Issue 2015-031: Prog Metal Special

Aeon Zen - Ephemera

Aeon Zen - Ephemera
Country of Origin: UK
Format: cd
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 45:32
Info: Aeon Zen
Track List:
The Entity (6:07), Soul Machine (5:29), Life? (6:44), Unite (5:11), Penumbra (0:47), The Order of the Blind (2:45), Remembrance (5:15), Rebuild the Ruins (5:38), The Space You Wanted (3:43)
If you are not into prog metal, then there is little, if any need to read this review. Unless of course you are into broadening your horizons, then this might be just for you.

Aeon Zen formed in 2008. Where it started as a studio effort, it is now a fully fledged band, showing its muscles and skills. Everything you expect to find in modern prog metal is here, whether that is a very broad sound (think Symphony X), djent influences (Meshuggah says 'hi'), influences by a prog metal genius (Devin Townsend, very clearly so), references to historic influences which may have been part of the musical teachings (Queen and Freddie Mercury give their regards), and the inevitable double bass drum kicks, it is all here in this album.

What is clear from this album, is that mainman Rich Hinks has a great feel for writing diverse music. The compositions really vary, with everything from technical and speedy parts, to a Queen pastiche, and death metal. There is a lot going on in this album with its sci-fi background. It is a universe in itself to be explored.

Not only does Aeon Zen have the songs to make a successful prog metal album, there is also a near-perfect performance of the songs on this album. With vocal duties divided between Rich and Andi Kravljala, Alistair Bell on guitar, Steve Burton on drums and Tom Green on keyboards, here is a band that makes modern and dynamic prog metal in a way that sometimes leans towards fellow Brits Haken. Both bands know how to put the 'pedal to the metal', yet also seek to not cram every square inch of the music full of sound. In such cases the music can get just too much.

Aeon Zen do border on the edge of doing just that, yet it doesn't happen in this album, as the variety between the songs is great. In some songs there's just too many guitar licks thrown in. It's not necessary, as it is clear from his overall playing that Alistair is a great guitarist. Not all of the licks add to the sound.

Still, this is one adventurous album. If you are out to broaden your experience, and if heavy riffing, a strong yet high voice, and the effective use of double bass drums do not scare you off, then just give this one a listen. You might be in for quite a surprise. I know I was. Nice one.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 7.5 out of 10

Dreamgrave - Presentiment

Dreamgrave - Presentiment
Country of Origin: Hungary
Format: download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 57:06
Info: Dreamgrave on Bandcamp
Samples: Dreamgrave on Bandcamp
Track List:
Ethereal Eternity (2:21), Black Spiral (6:57), Memento Mori (6:50), The Last Drop Falls (6:21), Presentiment (8:22), Presentiment (Part II) (4:02), False Sense of Coincidence (6:54), It's Ubiquitous (8:54)
At my first listen I turned away from this album, thinking it was just the usual gothic music with the cheesy "beauty and the beast" / cookie monster and operatic soprano set-up; a type of music I seem to have gotten an allergy for.

But a few spins later, I found myself liking the album. This is the debut by this Hungarian outfit and has quite a good production. Up-front it comes dressed as the usual power/goth symphonic metal effort, and that's how the metal scene categorises the band as far as I've seen. It looks like I'm not the only one who overlooked the gems in their music. The album is a concept piece and follows the usual operatic arcs and bows. The song structures follow the story-telling concept, rather than the usual verse structure. The whole album is structured like an opera, where each song has its part of the drama, and where there are a lot of highs and lows that alternate the scenic pictures.

