Reviews in this issue:
- My Soliloquy - The Interpreter
- Retrospective - Lost In Perception
- Semantic Saturation - Solipsistic
- Forces At Work - Straight
- Stealing Axion - Moments
- Heartbeat Parade - Hora de Los Hornos
- Roel van Helden - RvH
- Time Grid - Life
- Freak Kitchen - Dead Soulmen
- Freak Kitchen - Move
- Engine - Superholic
- Stonehenge - Angelo Salutante
- Kamelot - Epica
- Pyramid - The Immaculate Lie
- Pyramid - Gaudi's Legacy
- Morifade - Imaginarium
- Arachnes - Apocalypse
- Arachnes - The Goddess Temple
- Silent Voices - Chapters Of Tragedy
- Time Requiem - Time Requiem
- Tunnelvision - Tomorrow
- Avatar - Essence
My Soliloquy - The Interpreter
Tracklist: Ascension Pending (5:47), Flash Point (6:22), Corrosive De-Emphasis (7:05), Fractured (5:14), Six Seconds Grace (7:24), Dream In Extremis (7:14), Inner Circles (7:00), Star (6:00)
Eleven years after forming, UK ProgMetal band My Soliloquy has finally got around to releasing its debut album. It would perhaps be to easy to say it has been worth the wait - but having spent several weeks with the eight songs on offer, I have to say that it has.
Although describing itself as a band, My Soliloquy is really a channel for the talents of multi-instrumentalist Pete Morten. Since taking on the role of guitarist with leading U.K. ProgMetallers Threshold in 2005, Pete has also been slowly developing My Soliloquy's sound and songs through a series of demos and live shows with the likes of Pagans Mind, PowerQuest, Oliver and Rick Wakeman and Threshold.
Now all the reviews I've read of this album so far have lazily said the music sounds like a cross between Dream Theater and Threshold. It is ProgMetal yes. But it sounds nothing like either band. The guitar tone and approach is totally different and the combination of instruments is arranged to give the music here a unique timbre. There is also a very modern thread of electronica running across this album which I like but which is unusual in ProgMetal bands.
Extra distinction is achieved through Morton's unusual vocal style. The closest I can come to it is Jon Arch especially in the unusual pitch and the way Pete phrases a lot of the lyrical content. According to the sleeve notes all songs were written, arranged composed and performed by Mr. Morton. His only failing is that he had to call in drummer Damon Roots! With that in mind he deserves maximum respect for creating such a complex yet easily listenable collection of songs. The Interpreter was mixed and mastered by Rob Aubrey who has of course been the mainstay of the IQ sound for many years. The album is released on the reliable U.S. Sensory label so the sleeve design and booklet is of the required standard too.
The better songs open the album. There are a few sections in the closing where Pete's vocals don't quite hit the mark and the arrangements don't quite flow and combine in the same way.
Overall this is the best ProgMetal album I've yet to hear this year and will easily be sitting within my top 10 at the year end. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Retrospective - Lost In Perception
This is an album which takes a fair bit of patience. However as someone clever once said: "Give and thou shalt receive".
This young Polish band has created a collection of atmospheric, groove-laden alt/art rock songs whose appeal reveals its charms slowly on each visit to the headphones.
I first encountered Retrospective two years ago at the fifth Progressive Promotion Festival in Germany where their hour-long set impressed many. Formed in 2006 the band has released an EP and an album, Stolen Thoughts, in 2008. However various line-up changes including the singer mean that previous comparisons are redundant here.
On the first few spins the music didn't really work for me. The vocals of Jakub Roszak were rough and accented when I was expecting cool and soothing. However, as is often the way with great albums, suddenly the light is switched on and my ears were able to see the beauty within (the mixed metaphor is intentional!).
What Retrospective offer wavers between alt-rock and art-rock. There is a metallic edge at times to the music but the soloing is at a minimum. It would be too narrow to place this under ProgMetal.
The nine songs offer tremendous variety in terms of melody, pace and emotion. There are dark, expansive atmospheres, but the up-beat grooves ensure the music is not particularly gloomy. Each song is gorgeously multi-faceted; expanding and developing from its original theme but without losing its original purpose. I've grown to really enjoy Jakub's soft aggression vocals. Keyboardist Beata Lagoda adds harmonies on several tracks plus a lovely duet on Lunch. The twin guitars are layered with smooth, gentle melodies and solos in an early-Riverside way. Beautiful.
I am now at least 15 plays into this album and still haven't taken it all in. As we approach Spring, the appropriately titled opening song, The End of Winter Lethargy has been my most played track of the year.
There should be enough here to delight fans of Muse, Porcupine Tree, Votum, Believe, Riverside and Gazpacho. Coming out right at the end of last year, this sadly missed consideration for by favourite albums of 2012 list and it would easily have made the Top 5. Germany's Progressive Promotions Records is fast becoming my favourite source for new music discoveries.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Semantic Saturation - Solipsistic
Tracklist: Ambivalence (6:33), Make Believe (5:06) Lost And Found: Insanity (5:26), Stardust (6:49), Blessing In Disguise (4:48), Armchair Activist (4:10), Point Of Singularity (3:50), Time Is An Illusion (5:43), What If We All Stop (8:44)
Shant Hagopian is a songwriter and guitarist best known until now for founding the prog rock/metal band Nu.clear.dawn. Hailing from the currently war-torn city of Aleppo they raised attention for having the first officially released metal album from Syria. Their 2003 disc Poem of a Knight won positive reviews and got the band slots on several big Middle Eastern festivals.
