Issue 2017-080: Prog Metal Special
Fabulae Dramatis - Solar Time's Fables
Agni's Dynasty (Fire I) (4:08), Stone (4:36), Heresy (Steel) (3:56), Sati (Fire II) (6:24), Sirius Wind (3:47), Coatlicue, Serpent Skirt (Earth) (5:00), Nok Terracottas (Mud) (2:48), Forest (1:57), Roble Para El Corazón (Wood) (5:03), Smoke For The Clouds (Ahuirán's Water) (5:57), Barren (Gravel) (4:55)
These guys and gals bring in elements from all over the musical world, based on modern prog metal, with lots of breaks and changes, obviously. Some songs, like Sati (Fire II), sound quite organic even in their chaos, but a lot of times I was pushed into another direction when I was just getting into a certain mood. It's like they found this book of tricks and influences and want to try them all.
Even mellow track Sirius Winds brings an unexpected saxophone into the sound. Or, should I have expected anything by now? It's probably the only near 4 minutes in a single style you will hear on this album. It is in contrast with the previous tracks. Do my ears need a break? It does interrupt the flow of the album a bit. The short set of two songs Nok Terracottas (Mud) and Forest are also like an open space while I thought I was walking trough a dense forest.
But then things change. Well, of course they change, but there is a change in the change, so to speak. It's like the band found their path and decided to stay on it for a while. Still something new in the opening of Roble Para El Corazón (Wood) with some Latin folk melodies. The tracks eventually bends towards symphonic prog metal, with the style from the first half of the song bleeding through. It's like the melting pot has warmed up and mixing the ingredients better. Smoke For The Clouds (Ahuirán's Water) is darker and slower, in the vein of Within Temptation, arranged better and much more of a unit. Did they run out of craziness nearing the end of the album? Barren (Gravel) is also slower and also takes time to build the song and atmosphere. Very good vocal performances and melodies and a truly moving guitar solo. It's based on bluesy hard rock, a style we had not heard before on this album. In that respect they still manage to use different styles, but, at least to my ears, it's like they feel very comfortable here.
With such diversity it's not an album to put on in a certain mood. Sometimes I want to hear some heavy and melodic stuff. Then the mellow parts are a distraction. It's also not background music, the heavy parts require more attention. It's an album you have to listen to. The lack of focus is a bit of a problem to keep the attention. And although they mix all those different styles well, in some of the longer sections the songwriting or arrangements could use a bit more tension. The unexpected twists and mixing of so many different things can become a gimmick. At times, 6:33 came to mind, but 6:33 sound much more like a unit, they do crazy stuff while sounding like they know what they are doing and what they want. 6:33 also tend to take themsleves a little less seriously.
But I have to add that this simply does not apply to the last three songs. It's fitting to have some songs stand out so much on an album as diverse as this, but there is such a big difference between those and the rest in terms of style, focus, and arrangements, that I have difficulties seeing the album as a unit. I hope the last three tracks show the way to their next album. Diversity without the sake of diversity, but based on songwriting and atmosphere.
On the other hand, if you're into Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart going metal, then this might be what you have been waiting for.
Oh, and I just cannot let the following go unmentioned. Since we're being offered more downloads than physical CDs nowadays, I have to say that the way this review copy has been sent to us is one I love. The sound files are WAV (FLAC is also good of course) instead of compressed MP3. We also received a large collection of artwork images in high resolution and PDFs with lots of information. That's the proper way to promote your album!
Jerry van Kooten: 6.5 out of 10
The Great Discord - The Rabbit Hole
Dimman (1:18), Noire (4:06), Gadget (3:31), Darkest Day (4:32), Tell-Tale Heart (4:28), The Red Rabbit (4:15), Neon Dreaming (4:47), Downfall (0:51), Cadence (3:51), Omen (3:40), Persona (5:19)
The album introduces itself with the energetic Noire (after the short intro of Dimman), with a steady, foot-stomping drum beat and some catchy guitar work. The vocals of Fia Kempe have an impressive range, which lends itself well to the music.
Musically, the album keeps within the modern prog metal kind of sound, with lots of chugging riffs and fast technical ones, while the drums maintain a fairly relentless pace with some machine-gun double bass appearing frequently. I would say it has a bit of a poppy quality to it, while still being a definite metal album.