There are a lot of willful time signatures going on during the solo parts, while advanced, jazzy chord structures build bridges between heavy and mellow parts. The vocalists have quite a variety of styles and techniques to choose from. Not only is it growling or melodic, operatic or metallic but there are a couple of nuances that both vocalists integrate greatly into the mix. The keyboards mainly add orchestration at a good, bearable level, but also a real violin and a cello can be heard. Presentiment blends gothic with neoclassical metal at an advanced level. Influences of artists such as Opeth and Paradise Lost, but also Storm Corrosion, early Anathema and Haken are great spices to add into the mix of this metal that is based on music from Mozart, Vivaldi, Paganini and the likes. With the vast variety of techniques, the band manages to avoid sounding grotesque or cheesy throughout the album. Because of this I think it safe to recommend the album to everybody, even though I am not a fan of the genre.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 8 out of 10

Ethernity - Obscure Illusions

Ethernity - Obscure Illusions
Country of Origin: Belgium
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 70:46
Info: Ethernity
Samples: Obscure Illusions on Amazon
Track List:
False Lamentations (5:34), Entities (4:10), Shadows on the Wall (4:45), Secret Door (4:34), Never Thought (You Would Make Me to Go) (5:52), Rancor (4:53), Alone (6:16), Broken Memories (5:49), After All Has Turned to Pain (5:10), XIII (Thirteen)(6:37), Interlude (1:12), Obscure Illusions (14:27)
Holy Mother of Rock, this is a debut? You won't really believe it, and it is not completely true. Ethernity was born in 2000 and released a handful of demos through 2005 and 2010. Some personal changes and their own evolution in writing and playing helped the years come and go, for Ethernity was more a project than a band, so touring and playing was limited. But sometimes the long way is the best way. Don't worry if you haven't heard of them before, just be happy with a new discovery. This is their first full length CD, produced by Simone Mularoni at Domination Studio, Italy. A what a debut this is.

Ethernity is a female-fronted progressive metal band from Belgium. Two brothers and a cousin were the base, now accompainied by three friends to form a six-piece metal band. Julie Colin (vocals), Julien Spreutels (keyboards), Nicolas Spreutels (drums), Gregory Discenza (lead guitar), François Spreutels (bass), and Thomas Henry (guitar) provide an astonishingly full sound, which could fairly be compared with early Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen. The compositions stand up to similar comparison. On the one hand we hear the typical metal sound, on the other hand Ethernity displays well-trained writing skills. The songs feature clear ideas, they develop the lines and show us a good hand for intros, bridges and breaks. The sound and the general mood is positive.

We find 12 tracks on Obscure Illusions, mostly five to six minutes long. The closing title track is a long one at 15 minutes, including a short (pre)interlude. Ethernity are really able to take advantage of their band set-up. Everybody is able to concentrate on their role, but this is far from being a mixture of six ego-trips. Their co-operation and joy at playing is infectious from the first listening, and it will not take long to discover that the well composed tracks feature a great harmony of the musicians. Give and take, you might say. They give each other the room for interesting breaks and solo spots. They take the individual musical ability to bring the songs to a high standard.

Jolie Colin provides a varying shouting voice, no growls and no angel, lullaby singing. It's rock. Her contibutions are comfortable and never boring. The full implementation of Julien Spreutels' keyboards gives the whole album a very good attitude (although I know metalheads always desire bad attitudes). Some of the thrown-in piano parts are as pleasing as his tempo-driven solos. Gregory Discenza on the lead guitar and Thomas Henry on guitar play together as if they were twins, and we have lots of fine guitar work on this album. Nicolas and Francois Spreutels are building an extremly suitable foundation in each track.

You will not find a weak point here. Many ideas, and a lot of fine tunes and melodys are presented, by a very ambitious band. We are served a well produced bunch of enjoyable music. The compositions are tight and the interpretations are at a high level. Try at first False Lamentations, Shadows on the Wall or XIII (Thirteen). Ethernity deserves your attention!
Conclusion:
Peter Funke: 9 out of 10

False Coda - Closer to the Edge

False Coda - Closer to the Edge
Country of Origin: Greece
Format: CD
Record Label: Steel Gallery Records
Catalogue #: SGR CD-036
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 40:52
Info: False Coda
Samples: False Coda on Soundcloud
Track List:
Simple Rules (3:52), Code of Kindness (6:51), Picture (4:26), Closer to the Edge (5:31), Room of Pain (5:13), Respect (7:07), Blood on Eyes (7:49)
It's good to see there are still bands that keep prog metal fresh. Because however you want to see it, False Coda's debut album is comprised mostly of hard riffs, heart-pounding drum beats and other elements that hark back to the purest essence of bands like Dream Theater and Queensrÿche. There's also a tiny hint of thrash thrown into the mix, but that hardly defines the overall sound of this record.