Shant moved to Canada in 2005 and began work on his first solo project. Featuring progressive musical gurus drummer Virgil Donati (Steve Vai), bassist Rick Fierabracci (PlanetX) and ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian, Semantic Saturation is a highly polished debut album.
It consists of nine tracks; the first eight are instrumental with a heavy influence of Dream Theater, Vai, Rush and SymphonyX while the final track features the signature vocals of Andy Kuntz. The involvement of the Vanden Plas singer will further widen interest in this disc.
I'm no musician myself but Shant is clearly a highly talented composer and guitarist. Most of the songs here rock, but unlike many "guitarist" albums this is no shred-fest. Hagopian knows the meaning of restraint. His music has colour, textures and great variations in pace, with a melody central to every composition. These are real songs.
Considering the abilities of the musicians he has assembled, that alone is no mean achievement. His early career as a jazz guitarist comes out clearly in several tracks especially the sparkling Stardust and Point Of Singularity.
Two tracks (Ambivalence and Stardust) are currently available free from Shant's website. They give a good flavour of the album and I'd heartily recommend this to anyone who enjoys instrumental progressive rock. An album you will come back to again and again with relish.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Forces At Work - Straight
Tracklist: The Mind Slavery (5:59), Nowhere (5:07), 3 Logic Dead (4:37), Be Machine (5:23), Keep Marchin' (6:23), Virtual Führer (5:18), Colours (6:23), Dharma (4:36), Sickness (6:31), Straight into the Odd (3:21)
Straight by name but definitely not straight by nature, this debut offering from Teutonic quintet Forces At Work is for those who enjoy their music at the challenging end of the extreme!
Twelve years in existence, this is the debut album from the band. It is clear they've spent a lot of time fine-tuning their craft and influences.
There is a cacophony of styles on display here from death metal to thrash, hardcore to math metal, technical to avant garde and with a few splashes of prog and jazz fusion; a highly technical and somewhat uncomfortable form of progressive metal.
Guitarists Adrian Weiss and Mischa are the centrepieces, providing an endless deluge of six-string pyrotechnics throughout. There is some really good and inventive riffage and dextrous soloing to be found within each of the 10 tracks.
Vocalist Sebastian Wischermann has one of the most viciously painful, brutal growls I have ever heard. Some of the screams are actually painful to listen to.
Now I enjoy my technical progressive metal but I'm not a fan in of deathy vocals, so take my comments with that in mind, but I'm not sure that this intense vocal style really compliments the music behind it. There is the occasional clean vocal passage, but I find the vocals so overpowering that they detract from, rather than compliment, the complex instrumentation around it.
The band does a complete volte-face on the closing instrumental Straight Into The Odd. It is an odd-ball jazz fusion progressive instrumental featuring some deliciously speedy guitar work from Weiss and Mischa, some fulsome bass lines from Marcel Willnat and the dextrous drum work of S. Sabir Bosanac.
Fans of extreme progressive metal will find a lot to savour on Straight. Forces at Work is a name to keep an eye on.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Stealing Axion - Moments
Tracklist: Mirage Of Hope (3:53), Solar (6:53), Everything Or Nothing (6:08), 47 Days Later (5:27), The Unwanted Gift (4:55), Eventide (7:13), Collapse (8:42), It's Too Late Now (5:15), Sleepless (5:27), Moments Part 1 (9:45), Moments Part 2 (12:34)
Is djent the new progressive metal? That's the question I asked myself when sitting down to write a few words on this, the debut album from Pacific Northwest's Stealing Axion.
I'm far from a member of the djentlemans club but what I've heard so far from that genre seems to have all of the basic ingredients of progressive music but with the added textures of clean/death/screamo (delete as appropriate) vocals and that unique djenty groove. Take away the groove and the growly vocals and you've got the sort of music that fans of heavy progressive music like me drool over.
Stealing Axion was formed in the winter of 2009 when three friends, guitarists Dan Forbrich, Josh DeShazo, and Phil Willmarth, got together to hang out and write riffs. Eventually some songs formed and by 2010 a self released EP spread rapidly across the web.
Encouraged by the enthusiasm of fans and critics alike, the band ventured onwards. They developed their sound and wrote enough material for a full length album. Progressive label Inside Out was impressed enough to offer a deal and here we have Moments.
Produced by TesseracT guitarist and producer Acle Kahney, Moments is a dynamic and challenging listening experience. It melds a modern metal ferocity with well-placed and expansive multi-layered atmospheres.
You can tell the band enjoyed a song writing process which allowed each song plenty of time to ferment and mature.
I will be interested to see how Inside Out has fared with a band that sits well outside of its more traditional Prog fare. This is definitely more of interest to fans of Animals as Leaders, Chimp Spanner and Textures than followers of Spock's Beard and The Flower Kings. Having said that, the abundant use of polyrhythms, unexpected note-working, expansive guitar ambience and a massive range of influences means this is not inaccessible to any progressive fan who enjoys a challenging listen.