Darkest Day is my favourite from the album, having a nice mix of heavy and lighter parts and an infectious chorus that will get you singing. Although it is a close tie with the melancholy Neon Dream, which is a minimalistic track based on emotion and dark atmospherics.
I would probably describe the album as a fairly decent all-rounder. It doesn't excel in any particular area, but nor does it fail. The riffs are catchy, the vocals are sure to get you singing, and the rhythm section will get your head banging. But on the other hand, some of the tracks do feel a bit samey. That being said, it is a good album. Anyone who is a fan of power prog (such as Kamelot or Ayreon) will likely enjoy it a lot. If you like Ghost, Kamelot, Katatonia or Ayreon, then give these guys a listen.
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10
Overhaul - Notes By An Unstable Muser
Blue Box (4:23), Stone Intact (5:55), The Dance (3:52), Storm (6:51), My Heart Suggestible (2:52), Aeons And Life (5:51), Pastels (5:29), Heave (4:45), Broken Glasses, Torn Pages (4:56), Detour (5:03)
Now, a young band Overhaul has set out to 'bring back romanticism into prog', and with their debut album, Notes By An Unstable Muser, they might just have set the foundation to putting the Netherlands back on the prog map. The one where amazing bands come from - not the one where they want to go to play.
As a genre itself, progressive metal has seen much innovation in the new millennium, some of which is already about to come of age. Can you believe that? Bands like Leprous and Agent Fresco have moved away from Dream Theater-wannabe, clone sounds. Taking in previously rarely-heard influences like alternative rock, pop, or extreme metal, they set off in search of new aesthetics and new sounds, new ways of writing songs and new ways to evoke emotions within the listener. Overhaul continues this relatively new tradition, putting emotions and songs, above technical wankery and long, extended solo show-offs.
The basic melancholic and dark atmosphere on Notes... is very coherent, yet Overhaul still present enough variety to keep the songs and the album interesting. The beautiful, short ballad that is My Heart Susceptible, the keyboard solo in Heave, or the surprising neo-classical bass solo at the beginning of Aeons And Life are just three examples of ingredients that keep things varied.
Even though there are still some parts that seem to not know where to lead, the songwriting is incredibly consistent for a debut album. An essential key to bringing the riffs and atmospheres to life, is of course the singer, and with Samuel de Vries they've got just the right guy for the job. He has a beautiful clean and clear timbre. Some vocal melodies remind me of Paul Adrian Villareal's unique take on traditional prog metal with Sun Caged (another one of those Dutch bands who should have made it big). However the underlying foundation is decidedly less 'traditional' in that sense. If one of the classic (i. e. older) prog bands can be listed as a sonic reference point for Overhaul, it would be Opeth. As a more recent relation, a comparison with Norway's Leprous would most certainly be not too far fetched.
Overhaul manage to capture and convey the sort of beautiful, romantic darkness that can give you goosebumps, if you're susceptible to those kind of emotions. With Notes By An Unstable Muser, these five young Dutchmen have crafted a stellar debut effort. I can't wait to see what these guys have in store for us in the years to come. Without a doubt, Overhaul is one of those new bands in the scene to watch closely.
Dario Albrecht: 8 out of 10
Perihelion Ship - To Paint A Bird Of Fire
New Sun (10:46), Bird of Fire (2:35), The Sad Mountain (7:54), River's Three (2:37), Wind Of No Echoes (7:00), New Sun? (11:56)
I'll start by saying that I don't normally comment on the artwork for albums, preferring to let the music speak. But I have found the art for both this album and their last, to be fantastic, helping to conjure up an image of mythical and epic stories that really helps to draw you in.
The album starts with opener New Moon, and it has a quiet intro to draw you in, before the full band enters in another heavy and speedy prog metal track. With more of an emphasis on clean vocals this time around, the growled vocals are still very present and work both as lead and backing.
The Sad Mountain lures you in with a heavy intro before slowing things down with some smooth, clean riffs and vocals, giving a sense of melancholic calm. This obviously doesn't last long, as the riffs fire-in along with some harsh vocals. It is a weaving and epic track with some fantastic solos and riffs to lead you away.