There's a grandiose approach to songwriting here, with many passages formed by different layers of ideas. It's clear the band understands that prog is not just about mashing ten different ideas together. It's about melding concepts and set-pieces, making them relevant to each other.

The intro riff to the track The Room of Pain demonstrates the heavier 80s Bay Area Metal, whilst Respect displays a more modern prog metal side.

In a weird way, everything on this album sounds somewhat expectable from a prog metal band. All the staples are there, although there are moments and little details that throw this notion out of the window.

It's these small surprises that leave me thinking "this is why I listen to prog". It might be a tiny, three-note phrase or chord, but in those moments, the feeling of "been here before" vanishes almost instantly.

Technically speaking, the musicians are all top notch. Every instrument sounds in place, with the usual display of prowess that one would expect from a band in this genre. The singer does a fine job, and at times he sounds a bit like Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge and Slash, although I wish he'd rely more on his lower registry, which sounds spot-on. His high notes can sound a bit off at times.

All in all, Closer to the Edge is a very good album, and while it doesn't stand out as an immediate classic, there is a lot to enjoy here. It reminds me a little of other great prog band's first albums: not perfect (especially in the recording territory) but with a lot going for it. Be warned though: softer prog fans may very well disregard this as just another heavy album.
Conclusion:
Diego Crescini: 7 out of 10

Iris Divine - Karma Sown

Iris Divine - Karma Sown
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Sensory
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 48:50
Info: Iris Divine
Samples: Iris Divine on Bandcamp
Track List:
The Everlasting Sea (6:19), Fire of the Unknown (5:33), A Suicide Awake (5:24), Mother's Prayer (5:39), Prisms (6:08), In Spirals (6:30), Apathy Rains (5:22), In The Wake of Martyrs (7:58)
My record collection includes a cassette-promo pack of the first Dream Theater album, and a (signed) import vinyl of the debut Queensryche EP. Thus I tend to consider it a fair claim that I've been a follower of the progressive metal sub-genre since it first emerged.

Many early fans of progressive metal had the emphasis on the 'prog', being fans of the heavier prog bands of the 70s and 80s. My teenage years were spent devouring melodic hard rock (mainly American) and melodic heavy metal (mainly western European). Thus the new bands that really drew me into progressive metal, were not the over-complicated ones, but those that had a keen sense of melody, a smooth vocalist and a darker metallic sound to their riffage. I later began to explore 'prog' from a love of progressive metal – not the other way around.

Yet that has really been my preferred style of progressive metal ever since. Sadly, as with all types of music, progressive metal has evolved (progressed). What new music is released under that banner nowadays, takes its influences from far more recent sub-genres. We have the death metal growls, the syncopated riffing of djent and the more complex stylings of jazz and the avant garde.

It is simply unfashionable, or just not within many bands' knowledge, to take the melodic hard rock and metal of the 80s as a basis for their style of progressive metal.

So imagine my joy to discover a band that does exactly that, and to a very high standard. Hailing from Virginia, Iris Divine came onto my radar in 2011 with what I think was their debut album, Covergence. It had a wonderfully catchy opening song, Broken Arms but lacked depth and was a little light on the metal for my tastes. (The whole thing is now available as a pay-what-you-wish download from the Iris Divine Bandcamp page.)

Now reduced to a trio, the band actually released this album themselves late last year. That 'release' only lasted for a week, as the album was quickly snapped-up by the reliable Sensory Records and full worldwide release scheduled. Fortunately I found Karma Sown in time, so have had several months to live with this album before reaching a conclusion as to its merits.