Personally, whilst clearly an accomplished album, I'm not swayed that there are enough memorable moments or new ingredients or sounds to set this apart from the many, many bands trying their luck in the djent genre. For those like me who struggle with the growly vocals there is about a 50/50 mix with the clean singing here. For me that will always be too much.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Heartbeat Parade - Hora de Los Hornos
Tracklist: Out of the Silence (1:44), Unspoken Truth Will Emerge (2:57), To Become Louder Than (1:57), Their Weapons (5:10), Burning Water (5:00), Et Si Tu La Rappelais (3:45), Cluba 45 (6:27), A Road Trip Towards Starvation (4:38), Fiat Panis I (5:14), Fiat Panis II (2:19), Fiat Panis III (2:41), The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog (4:10), Pathopeia (5:11), Leaving Nuntucket (3:39), Hora De Los Hornos (1:33)
Heartbreak Parade have brought about a couple of firsts for me with this, their debut album. This is the first band I've ever reviewed from Luxembourg. It's actually the first band I've ever heard from Luxembourg. Formed in 2009, Felix, Vinch and Vinny have so far produced two EPs and supported the likes of Ezekiel, Caspian and 65 Days Of Static.
With Hora de Los Hornos it is also the first time I've come across a band combining instrumental compositions with vocal sampling. Sure, many bands have tried it here and there or on the odd track but the whole proposition here is that the trio have replaced the singer with a whole album's worth of vocal clips from mass media and documentary films.
Musically it is a combination of the technical complexity of Mathrock, the aggression of hardcore and the thumping riffs and rhythms of metal.
The guitar and rhythm sections endlessly tumble and collide with the ever changing time signatures. The arrangements have clearly been well thought through with plenty of detail within. No verse-chorus-verse structures here and not a lot of solos either. This is music which survives on its grooves and energies.
The vocal extracts do provide a lyrical aspect and have clearly been arranged to offer new messages from their original context. There is a clear view of the world on offer from the band.
There are a lot of tracks crammed onto the album, few manage to stretch beyond the five minute mark and it doesn't drag as an album.
All I will say is that without the extra energy and visuals of a live show, this sort of music does become a little one dimensional on disc after a while. If the band is to have a long term prospect, then they may need to alter the vocal presentations a bit more and maybe bring in some different instruments or samples.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Roel van Helden - RvH
Tracklist: 130 Thousand Miles (4:16), The Long Road Ahead (4:35), No More Silence (7:04), Out Of Time (5:08), Twenty One (3:52), Break The Glass (4:35), I Wonder Why (5:44), No Sense Of Ease (4:33), Come Undone (4:49), The 4th Dimension (3:42)
Debut solo album from the former drummer of Sun Caged, Subsignal and Delphian who is currently behind the kit for Powerwolf and a collection of tribute bands. But do not worry - this is not a drummer's solo album.
Over to Roel to explain: "A drummer who needs to make a solo album.... Don't be afraid, it won't be odd measures and drum solos all over the place. My goal for my first solo album was to write some good songs, not using it as a showcase of my technical abilities."
And in that respect Roel has succeeded. There is some solid song writing to enjoy on this self-abbreviated debut. There is also some impressive, yet restrained drumming. The instrumentals emphasise the rhythmic rather than the technical and act more as breathing spaces around the vocal songs.
After a pleasant rhythmic opening across 130 Thousand Miles, The Long Road Ahead features Subsignal and Sieges Even singer Arno Menses. This is a really great modern, melodic progressive rock song that could easily slot into the Subsignal album.
Equally impressive is No More Silence. The beautiful, atmospheric verse mixes well with the up-tempo chorus for an Asia-meets-Believe concoction. The vocalist this time is Sun Caged's Paul Adrian Villarreal whose silky tones show what he could achieve within a more conventional songwriting framework.
Out Of Time combines the pop rock of Delain with the more progressive textures of Illumion but isn't quite as effective as the last two songs. For this we change to a female singer in the shape of Petra Struijs.
A good start, but from here the constant change of styles and singers and personnel gets somewhat messy. Overall, 21 different musicians have contributed to this album including guitarist Marcel Coenen. Completing the "singers from my former bands" checklist, we also have Aniek Janssen from Delphian on the more progressive I Wonder Why.
To add to the AOR, ProgRock and PopRock openers, the remaining songs cover nu metal (with rapping!), hardcore, some more prog, some metal and even a xylophone. Oh, and a few more instrumentals.
As a listener: a) I simply don't want to listen to and don't enjoy all of these styles, b) Roel is far better at writing in some styles than others, c) the quality of the musicians varies.
Overall the first two "songs" are well worth downloading but this album reminds me of one of those "Various Artists" albums that were popular in the '80s. Two or three of the songs you really like. Three or four you could tolerate and the rest you'd never want to hear again.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Time Grid - Life
Tracklist: Deceit (8:20), Emptiness (10:25), Me (5:51), Premices (5:50), Blind (6:12), Zephir (5:36), Forsaken (6:17), Escape (9:52)
Time Grid is a new Swiss and French progressive metal band composed of professional musicians with different backgrounds such as jazz, classical, experimental, pop and metal.
On this, their debut album, they have attempted to "put their experiences together to create an open minded progressive metal beyond the common boundaries".
Well, the eight extended compositions on offer are not doing anything new. Everything sounds like the sort of initial dabblings in progressive metal that bands were exploring in the late '80s. Music where too often the showcasing of technical ability overwhelmed the need to simply write a good song.