Track number five, Wind Of No Echoes is an astounding, atmospheric and epic piece of prog metal. While not being overly complicated, it builds up layers, to create a fantastic piece of music. I would most likely class this as my stand-out track.
Once again, we come to the end. No 20-minute closer this time, the band have opted for a shorter track at just under 12 minutes. As to be expected, there are many flowing bits to this track. Some heavy, some clean, some more minimalistic. All of it is proggy. All of it is exceptional. While Wind Of No Echoes is my favourite track, I would say New Sun? has the best riffs.
While the album didn't quite strike me as hard as A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring, it would have been a nigh impossible task to do so! While I may prefer the debut, this album is still an astounding piece of work, with impeccable musicianship throughout and it packs plenty of punch.
Think of these guys as a fusion of old school prog, from the likes of Pink Floyd or Yes, combined with modern metal from the likes of Opeth and Be'lakor.
Calum Gibson: 9 out of 10
Sons Of Apollo - Psychotic Symphony
God of The Sun (11:11), Coming Home (4:23), Signs Of The Time (6:40), Labyrinth (9:11), Alive (5:10), Lost In Oblivion (4:38), Figaro's Whore (1:00), Divine Addiction (4:48), Opus Maximus (10:37)
Accompanied by Jeff Scott Soto, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, Billy Sheehan and Derek Sherinian, this is band that should be able to write and record a rock record with a big sound and progressive leanings.
Was I correct? Yes definitely! This sound is huge, like a block of flats. It's metal, it's rock and it's prog metal. Some tracks are straight forward metal, and some symphonic prog. All are good songs and all are well prepared, demonstrating that this is a band that means business, rather than a side project.
There are nine tracks of varying length, starting with God Of The Sun that opens with an Indian sitar intro, before developing into a bombastic rocker. I have read that other reviewers have said that there is a clear departure from Dream Theatre throughout the album but I beg to differ. I hear the DT influence on most tracks in terms of its symphonic, drum-laden, guitar-driven style with swirling keyboard breaks.
Jeff Scott Soto's vocal range is probably what separates the album from DT the most, but all musicians blend together beautifully to make a really good album.
Of the nine tracks, there isn't a filler here, with the album climaxing with the wonderful prog metal feast that is Opus Maximus.
I have listened to this album on repeat for a few weeks now and can certainly recommend it to anyone that like this type of music. Highly enjoyable!
Ian Smith: 9 out of 10
VUUR - In This Moment We Are Free - Cities
My Champion - Berlin (7:36), Time - Rotterdam (6:40), The Martyr And The Saint - Beirut (5:35), The Fire - San Francisco (4:47), Freedom - Rio (6:06), Days Go By - London (6:30), Sail Away - Santiago (6:00), Valley Of Diamonds - Mexico City (6:25), Your Glorious Light Will Shine - Helsinki (5:32), Save Me - Istanbul (5:05), Reunite! – Paris (4:39)
Numerous performances with Canadian and Dutch metal maestros Devin Townsend and Arjen Lucassen, plus her four acoustic solo albums and her more recent (re)excursion into progressive metal under the Gentle Storm banner, have done nothing but augment her reputation as one of the leading vocalists of the genre(s).
Partly as a result of the success of the Gentle Storm album, last year Anneke decided that it was time to refocus her musical offerings, choosing to focus in an acoustic direction as a solo artist, and in a heavy progressive metal direction as a band vocalist.
"It's like I'm searching for contradictions," Anneke said of splitting her focus in two. "I want the heavy to be really heavy, and my soft, acoustic solo music to be almost silent and inward." Thus VUUR (translated from Dutch as "fire") was created.
I had thus been looking forward to their debut album. First impressions were promising. I love eye-catching covers and this more than delivers in that respect.
I also love a good concept.
The lyrical themes of the album revolve around cities and freedom, based on the vibes that Anneke has picked up on her travels around the world as a musician: "This past year I've thought a lot about the virtues of rural versus urban life, since me and my family are moving back to the city. It's very exciting, but at the same time, I know that sense of urban solitude from past experiences. The cover artwork represents this duality."