Basically, if you mix the melodic catchiness and swagger of a host of the more sophisticated melodic hard rock and metal bands (Q5, Magnitude9 and Millenium keep springing to my mind) with a bunch of the less complex and more melodic progressive metal acts of the past three decades (Seventh Wonder, early Queensryche and Evergrey to name just three). Then add the darker atmospherics and contemporary riffage of Alice In Chains and Pantera and the rhythmic complexity of Kings X and mid-period Rush, then you pretty much have the sound that Iris Divine have made their own. Fates Warning and Redemption fans should love this too.

In terms of the songs, I'm unable to select a favourite. They are all brilliant. Each has that riffage and melodic sensibility that just makes me want to swing my head and sing-along. Yet there is enough detailing in the arrangements, and enough sophistication to the playing, to make it no throwaway listen. Karma Sown has the depth of an album that will still get regular play in a decade or two.

I love the emotive, mid-range vocals of Navid Rashid, but it is the drumming of Kris Combs which impresses the most. The rhythm and groove he is able to create with bassist Brian Dobbs, is the making of this album. The artwork and production is top class too. The voice-over samples are overused and add nothing to the music.

This is without doubt my favoured style of progressive metal, and I can say that this is easily one of the best such albums that I have ever heard. An Album of the Year contender without a doubt, and a musical statement of which these three musicians should be proud.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 9.5 out of 10

Moonspell - Extinct

Moonspell - Extinct
Country of Origin: Portugal
Format: CD
Record Label: Napalm Records
Catalogue #: B00QLAIVWM
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 45:38
Info: Moonspell
Samples: Extinct on Youtube
Track List:
Breathe (Until We Are No More) (5:33), Extinct (4:42), Medusalem (5:06), Domina (5:09), The Last of Us (3:26), Malignia (5:06), Funeral Bloom (4:10), A Dying Breed (4:29), The Future Is Dark (5:09), La Baphomette (2:48)
Moonspell is probably the most important metal act to come from Portugal. Fronted by Fernando Ribeiro, they are back with their eleventh release entitled Extinct. It follows their most successful releases, Alpha Noir (2012) and the wonderful Night Eternal (2008). So now they have the responsibility to raise their musical standards with this release, in which they keep their trademark darker style, combined with powerful bass lines and clean guitar riffs and solos. I like the ethnic influences they use in their arrangements that remind me of Orphaned Land for some moments, and they also have interesting work done on keyboards and guitar arrangements.

I can't define this musical style as pure gothic metal, because they sometimes sound darker, sometimes the sound very melodic, and sometimes they even have some industrial and rock arrangements. It makes this album very versatile and interesting. We can hear other musical influences here like Type O-Negative and sometimes Volbeat or Dimmu Borgir.

Fernando Ribeiro has a very particular voice tone, and he moves from clean voice to brawl without difficulty. He sounds like a crazy mixture between Spanish singer Enrique Bunbury and Soulfly's Max Cavalera. His clean voice sounds very operatic, and this emphasises his contrast when he switches from one style to another. I really don't like how his clean voice sounds and I have serious doubts if this singing style is the best match with the music. But this is only my humble opinion.

The title track Extinct sounds very weak compared to other tremendous songs like Medusalem or Domina, which have a powerful but simple melodic structure. In Domina, the work done by the guitars is wonderful, both on rhythm or in the solo parts. La Baphomette, the final song from this album, is perhaps the only one that transmits this dark and melancholic image that the band tries to show to us.