The male/female vocal parts from Mathias Reusser and Laetitia Fontannaz are a nice change and all the musicians are proficient. There is certainly a lot going on across this album, but for me it just doesn't work. Each song has seemingly endless variations which just change with no real pattern or logic. Neither voice really appeals to me within the context of the music, they are both quite smooth and melodic. The music is harsh and edgy. None of the melodies or instrumental riffs sink in at all. I find the drummer far too busy and a distraction. Most of the time it's almost as if each musician is playing a different song. When I first played this on my PC I did check that there wasn't another track open on a webpage in the background!
Those who like an early period Dream Theater or Ice Age with some lighter shades of Everon, Hourglass, or Persephone's Dream may find something here. Personally, I'm sorry but I just don't consider this to be a very good album.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Freak Kitchen - Dead Soulmen
Tracklist: Silence! (3:27), Gun God (4:33), Ugly Side Of Me (4:27), Everything Is Under Control (4:52), Get a Life (3:23), The Sinking Planet (3:52), Dead Soul Man (4:10), I Refuse (4:19), Black Spider Flag (3:48), Supermodel Baby (3:14), Slap Me in the Face (3:36), Shithead (4:35)
Who kept this band hidden from me for so long? I came across the wonderfully named Freak Kitchen by pure chance when I caught their set at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2002 (see clip HERE) and was impressed enough to try to dig out a copy of their newest album. Easier said than done. It was simpler to find an honest politician than to get hold of this album in the U.K. back then. Having finally tracked a copy down, I had no intention of actually doing a review. However this is such a fantastic slice of modern, metallised progressive music that I'd have been failing big time if I didn't take the opportunity to unveil what must be one of the best kept secrets in rock.
The crossover potential of these Swedes should be massive. Take a heavy helping of Thrash, some generous portions of '60s psychedelia and a few tender slices of '80s stadium rock and mix in a pinch of funk, a dash of soul and a few un-tender slices of new wave punk and you're starting to get a taste of the sort of dishes that come out of the Freak Kitchen.
Can you image Metallica, Kings X, The Ramones, The Clash and Motley Crüe all in one glorious musical orgy? Neither could I. But listen to Dead Soulmen and you'll see that anything is possible.
The head chef in the kitchen is vocalist/guitarist/songsmith Mattias IA Eklundh. A brilliant vocal range, not a hint of accent and some viscously inventive chords coming from his six strings. Highlights? That's tricky. At a push, the opening trio of Silence!, Gun God and Ugly Side of Life would take some beating anywhere in my record collection - I'm not exaggerating. Stinking Planet meanwhile combines spot-on social comment with a hook to die for. But really there ain't a boring chord on the whole album.
And the lyrics? Social anger? Humour? Try this from Gun God for size: "Got fired, girlfriend dumped you, losing your hair, got a willy too small, just choose the right calibre and go berserk in your local mall". In the meantime, this is truly one of those rare albums where as soon as I get to the end, I press play straightaway. Freakin' brilliant. Now, where do I get a t-shirt?
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Freak Kitchen - Move
Tracklist: Propaganda Pie (3:11), Nobody's Laughing (3:49), Snap (3:35), Humiliation Song (4:09), Razor Flowers (3:54), Heroin Breakfast (4:06), Porno Daddy (4:05), Seven Days In June (4:22), Maggots Of Corruption (4:25), Hateful Little People (3:32), Logo (4:01), The Wrong Year (3:22)
Maybe it's due to their albums being: a) infrequent, b) hard to track down, and c) a bit pricey. However as one of the leading purveyors of guitar-histrionic-based, catchy, quirky progressive rock/metal, it is strange that Organic is the only album from Sweden's Freak Kitchen to have so far been reviewed on DPRP. Time to change that!
Typically although this was released in 2002, I had to wait a full year in the U.K. to track down a copy - and that was at a gig in Paris!
Following the 10-out-of-10 brilliance of Dead Soul Men and with only guitarist/vocalist Matthias Eklundh remaining in the line up, I was a little concerned whether these Swedes could keep up the high standards. But when I got home and played this album, it refused to leave my playlist for months. I'm happy to conclude that it's another blinding release.
Maybe more metal, with faster and heavier songs and more experimental than their previous efforts, album number five will more than please existing fans while converting many newcomers to the Freakin' cause.
Matthias, as always, is on top form, ripping out shreds of metal mayhem and freaked out rhythms on track after track.
Swaying from power pop to thrash metal with everything in between in the blink of an eye, there are plenty of progressive twists and turns and top notch shredding to keep me happy. But Freak Kitchen are at their best when they rock out with their sublime sense of melody. This album has some absolute killer hooks in the shape of Nobody's Laughing, Hateful Little People and Porno Daddy that are worth the price alone. There's the usual odd slant on social comment in the lyrics too. Take a listen to Porno Daddy - a 14-year-old's view of a father's unconventional job - or The Wrong Year, which speaks about the environmental cost of our consumerist society.