This debut album also has the signs of good team behind it; being co written with Joost van den Broek (who also acts as producer), Mark Holcomb (Periphery), Esa Holopainen (Amorphis), Daniel Cardoso (Anathema) and both of VUUR's guitar players.
I had been further enthused by descriptions of VUUR's music as having the melancholy of The Gathering and certain elements from The Gentle Storm, but of being angrier, less folksy, and heavier.
Sadly, as soon as I pressed "play", all those positive expectations evaporated.
This album is stuck in a dull, plodding mid-pace. Merely throwing a quieter section into random points in every song, and the occasional power metal burst does not turn a standard metal song into a "progressive metal" one. The second-hand melodies are underwhemingly forgettable and the lack of memorable riffs is surprising. The decision not to have a keyboard player is another missed opportunity. Inside Out's policy of only sending reviewers low quality mp3s, means that nothing can been salvaged by a strong production and by blasting this out on my full hi-fi.
The biggest problem is the over reliance on a down-tuned guitar tone. The guitars grate and descend, whilst Anneke's vocals soar sweetly. The two sounds just do not sit well together. It's the musical equivalent of ice cream and vinegar.
The endlessly chugging riffage below the vocals is annoying in its repetitive consistency. Despite having two guitar players, the album sounds remarkably un-heavy. Most tracks hang around the five or six minute mark, thus limiting any opportunity for much progression of the basic formula.
It is only when the guitars are removed, that Anneke's voice is able to captivate, as on the opening to Reunite - Paris; before the horrible, plodding guitars arrive and ruin any sense of atmosphere.
A few tracks do stand above the predictable mire. The Fire - San Francisco has a bit more energy and a nice collection of grooves and a half-decent melody. It is also Giersbergen's most soaringly-impressive vocal performance. Save Me - Istanbul has a half-decent hook and riff, and a middle eastern groove that is at least different (if also also predictable). Sail Away - Santiago holds a decent torch to Leaves Eyes.
But even this trio would only qualify as fillers on the sort of album that would be challenging for a place in most listeners' Top 10 lists. The only track with a melody to warrant repeat plays is Days Go By - London.
The band is taking the album on the road with a set list focussing on this new material, as well as the heavier side of Anneke's previous outings. It may work better in a live setting, but I doubt it.
Andy Read: 6.5 out of 10
Zaedyus - Stories From The End Of The World
Duelo De Facones (1:15), The Lamp Of Mandinga (4:35), Arriving To Eagle's Stone (5:02), The Promise Of Neverland (4:37), Chasing The Dreams (4:45), Train To Alemanía (7:13), (Tecka) The Door To... The Alerces Shire (5:54), The Devil's Witch Mistress And The Skinless Dwarf (4:49)
What marks this band out however, is the added ingredient of the sounds of South American folk instruments such as the quena, charango, bandoneon and legüero drum. With English and Spanish lyrics, their songs recount myths and legends from Argentinian literature.
Formed back in 2005, the band's debut album, a concept disc entitled Santos Vega, was released in 2013. A collection of songs had been recorded earlier but had to wait until 2016 before becoming Patagonia, the band's second release.
Although the foundation of the band's songwriting is clearly influenced by European power metal (listen to The Promise Of Neverland), the added ingredients mostly avoid the seven songs becoming sterile and predictable. There is a wonderful energy imposed by the frequent and effective use of the violin and there is a pleasing variety provided by the incorporation of everything from folk rock (the opening to the Train To Alemanía) to more hard rock-orientated moments (such as the opening to Chasing The Dreams). Marcela Rotela is a good frontwoman. The occasional backing vocals from Brukman add another layer of variety.
The songs where the violin features most heavily are the ones that I enjoy the most. There is a need for stronger hooks in the songwriting, and if a greater prominence could be given to the folk influences next time, that would give greater distinction and interest to the overall sound. At less than 40 minutes playing time, this album could do with another song or two.
The whole thing can be listened to from the Bandcamp link above. For those who enjoy folk-led power metal with progressive tendencies, or metal albums where the violin features heavily, then Stories From The End Of The World is well worth seeking out.
Andy Read: 7 out of 10