What we have here is an album that is well produced, but I can't feel it strong enough to fulfill our expectations.
Conclusion:
Guillermo Palladino: 6 out of 10

Odin's Court - Turtles All the Way Down

Odin's Court - Turtles All the Way Down
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 61:04
Info: Odin's Court
Samples: Odin's Court on Myspace
Track List:
Turtles All the Way Down pt. 1 (3:14), And the Answer is... (4:22), ... But What's the Question? (4:54), Insomnia (3:40), The Dephts of Reason (3:11), Turtles All the Way Down pt. 2 (1:41), The Warmth of Mediocrity (4:10), (A Song for) Dragons (4:59), The Death of a Sun (5:00), Back Where the Daffodils Grow (2:19), Life's Glory (4:31), Turtles All the Way Down pt. 3 (1:39), Box of Dice (Does God Play?) (17:24)
Statler and Waldorf are unsung heroes. The thought of the two old men discussing and criticising from the balcony of The Muppet Show entered my mind upon listening to this album. I have played it at home, played it in the car stereo and used headphones. There is one point that stuck in my head and kept coming back, no matter what I tried. In line with the good old Queen song title Too Much Love Will Kill You I would like to state that too much double bass drum will kill music!

Through this kingdom of double bass drum, courtesy of Jeff Sauber, other instruments can actually be heard. It's not that I reckon Jeff to be a bad drummer, but why add so much of the double bass? The almost continuous use distracts from the rest of the music in a negative way. It became very hard to listen to the album as coherent songs. Nevertheless, it is a reviewer's duty to do so, so I tried and tried. This was the result of several listening sessions.

The underlying theme of the album is one of grandeur and, at the same time, one with humour. The meaning of life, the universe and everything are discussed. It is said that scientist Bertrand Russell once met an old lady at an event who said he knew not what he was actually speaking of when talking about the earth, life and everything. She said the whole earth was held up by a turtle. When asked who or what carried the turtle, there was the line that now made the title for this album.

Odin's Court have already released several albums, two of which have already been under review here at DPRP. What is clear from the way the album starts, from the guitar solos, the songwriting and the multiple instruments he plays, Matt Brookins really knows a thing or two about music. That goes for the other guitarist, Rick Pierpont, as well.

The songwriting on the album mixes hard rock and progressive metal and in a way tries to be an amalgam of Symphony X and Journey. Now that is not necessarily a bad thing, yet the flow of the songs every now and then seems to suffer from the ideal that the band might be striving for.

... But What's the Question? could easily have done without the heavier parts, with the fine choruses and the vocal lines building quite a good base for the song. The heavier part is a sort of interlude that, to me, disrupts the flow of the song. Fortunately both guitarists start exchanging solos and then the more Journey-edque part is back.

While the guitar parts are all fleshed out, the keys seem to have drawn the shorter straw. They are buried in the mix and just less developed. If there was more balance in the overall sound, the band and sound would profit greatly from it.

The Depths of Reason seems to have more going in the production area for the keys, but the layers of guitar stress the leading role of that instrument. Another example is the keyboard part that starts off (A Song for) Dragons. A nice song, yet it seems as if the keyboard parts were more difficult to fit into the overall sound than the guitar parts. It must be said however that the keys do provide a steady backing throughout the album.

New kid on the block Dimetrius LaFavors has a siren-like voice, which can easily reach Steve Perry notes. But when his vocal lines get further up in the registers, he can hardly be faulted for getting in James LaBrie mode, meaning that whatever text he sings, can't possibly be understood. At least, this is what, unfortunately, happens to James's singing every now and then. And sadly, it happens here as well.

The instrumental workouts and the vocals aren't bad at all, and there are decent song structures. Yet there is the strange sensation of listening to music that sometimes goes through unnatural flows, whilst the riffs and the song structures sound like the greater part of them have been used before. It's in the passages where the guitars get their solo or dual spots that I feel there is a better album to be made by Matt Brookins and his bandmates.