Thanks to modern communications a copy of this album is now a click away from the band's homepage. In Move you will have in your hands an album from the top of the batch. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Engine - Superholic
Tracklist: Losing Ground (3:48), Suffocated (3:26), I Know (3:49), The Perfect Star (5:28), Superholic (4:44), Fascination Street (4:38), 1 a.m. (2:14), Home (5:21), Realize (3:22), Save Me (4:50), Mine (3:43)
Fanboy Alert! Okay so take that I consider Ray Alder to be one of the greatest metal vocalists ever. Full stop. Period. No debate. His career with Fates Warning and more recently Redemption sings for itself.
Now, the nicest thing about this reviewing lark is that every so often something will come through my door that I'd never think of even reading a review of, let alone buying. The name Engine alone conjured up an image of something greasy, noisy and somewhat run of the mill. Metal Blade ain't my favourite label either and as a result, as did Engine's 1999 self-titled debut, this album would almost certainly have passed me by. Oh, misguided fool that I am.
Engine began as a pure side project for Ray Alder and bassist Joey Vera (Fates and Armoured Saint). The line-up was completed by hardcore drummer Pete Parada and ex-Agent Steel guitarist Bernie Versailles. Engine is a band that has created a groove of its very own; heavy, modern, intelligent, creative and inspiring. Not Prog not NuMetal. It accepts influences from a wide range of sources and mixes them together. Fear Factory meets Kings X meets Godsmack are three that spring to mind.
There isn't a weak track on this album. There are several masterpieces. Opener Losing Ground sets the scene perfectly with its driving groove and menacing lyric on the decline of humanity. The Perfect Star is slow, looping guitars with a fantastic melody which gets under your skin and won't let go. Home is another brilliant slice of melody built around a groove that conjures up Sevendust meeting Pain of Salvation in a dark alley with StaticX. Fascination Street is an amazing cover of a song by The Cure - I'd never have guessed if it didn't say so on the sleeve.
Benefiting from a crystal clear production, Alder's performance is faultless, darkening and clearing up his vocals to create a whole epic of moods and grooves. Throughout every track there's a pulsating melodic heart that's alarmingly addictive. Superholic is simply an outstanding piece of music from beginning to end.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Stonehenge - Angelo Salutante
Tracklist: Invocation (1:29), Newcomer (7:37), For Another (4:48), Wendigo (6:51), Angelo Salutante (2:13), Angels (5:01), Full Moon (5:26), Whisper (3:42), Between Two Worlds (6:09), Rambling (7:20), Fly (6:48), Yellow (3:55)
Baarlo: The Netherlands. The fourth edition of Progpower Europe. Back in 2002 it was my first trip to such a far flung corner or Europe. As I rather nervously stood in a hall full of strangers some unheard of band from Hungary sped on stage - and proceeded to blow me away with their music and performance. That show still stands as one of my favourite ProgPower sets and thankfully I decided to forego a few beers to stretch my limited budget to buy a copy of their album.
I put Angelo Salutante in the CD as I drove back to Eindhoven airport. Writing for an English magazine at the time I wrote in my review: "Stonehenge come from Hungary and without beating about the bush, this five-piece are the most exciting band to come onto the progressive rock/metal scene for a good few years."
Over-statement? Possibly. However the 62 minutes of listening here is still a veritable feast of all that is best about the genre. Angeleo Salutante shows elements of Evergrey, VandenPlas, Angel Dust and Pain of Salvation. But Stonehenge have managed to create their own identity with a whole album which sounds incredibly fresh and exciting.
The musicianship is exemplary throughout and the only problem is trying to find a track that stands out as a highlight - there's barely a weak moment on any of them! Listen to the chorus of Angels, Wendigo and Rambling and tell me they ain't some of the most catchy hooks that would grace any rock album.
The album's centrepiece is Between Two Worlds, an atmospheric, progressive masterpiece where Zoltán Bátky has the chance to show off the full range of his powerful but delightfully raw voice.
The band had already built a strong underground following thanks to high profile gigging in their homeland, a link with Pain Of Salvation's management and the sheer persuasive quality of their music. Sadly, just as they'd built up a head of steam founding member Baláz Bóta (guitars) suffered an accident. A long delay meant singer Zoltán Bátky moved onto other projects and the moment had gone. They did battle on to produce an equally promising EP, Nerine in 2005 but folded shortly after.
The whole album comes with some nice artwork plus a multimedia package that includes a great video of Between Two Worlds. Both this album and Nerine are almost impossible to get hold of now. However, if the above has whetted your appetite and if you do see it, then I'd grab a copy straight away. Over a decade later this still gets regular plays and provides some happy memories of my first ever ProgPower Europe. I really can not recommend this highly enough.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Kamelot - Epica
With albums like The Fourth Legacy and Kharma and having caught their outstanding debut U.K. gig at The Underworld in 2002, Kamelot had been towards the top of my playlist for around three years. No surprise therefore that for me this had been one of the most eagerly awaited releases for ages. What was surprising, especially to me, is that Epica left me disappointed.
One of the more consistent metal line-ups, this is again a collaboration between Norwegian singer Khan and American guitarist Thomas Youngblood. Billed as a varied, new step in the evolution of the majestic Kamelot sound, Epica boasts 13 new songs that mix melodic power metal with progressive rock and epic symphonic influences. A concept album of sorts, it is inspired by Von Goethe's Faust and takes you through a storyline of ideas in which the main character Ariel is searching for truth and inner peace.
