supported should do the job; Meshuggah, VoiVod, Anathema, Opeth and Apocalyptica.
Just an independently produced EP has preceded this, the quartet’s debut album. Bar-do-Travel is certainly not for the fainthearted. Dirty, downtuned guitars, loops, bleeps, distorted keys, screamo vocals, groove laden clean vocals, death vocals and lots of feedback. And that’s just the opening track! It’s experimental. It’s all over the place. Yet somehow the band has crafted a cohesiveness which maintains the listener’s attention. This is well-crafted and constructed music.
I like the singer and his Tool-esque groove on the clean sections. I don’t think he’s the best screamo or brutal death ‘singer’. I’m not a great fan of downtuned guitars. I think a lot of people may find some of the riffing rather repetitive. It is rather repetitive.
A couple of the ‘songs’ (Spit It Out and I Can’t Illuminate Without You) are little more than feedback, repetitive riffing and bleeps. These fail in a similar way to the padding which dampened the effect of the Enochian Theory album. The lightest song is So Be-live. The best song is their cover of Bjork’s Army Of Me. It does exactly what I consider covers should do; stamp a band’s own identity on someone else’s song. It is so different from the band’s repertoire and they do it very well. A cleaner guitar sound helps a lot in that.
Overall an accomplished debut and to answer my opening ProgPower question: Proghma-C are clearly very good at what they do, and have the potential to be an enthralling live act. I will certainly be there to watch their set… however… the over-emphasis on screaming vocals and downtuned repetitive riffing will probably mean a pit stop in a local eaterie will soon become a more enticing option.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Freedom Call - Legend Of The Shadowking
Tracklist: Out Of The Ruins (4:21), Thunder God (3:31), Tears Of Babylon (3:39), Merlin-Legend Of The Past (4:16), Resurrection Day (3:34), Under The Spell Of The Moon (5:09), Dark Obsession (4:45), The Darkness (5:06), Remember! (4:21), Ludwig JJ.-Prologue (2:19), The Shadowking (5:13), Merlin-Requiem (2:34), Kingdom Of Madness (3:59), A Perfect Day (3:57)
Freedom Call is a melodic metal band hailing from Germany, led by guitarist/lead vocalist/composer Chris Bay and drummer/composer Dan Zimmermann. In the current line up are also Samy Saemann on bass and Lars Rettkowitz on the guitar. The band plays a mixture of progressive metal, melodic metal, speed metal and hard rock.
Legend Of The Shadowking is the seventh album by these sympathetic Germans who will join 'brothers in arms' Axel Rudi Pell in their upcoming tour through Germany (May 2010). All vocal choirs were done by the band, all keyboards by Chris Bay. The band had a little help from guests on this album: violin and classical vocal. The lyrics have been inspired by the life and death of Ludwig II, king of Bavaria, who lived from 1845-1886. Ludwig was known for his devotion to Robert Wagner and his music and the castles he built in southern Germany leading the state of Bavaria to bankruptcy. Many of you will know the most famous castle by name: Neuschwanstein!
There are fourteen compositions on the album, most of them within the time frame of 5 minutes. Plenty of catchy choruses, sing along yells etcetera and the music cannot be called highly original. On the other hand these guys are experienced musicians as the foundation for Freedom Call was made as early as 1988. Bay's clear voice is a pleasant one and he is getting better and better as the years go by. More than enough variation in his vocals and all the arrangements and subtle changes in atmosphere and tempos make sure the listener stays focused. The production side of the album is one of the stronger points, attention for details another.
Musically, tracks like Kingdom Of Madness shows some references to Magnum (didn't they recorded a tune with the same title?), while for example Tears Of Babylon could have been a melodic HammerFall track. Furthermore the bombastic side, the orchestral arrangements and the magnificent choruses in tracks like Merlin - Legend Of The Past remind of bands like Rhapsody. The double bass drums pound (but rather subtle in the mix!) in the opening track Out Of The Ruins, Resurrection Day and Remember!. Bay even makes a good attempt to sound like Jorn Lande in parts of The Darkness.
Along with the references mentioned above bands like Rainbow, Uriah Heep and Iron Maiden may be added, the band plays music in a genre on the far end of progressive rock, close to metal. Probably that's why I couldn't find any review on Freedom Call before. Still in my opinion bands like Freedom Call should have some attention on the Dutch Progressive Rock Page as well...
Check out the website of band, lots of information and samples! Highly recommended for fans of bands like Rhapsody, Vision Divine, At Vance, Mob Rules and the aforementioned bands.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Odd Logic - Legends Of Monta Part II
Tracklist: (i) An Old Book Reopens (ii) A Call To Gather (2:32), (i) Ruins (ii) Anniversary Tears (iii) Take Us Away (5:24), (i) The King's Wizard (ii) Assembly Of Heroes (6:00), Ship Of Lore (7:38), The Stonelands (5:33), (i)Deceiver (ii) Hills Of Shadows (6:46), The Horse Scroll (6:53), Power Of Five (6:41), A Father's Warning (7:24), The Jauggerbeast (1:59), (i) Betrayal? (ii) Shine As One (4:13), The Last Scroll (5:26), (i) War Of Kyrias (ii) Rising Sun (iii) An Old Book Ends (7:05)
There’s not an awful lot of information about this album, other than what I can garner from the Odd Logic MySpace page. American Sean Thompson is the man behind what appears to largely be a one-man independent project. The MySpace credits him with all instruments and ‘cast of guests’. Not sure if he’s the singer too, but he is credited as the vocalist for fellow Washington-based rock band Graphic Light Theory, so I guess he is.