The epic that closes the album, more particularly the second part of the song, shows that Odin's Court can write songs that have a natural flow, and that seem to fit everyone in the band. Even the double bass drum doesn't get kicked in that much. The potential, I believe is there. Much less bass drum, a more natural flow to the songs, and yes, perhaps an outside producer. That might just turtle it all the way up. Perhaps Statler and Waldorf would remain silent then as well.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 5 out of 10

Opus of a Machine - Simulacra

Opus of a Machine - Simulacra
Country of Origin: Australia
Format: download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 50:14
Info: Opus of a Machine
Samples: Opus of a Machine on Bandcamp
Track List:
Hourly Painted Obscurity (6:01), Parallels (4:27), An Echo Undone (6:52), Simulacra (6:28), A Slow Embrace (5:52), The Feeding (4:43), Crack In The Soul (6:17), Tuatara (9:34)
I never knew many bands from Australia, maybe 10 to 15 in total. Either I was ignorant, or the major labels ignored anything from Down Under. Thanks to the democratisation of music recording, this has changed drastically and many more bands from the other side of the world now delight us with their creativity. One new star "below the horizon" is Opus of a Machine.

One benefit of the Aussies remaining among themselves for so long, is a sort of musical trademark. You hear a melody and just know that it comes from Down Under. No that's not a bad thing. It's good. Just as good as these guys playing metal and sounding relaxed at the same time. Or how they find a warm and friendly melody, sometimes even in major scale, while hell breaks loose.

Opus of a Machine manages to take that to an extreme with their epic melodies, but they also stand out with the good blend of styles that they combine. Their main sound has a very strong tendency towards Leprous. It is so strong, that I was wondering why they don't mention the band as an influence. Probably they just don't know that they are Leprous fans?

Anyhow, many of Opus of a Machine's odd meters, their staccato thrashing and chord blasting is really stunningly-close to what Leprous do. But still, it is unique, as are the warm, friendly vocals that sweep over it all creating a vast contrast. Then we have the djent soundscapes they play, and the Tool-esque grooves that pass by, giving even more thrilling moments. They also remind me of fellow Australians Karnivool and Skyharbor, and in easier moments of Luke Manchin's band Maschine and Haken.

This album is really strong and has the potential to impress all metal heads out there. It won't be easy for these guys to top this great debut.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 8 out of 10

Sadman Institute - Revival

Sadman Institute - Revival
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: Lynx Music
Catalogue #: LM101CD
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 43:01
Info: Sadman Institute
Samples: Sadman Institute on Soundcloud
Track List:
Ash and Dust (8:05), F.T. (6:07), Rotten Home (6:30), Take It All (5:42), Sacrifice (6:46), Trapped Between (9:51)
Riverside was one of the premier bands to appear from Poland. In the slipstream of Marius Dzuda's band, there was a whole surge of Polish bands that tried to secure their own spot in the prog scene. One of the younger bands to try and give it a go are these five men from the Krakow area. The vocal lines and the style of singing might somewhat resemble that of the leadsinger of Riverside, but that is about where the resemblance ends.

The band state in their biography they are a progressive metal band. After giving the album several spins, there is no doubt about the metal part of the statement. The progressive elements are there mostly in time changes and sometimes there is a mood change as well but these progressive elements are not overtly exposed in comparison to the metal parts. Sadly, the progressive parts don't make too much of an impression.

Perhaps it's the heavyness and the somber feel that the songs have, yet this album, even though the title might imply differently, doesn't work any revival for me. Apart from the song Sacrifice that to me is the most appealing on the album, I find a lot of the album very much in the heavy vein with only a wee bit of progressiveness included in the end.

I am all for giving young and upcoming bands a chance, particularly when they operate in the field of progressive music, be that rock, be that metal, no matter what it be. This album had only moments that had some sense of music that appeared inspiring. I am sad to say that for the greater part to me the album felt like draining away my energy. I felt it to be more metal, complex sometimes because of the time changes than I would consider it to be prog in a metal setting. Perhaps this album is just more suited for reviewing in the field of metal.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 4 out of 10

Soul Cages - Moon

Soul Cages - Moon
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 43:03
Info: Soul Cages
Track List:
Always Meet Twice (5:24), Darkness (4:20), The Moon (7:54), The Curse (4:16), Tomorrow (4:48), Waiting (6:35), Beautiful (5:14), Point One (Instrumental) (4:32)
Soul Cages are a band that already have quite the history. Yet there's a 14 year gap between this release and their previous. There is a review of Finnish band Soulcage on the DPRP site, but they must not be confused with Soul Cages. Way back at the end of the '80s, start of the '90s, there were quite a lot of bands in the vein of Queensryche, Fates Warning and Psychotic Waltz. Not so much copying that sound, but more like having found a home in the kind of music the Ryche, Warning and Waltz produced.