And when it's good it's very, very good. Opening tracks Center of the Universe and Farewell are still among the best songs the band has created - that unique combination of aggressive riffing, great melodies and ever-changing rhythms. Later on and Lost and Damned is probably Kamelot's catchiest song to date with a quirky French accordion interlude thrown in to great effect.
But elsewhere the rhythms and melodies seem a little too familiar - one or two sections sounded uncannily familiar - and overall it just doesn't have that edge, that excitement that made Kamelot stand out before.
The concept is a little too abstract for my tastes. There are also a few pieces which, to be honest, just grate. Helena's Theme is pure classics and totally fails to blend in with the rest; some of the story interludes are a bit too end of the pier panto and the track A Feast For The Vain has a painfully cheesy chorus.
Don't get me wrong, this still stood as one of the best melodic progpower metal releases of the year. But compared to The Fourth Legacy and Karma, this just doesn't hit my g-spot. Perhaps my expectations were just too high?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pyramid - The Immaculate Lie
Tracklist: Epilogue (2:05), Hell Freezes Over (6:16), Utopia City (7:37), Mercyful Lies (8:03), One Of A Kind (5:06), The Mastery Of Flight (8:16), Show Me (3:23), Armaggedon (13:44), Virtual Superhuman (5:25), The Prodigal Son (7:48)
I came across this Spanish technical progressive metal band totally by chance when covering a three day metal festival in Spain in 2001. In the early afternoon sun they really impressed with some tight playing and a singer who nailed every one of his stratospherically-destined notes.
At the time Pyramid were promoting their second release which came out in 2000 on Spanish label Locomotive. This album didn't really get much of a push outside the Mediterranean and seems to have passed largely unnoticed among the ProgMetal community. That's a shame, because what we have is a very high quality release that should be on the Must-Buy list of any lover of complex, progressive technical metal by the likes of Zero Hour, Watchtower and new Italian band Memento Waltz.
The Immaculate Lie is a bit of a hidden gem. Pyramid clearly build their sound on the style of Dream Theater's When Dream and Day Unite, but transform it into an amazingly dense spectrum of all that is metal and progressive. The compositions are complex, intriguing, superbly played (guitarist Tony Vallés is an incredible shredder), and there's some really catchy hooks, both in the riffing and melody.
Yes, vocalist Javier Céspedes is sometimes very high-pitched, and his style may not be everyone's taste. Yes, The Immaculate Lie is certainly no immediate album and was still revealing itself to me after a dozen or so listens. And yes, on several tracks the musical passages do just veer on the wrong side of self-indulgent.
But overall this is an album that never stands still long enough to become boring. Several tracks contain flamenco and Arabic influences, while others incorporate some very effective techno-thrash influences. Fascinating.
This was a very talented band which I'm really surprised didn't receive more attention.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pyramid - Gaudi's Legacy
Tracklist: Born Gaudi (4:21), Sons Of Gaudi (11:46), Art Takes Word (6:43), Sister Sona (8:48), La Pedrera (6:45), The Architect Of God (6:05), The Güell's Dragons Part I (3:04), The Güell's Dragons Part II (2:24), The Güell's Dragons Part III (4:24), Welcome To The Community WTHC (8:46), Requiem Gaudi (3:10)
The name Pyramid may not mean much to most of you, but the Spanish five-piece created an impressive slice of Prog Metal with their second release The Immaculate Lie. As an album it took a while to get into, but eventually managed to unveil some superb musicianship, some belting Dream Theater-esque metal and some delightfully catchy hooks.
It was certainly complex; was probably in need of reigning in some of their more widdly moments and had a vocalist who needed to reduce his higher pitched wails but my hope was that their follow-up would develop the clear potential for something special.
So here we have it. Gaudi's Legacy is a concept album about the famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí. On the plus side Javier Cespedes has taken his voice down an octave (or two). But rather than reign in their widdly tendencies, the band has decided to go down the world of full throttle self-indulgence. Over half of this disc is instrumental.
To be fair, this is instrumental-based Prog-metal, very well played. But while the debut did start to have an appeal after a few listens, I've been playing this for over a month and still haven't got anywhere. There is a willingness to take on a wide range of influences. This is particularly evident on the album's second number, Sons of Gaudi, with its eastern feel. And these Spaniards are not afraid of some fusion either, on songs like the long instrumental Sister Sona.
This album features new guitarist Santi Leal, whose Petrucci-esque chops combined with Tony Valles' more flowing solos, gives the band some severe clout. But after a while, it all becomes a bit samey, a bit too self-indulgent and my attention is drawn to the patterns on my new wallpaper.
I think all but the most widdly Prog fans will lack the energy to stick with this for long. Shame.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Morifade - Imaginarium
It starts off amazingly. The opening track on this album, Lost Within A Shade, is quite simply the best slice of melodic, progressive power metal I've ever enjoyed. A mixture of a blistering power chord feast with some clever progressive elements and all topped of with a hook that many bands can only dream of.
This was the second album from this young Linköping-based quintet and with a twin guitar attack and keyboards adding extra depth we are off to a blinding start. The progressive leanings of Nevermore and the varying tempos of the final track also impress highly. Elsewhere we are firmly in the more symphonic and folksy power metal field occupied by the likes of Rhapsody and Blind Guardian. The power chord, hook-laden ProgPower metal of a couple of other tracks again suggests something special could have been on the way.