There’s no dedicated website. The booklet I’ve been sent is nicely illustrated but only a folded page, four sides. The promo sheet from the label has just two lines. Marketing anyone?
Based on the title, I guess this is the second of a two-part concept disc based on a story written by Sean. I’m not the greatest enthusiast of the story-format concept disc where narration is interspersed between every song. If I want a story, I’ll buy a book. Here, a lot of the narrative actually comes amid the music, which can be even more distracting. If that doesn’t bother you, then it is well done and carries the narrative. I’ve only been able to find the full lyrics spread over a blog on the MySpace page. It’s not a terribly fluid format to read from as you listen. From a quick scan, the tale seems to be of the historic/fantasy/heroic format in the vein of Lord of the Rings meets sword in the stone King Arthur. Again it is well done, as is the music.
Legends Of Monta [Pt2] is very good quality, independent Progressive Metal. A vibrant production allows everything to shine through. The riffs pound, the rhythms and time signatures are ever-changing and the melodies are… well melodic. Influences would include Magnitude Nine, Ark, Balance Of Power, Aeon Zen, Fates Warning, Queensryche, Dream Theater, Symphony X, Enchant and Rush. If he is the singer, then Sean would sit happily among any of those bands.
The key difference between Odd Logic and the above bands is that the tracks rarely meet the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. Whilst melodic they are very much atmospheres for the story. A story set to music in every sense. In a way, it is one of those film-score type listens that you have to take as a whole. Little stands out in its own right. After several listens, I can’t help but think that away from the concept/storyline, there is a really great melodic ProgMetal band waiting to evolve.
Putting my personal reservations about the impact of the storyline to one side, then Odd Logic will hold a lot of interest to fans of most of the pre-mentioned bands. You can buy the album from CD Baby or in Europe from Just For Kicks.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
A.W.A.X - Le Larmes Du Monde
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Les Liquidateurs (8:35), Les Larmes Du Monde (6:51), Meadow Cottage (6:11), Faux Martyrs (7:27), Noir De Sang (5:06), Phare Ouest (8:03), Karmasutra (8:11), Wax Attaque (8:50)
Hailing from the Bordeaux region of France, WAX formed circa 2002, releasing two (demo) CDs - Sacrifice (2002) and Nevrocome (2006). A slight name change to A.W.A.X, (Aquitain Wizards After Xperience) and our quartet return in 2009 with Le Larmes Du Monde. The line-up consists of JF Peyroux (vocals), Olivier Legoff (guitars), ToskiduS (bass & synths), Christophe Sarrazin (drums) and guest musician Cathy Castets (violin & mandolin) who appears on Phare Ouest. Although no mention of a keyboard player - which is surprising as the album is choc full of keyboard sections - presumably this is provided by the fifth element, (as mentioned in the band's promo material), the machine, or more likely some computer driven software.
Musically we are in the double bass drum pounded, riff driven, archetypical vocal areas of Iron Maiden et al, albeit with thrash metal elements and liberal excursions into early Dream Theater territory. Then throw in some Goth metal choirs here and there and on the surface we have all the necessary ingredients - however I still found Le Larmes Du Monde a frustrating listen. Granted there are numerous changes in pace and direction, the trouble is there are so many of them and the transitions are more often than not, crude and jarring. The rhythm sections are positive, Olivier Legoff is a talented guitarist and JF Peyroux posses a powerful and pleasant voice (in the lower registers), so this should be possible. But where the wheels come off for me is the material and I get the impression that A.W.A.X haven't yet found their own voice. There's just too much happening, too many changes and influences that may well offer variety, but the overall result is difficult to latch onto. Meadow Cottage is a prime example - a strong driving number with plenty of harmony vocal sections, (if not a little too close to Dream Theater at times), however the track just has too many changes - a shame really. And truth be known this track is indicative of the whole album.
I did make fairly comprehensive notes for this review, but as there was just so much going on in each track I quickly abandoned the track by track idea. Possibly the strongest piece was Phare Ouest, which incorporates catchy Celtic-folky themes, but A.W.A.X just don't seem able to let these simple themes stand for themselves - once again the track veers off here, there and everywhere. Perhaps shortening the tracks might encourage the band to look at their strengths rather than trying to cram each and
every track with a plethora of unnecessary changes. Not sure. Karmasutra again opens well with some atmospheric bass holding things together and with a pleasant vocal melody. A great and promising start...
The production is acceptable if not wonderful. On top of this the material is sung in their native tongue (which I don't have a problem with), but again this may prove a stumbling block.
I appreciate that this review is extremely critical, but I really feel A.W.A.X have the potential for far greater things. So for me they need to grab hold of a real keyboard player - when you're competing in a market that has guys like Jordan Rudess performing, then the clunky piano that accompanies Noir De Sang just isn't going to hack it. Once a keyboard man is found then go on the road for a year or so, simplify the material and then go back in the studio. I feel sure that then A.W.A.X could be capable of producing an album that the progressive metal community would sit up and listen to. As it stands Le Larmes Du Monde shows promise for the future...
Conclusion: 5 out of 10