In Germany a band that gathered a following of their own was Sieges Even, quite known to the DPRP community. Next to them, yet not so known to the general public, Soul Cages came to fruition. The band recorded 3 albums during their first run but sadly I never got to hear them. Now having discovered this gem that is called Moon, it appears that their back catalogue must be seriously checked out.

What the young Queensryche, Fates Warning and Psychotic Waltz shared was the ability to create a world of music of their own that somehow found its path on from Rush's early '80's releases, building on the technical ability of guitarists and having them have the lead whereas keyboards were added for accents and atmosphere. Never discouraging the keyboards but not giving them the leading role as much as a Dream Theater would. To name some albums that spring to mind, there are Queensryche's Warning to Empire, Fates Warning's No Exit and Perfect Symmetry and Psychotic Waltz's A Social Grace and Into the Everflow.

Of course, there are other bands that can be named, but this should give you an idea of the music referred to. Music that had (and has) a magic of its own as all these bands succeeded in creating music that was full of emotion, even while chords and time changes foremostly were played by guitars. Coming from a hardrock background and being slowly introduced to progressive rock, I truly felt that as a revelation. It wasn't that emotion was never a part of hardrock or metal - some of the most beautiful ballads spring from the heavier type of music. But here the guitars were set out to create atmosphere, much more than in the music I listened to when growing up.

And so now it is 2015. Only now have I come to listen to this album by Soul Cages and what I never expected, is that their Moon carries me way back to the feel I had upon first being introduced to the likes of Ryche, Warning and Waltz. There is a sense of wonder in the music, there are beautiful chord progressions, there are the obvious or either not so obvious referrals to Moving Pictures or Permanent Waves era Rush. (Just listen to the title track and see what you find for yourself.) There is great musicianship and there are two vocalists that are a match made in heaven. Thorsten Staroske takes care of the male vocals, guitars and keyboards as well and Beate Kuhbier is responsible for the female vocals and keyboards too. Where Thorsten's voice is upfront in the music and might be compared to a mix of young Geoff Tate and Devon Graves, Beate's voice is more to the back, sounding ever so much like an eager Aimee Mann. The vocal lines combined really give the music an extra touch.

Agreed, perhaps Soul Cages don't always sound as complicated as the three bands mentioned, but the way they draw you in to their music, the emotion expressed is quite impressive. Perhaps you may find that this music has been heard before and that it is something that belongs way back in the past, then try and listen again. The band clearly have taken the genre as a base and brought it to the here and now. It is not so much about recreating the past as it is about creating music that is there for us all now to enjoy.

Two years after the release of Moon we are a bit late in reviewing the album, but Soul Cages are still touring. Let's hope there is another album in store. If you're into the bands mentioned, then just give this album a try as it's highly recommended for you.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

Subterranean Masquerade - The Great Bazaar

Subterranean Masquerade - The Great Bazaar
Country of Origin: Israel
Format: download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 38:31
Info: Subterranean Masquerade
Samples: Subterranean Masquerade on Bandcamp
Track List:
Early Morning Mantra (6:24), Reliving The Feeling (5:22), Tour Diary (4:06), Nigen (3:06), Blanket Of Longing (4:55), Specter (5:36), Father And Son (9:07)
A couple of years ago, my wife and I undertook an extended visit to Israel and Palestine. One of the most colorful spots was Jerusalem. One of the most colourful spots in Jerusalem was the vibrant Mahane Yehuda Market, or 'The Shuk' as the locals prefer to call it.