The production from King Diamond guitarist Andy La Rocque is just as you would expect from the man who twiddled the knobs on Evergrey's Recreation Day opus and the musicianship throughout is top notch.
Two years later Domi<>nation followed in a similar vein. They also proved to be a cracking live band when I enjoyed their high energy set at Sweden's 2000 Decibel Festival. Yet for some reason Morifade became another of those great bands that just got lost amongst the pack. Given the right support and profile they could seriously have given the likes of Kamelot a run for their money.
After Domi<>nation and a live DVD the band went their separate ways. They reformed for the release of Empire of Souls in 2011 and are still active today. Both this and Domi<>nation stand as underground melodic ProgPower classics and are well worth seeking out.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Arachnes - Apocalypse
My review of this Italian band's previous album (The Goddess Temple) picked out the one new track, The Dreamer, and offered a prediction that this would be an act to keep an eye out for when it came to their next disc. Well I'm happy to say that my prediction was well-founded.
This time the Dream Theater complexity is a bit more to the fore whilst real harpsichord and choirs add to the epic feel and depth of many of the 15 tracks. There is still more than enough to please those who lean more towards the Stratovarius, Malmsteen or Symphony X end of the market. There is again a little too much of the instrumental-only stuff here for my tastes and on the negative side vocalist Enzo Caruso does struggle to meet the demands of the music, especially on some of the higher notes.
The star of the show is again guitarist Franco Caruso. His clear Blackmore influences are combined with a huge range of classical, jazz and more straightforward heavy metal vibes that give the tracks their main appeal.
There's also a decent Emerson, Lake & Palmer cover in the shape of The Power of God. With an improved production and a greater depth to the song writing, Apocalypse is probably the most rounded and enjoyable of the Arachnes albums.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Arachnes - The Goddess Temple
This Italian band has been around with a stable line-up since 1995. This compilation of their efforts to date shows the gradual progression during their early days into a respectable power metal act with symphonic and progressive tendencies.
They received a fair bit of interest in 2000 with the release of a mini CD Metamorphosis on Underground Symphony along with their first album on Scarlet Records, Parallel Worlds.
This release is actually a re-release of their debut album for Lucretia Records in 1997 plus two tracks, War and Flash of the Blade from Parallel Worlds and a new track, The Dreamer.
This debut album is a mixture of fairly straightforward power metal, the sound very much bringing Seven Wishes to mind. Not bad and there's a decent ballad in the shape of First of All. However the package is badly let down by five pointless instrumental tracks.
The two tracks from Parallel Minds take the band in a more symphonic/progressive direction but the real interest lies with the new track. Here the ample guitar talents of Franco Caruso back a much-improved vocal performance from his brother Enzo. Mixed with an improved production and a greater depth to the songwriting, The Dreamer suggests a huge step forward for the next album.
If you have the original ...Goddess... then there's not enough new stuff here to warrant splashing out again. And if you have Parallel Worlds then much of its predecessor is a step in the wrong direction.
However this is a nicely packaged effort by Scarlet which obviously had high hopes for the future. Not essential by any means but a good indication of the early career of this long-surviving band which is now signed to Lion Music and put out their last album, A New Day, in 2011.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Silent Voices - Chapters Of Tragedy
Tracklist: Beyond Shadows (4:43), HumanCradleGrave (5:16), Tragedy (10:56), Cross My Path (4:38), Falling From Grace (4:35), Glassheart (6:08), The Last Sunset (9:51)
'The Dream Theater of Finland' is what this band has been called in the past and from listening to this, that description is pretty spot on. Take Dream Theater circa Images and Words, mix in a bit of Symphony X (especially Mike Romeo's riffing) and ... well that's about it really.
Chapters Of Tragedy was the band's debut album and contains a set of seven nicely arranged, not too complex progressive metal songs. The only difference maybe is that Silent Voices have a somewhat darker sound than their idols.
The Kauppinen brothers Timo (guitars) and Pasi (bass) formed Silent Voices back in 1995 and the release of their debut album was a very long time coming. Quality musicians they are all to a penny. Michael Henneken's strong tenor vocals are superb. Keyboard player Henrik Klingenberg meanwhile has played in label mates Requiem and when this was released he had just been confirmed as replacement for Mikko Harkin in Sonata Arctica (a position he still holds).
But even on a first listen, you can't but help notice how much they sound like their ´masters here. Several songs on this album could prompt Mike Portnoy and co. to have a chat with their copyright lawyer. The second time of listening, I had quite a laugh playing 'spot that vocal line' or 'name that riff'.
If you enjoy Dream Theater style progressive metal then this is worth a listen. If so, then the lack of originality could be one of this album's main qualities. They are very good at what they do and I must admit to enjoying much of what is on offer.
The following two albums from the band (Infernal and Building Up The Apathy) continued in a similar vein albeit with a little more power metal influence to the fore. For me this was slightly the better of the three.
After a lengthy break, in 2013 the band is about to release its fourth album, Reveal The Change, utilising a cast of well-known Scandinavian singers.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Time Requiem - Time Requiem
Tracklist: Time Requiem (9:19), Watching the Tower of Skies (8:09), Milagros Charm (5:54), The Aphorism (6:32), Brutal Mentor (5:52), Visions of New Dawn (6:50), Grand Opus (7:39), Interplay of Matters (2:01), Above and Beyond (7:08)
Anyone into neoclassical metal, please stand up now. Stay standing, all of you who got excited by Scandie metallers Majestic, who released two creditable albums on the Massacre label. And join them in an upright position, anyone who likes a healthy dose of symphonic and progressive ingredients in their musical diet.