Like the city within which it lies, The Shuk is an intricately layered tapestry of alleyways that are home to over 250 food stalls. It is a meandering encyclopedia of traditions, cultures, histories and innovations dedicated to one's palate. Within sniffing distance at any one spot, there can be juices, spices, exotic fruits and vegetables, sweet and sour flavours, pastries, breads, hot, cold and frozen foods, all taking inspiration from different corners of the world.

The Great Bazaar is the musical equivalent of The Shuk. A more appropriately named album you will never find.

Subterranean Masquerade has been in existence since 1997 but this is only their second full-length release. The creation of Israeli guitarist and songwriter Tomer Pink, the band is a true international affair, comprised of seven musicians. Tomer is joined by fellow guitarist Or Shalev, bassist Golan Farhi, keyboardist Shai Yallin, drummer Matan Shmuely of Orphaned Land fame, as well as an impressive duo of vocalists in the form of Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom) and Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation, Tristania). Two songs feature guest contributions from Orphaned Land's singer Kobi Farhi.

This is music with its base firmly in the Middle Eastern Mediterranean tradition but with all the western trappings of modern heavy progressive rock and metal. Behind the band we have a troupe of musicians playing flute, saxophone, bazuki, shofar, oud, Turkish Saz, Persian Tar, strings, mandolin, percussions and clarinet. Ambient sounds are added here and there from India.

In every respect The Great Bazaar is a major step-up from previous Subterranean Masquerade efforts. I found the previous album (Suspended Animation Dreams) and the two EPs to be rather rambling, poorly produced and executed, with too much growly vocals.

This album shouts 'class' from every sleeve credit. The artwork is by Travis Smith, and the mixing and mastering by Dan Swano. The CD sits at the back of a quality digi-book with full lyrics and some lovely imagery. My copy is even signed by the band! This is how you get people to splash the cash and buy the full product, not just a download.

The flavour of this album can be summarised through a description of the opening track. Early Morning Mantra is the musical equivalent of a shopping trip to the Mahane Yehuda Market.

It begins with vivid Middle-Eastern instrumentation before going off in all manner of directions with hints of 70s progressive rock and some neo prog, folk, death metal, jazz fusion, and world music as well as clean and growly vocals and a repetitive samba rhythm, complete with wind section. It could be a mish-mash, but its sounds perfectly coherent, with melodies that ensure it all flows beautifully from beginning to end. That is skilled songwriting.

With three very distinctive vocalists, there is always going to be a strong nod here to the bands they are associated with. I sense that the melodic lines and chorus give a greater reflection of Green Carnation's music. In particular, parts of Tour Diary, Blanket of Longing and Specter could all be gentler songs from A Blessing in Disguise. On the other hand, the overall vibe and the mix of clean and growly vocals put this very much in the Orphaned Land tradition. Based on a Jewish folk melody, Nigen offers a pleasantly simple reprise at the halfway mark.

(As a short aside: I am certainly no fan of the growlies, but this album shows how they can be effectively used as part of a wide mix of 'instruments', without becoming a distraction/annoyance)

The only track that doesn't work is the closing Father and Son, coming across as a collection of ideas that hasn't been properly woven together. The album is on the short side, which I tend to prefer. The two bonus tracks are from previous releases and add little, other than to showcase how far this band has progressed.

I did give some thought as to whether this album should sit within a DPRP Prog Metal Special. Its combination of various musical stylings is truly progressive, and a good half of it is not particularly metallic. It has the potential to appeal to a wider cross section of listeners, especially ones who like to take a world music view and to have their musical boundaries challenged. It certainly takes a few careful listens before it begins to cast its spell. However when it turns heavy, it is heavy, and the use of growly vocals means that 'prog metal' is probably a fair stand on which to place it.

Overall, The Great Bazaar is a truly absorbingly intriguing listen, with moments of real musical wonder. It will certainly be one of my musical highlights of 2015.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10