Right, now that I've selected the potential audience for this album, may I introduce you to Time Requiem. Majestic was the brainchild of progressive keyboard maestro Richard Andersson (Space Odyssey). Not happy with the direction (both in musical and business terms) of his creation, Andersson sent Majestic to the metal history books. From its ashes rose Time Requiem.
However, with ex-In Flames and Arch Enemy bassist Dick Lovgren being the only new face, you have to ask the question - is this just a continuation of the Majestic sound under a new brand name? "Definitely not" would come my answer. While keeping some of the key neo-classical elements, Time Requiem is a fair distance removed from its predecessor. Majestic, for me, dealt in rather predictable, derivative Scandie metal. Time Requiem has added a far more thoughtful brand of progressive and melodic power metal to their sound.
With old friend and bass player Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings) twiddling the production knobs, the sound is a big improvement too. Richard has since guested with keyboard solos on two Karmakanic albums.
Now, very few bands manage to fuse virtuosity with genuine song writing creativity. On around half of this album Time Requiem hit about the right balance. The opening trio of the title track, Watching the Tower of Skies and Milagros Charm are some very impressive slices of symphonic progressive metal, bringing Symphony X in their more metallic moments very much to mind. Apollo Papathansio proves himself to be a vocalist of great talent.
However, for the other half of this disc, the song writing has to settle for second best. Andersson is to the keys, what Yngwie Malmsteen is to the guitar (he almost joined Rising Force at one stage). From the very start to the very finish, this record is dominated by a dazzling display of musical duelling between keyboards, bass, lead guitar and drums. As a result the mind does develop a tendency to wander.
Overall though, this has enough metal energy to retain the Majestic fan base and enough progression to bring in a new audience. If they could just reign in some of the instrumental excesses...
Two further Time Requiem studio albums and a Live In Japan collection have followed. His last release was another Space Odyssey album (Years of the Sun) in 2006.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tunnelvision - Tomorrow
Tracklist: Calling (4:27), Silence (4:36), Parasites (6:02), Lightning (4:40), Time Of The Hunter's Moon (5:36), The Hermit (Wait And See) (7:00), Don Juan's Triumph (7:01), Ribbon Of Tears (4:29), Long Voyage Back (8:23), While The World Awaits (11:00)
On first appearances, I remember at the time getting this on a whim as it seemed the most promising of the month's releases with comparisons to Magnitude Nine and Balance of Power.
This Finnish five-piece was formed in 1995 with the aim of combining the prog rock of the '70s (Rush, Yes, Genesis) with the metal acts of the '80s (Iron Maiden, Dio, Black Sabbath). Their debut album, While The World Awaits, received a positive response from DPRP and the band was duly snapped up by Massacre.
So why have they received such a low mark? The simple answer is that Tomorrow is just boring. The opening trio of Calling, Silence and the decent Parasites start things off reasonably enough; progressive metal, driven by heavy staccato guitar riffing and all wrapped around reasonably catchy melodies. Plenty of technical playing but nothing too complicated.
But from there ... well, it just goes nowhere. Over a decade later, I've given this another play, but as I write this I'm struggling to think of anything else to say. On top of it all, Marko Waara's vocals are just too one-dimensional to rise above the mire. Very, very average.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Avatar - Essence
Tracklist: See the Sorrow (6:44), Essence (1:19), Do We Really Want? (6:43), Romantic Legend (6:03), Dreams of a Better World (7:15), Power Rules (5:03), Reason or Heart (7:52), I say Goodbye (3:29), Eyes of Love (6:14)
Quality Control is one of the key disciplines behind running any good business. You'd therefore expect any self-respecting record label to set high standards before even considering whether a band should enter a studio. Sadly one of the most common questions I hear metal fans asking at the moment is: "Why is so much crap currently being released?" Almost every label seems to be running on a business model that goes something like... 'If we release enough sh*t some of it will stick'. In a crowded market place, it is increasingly difficult for fans to pick out the real diamonds from the mass of doggy do. Too many of us are wasting money on albums from once reliable sources and are now thinking carefully before buying again. I have a serious concern that those bands who do deserve to break out are losing out because a limited number of fans have so much to choose from.
To highlight the debate, I bring you this album by Spanish progressive metal outfit Avatar. The stark fact is, Avatar should never have been allowed into a studio. This album is so far short of even the lowest standards that constructive criticism is pointless. Reading the press release that comes with this glorified beer mat, I realise the label does have an excuse - they're deaf. How else could you explain them comparing the vocalist on this cold kebab of an album with Ronnie James Dio and Tony Martin? They are rock legends. Alfonso de Lope delivers one the most out of tune, painful, vocal performances I've ever had the displeasure to hear. When combined with a drummer who wants to be Mike Portnoy but sounds more like Basil Brush, then all I can conclude is that Vinny Records may just be having a laugh, but it definitely won't be all the way to the bank.
Sadly, time has proved me correct on this one. As far as the web tells me, Avatar only released this one album. Vinny Records are also no more.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10