Issue 2015-047: Prog Metal Special

Ambrotype - The Revelations

Ambrotype - The Revelations
Country of Origin: Syria
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 68:10
Track List:
Wretch (5:22), Crown of Thorns (9:03), Cry Me a Black Tear (Elegy for My Brother) (5:03), I Am the Beast (11:06), Your Vivid Soul (7:13), The Ambrotype (10:49), My Nightmare Chamber (7:38), Hymn (4:57), Illusion of Grace (6:59)
Ambrotype is a progressive metal project by Syrian multi-instrumentalist Adel Saflou. He writes, sings and plays all the music, with the exception of programmed drums and some guest guitar work.

The music on The Revelations is from the heavy end of the prog-metal spectrum and, as such, has been a difficult listen for me. It has taken me out of my comfort zone but nonetheless has been an interesting and rewarding experience.

The album is alternatively darkly atmospheric. with strummed acoustic and electric guitars, fine bass playing and layered synths, whilst also featuring brutally heavy, melodic riffs and terrific guitar solos. Along with this, Saflou sings cleanly over the atmospheric pieces, and then deploys growled vocals on the heavier pieces. Some songs feature both styles (Crown of Thorns, The Ambrotype). These worked for me surprisingly well, considering I have never been that enthusiastic about the growled style of vocals. The mix is about 60 percent clean vocals to growled.

I found that the mix of styles worked on an artistic level because of the subject matter of the songs is the pain of loss: the loss of a loved brother, the loss of faith and the loss of hope caused by broken promises. I can't help but feel that there is a political undercurrent to songs such as Crown of Thorns, I Am the Beast and My Nightmare Chamber, given the ongoing war in Syria. The heavy growliness is most evident on these songs. Even when Ambrotype's music is at its most foundry-bashing metal, I found you do not need to be headache-resistant to enjoy it.

Though having said that, I found Saflou's clean singing voice to be very engaging, especially on the two closing tracks which bring the album, if not to an uplifting ending, then at least to a satisfyingly cathartic one.

So The Revelations was, for me, an uncomfortable listen at times, but I enjoyed having my more traditional prog roots challenged by Ambrotype's unrelenting power and dynamism. It has made me think about musicians and their artistic choices in a new way.

If you are a prog-metal fan that has no problem with growled vocals, or if you want an album of prog-metal not entirely growl-dominated, then investigate this release.
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10

The Anasazi - 1000 Yard Stare

The Anasazi - 1000 Yard Stare
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 73:39
Track List:
Morning Overture (0:23), Drop Dead Silence (5:58), Ordinary Man (6:57), Under (5:15), One More Time (5:06), Legacy of Fools (5:07), Water's Edge (5:25), 1000 Yard Stare (10:09), Then (4:21), Underneath the Dirt (6:23), The River (5:51), Runaway (7:55), Mother (4:55)
1000 Yard Stare by The Anasazi is a record that shows a lot of promise for this French progressive metal band. What strikes me immediately is how accessible the music is. This isn't the type of prog that is complex for complexity's sake. There is a larger focus on melody and hooks, showing that this band has some major pop sensibilities. There is also a notable modern feel to this album. It is definitely not stuck in the seventies like some other prog out there. I'm reminded of many alternative rock bands of the nineties and beyond when listening to many of the tracks.

The album starts off heavy with the one-two punch of Drop Dead Silence and Ordinary Man. Drop Dead Silence is very much in the Dream Theater vein with some heavy riffing over a driving beat. The chorus is very catchy and I find this to be a highlight of the entire album. This is about as heavy as this album gets, with Legacy of Fools and Underneath The Dirt being the other contenders later in the album. Beyond this, most of the other tracks are actually much more contemplative and soft. This makes for a very pleasant listen, as I find that many progressive metal bands can be too heavy, too often, which can be harsh to the ears, at least for this listener.

There are many great moments throughout the album. One thing that struck me is the great acoustic guitar playing in various places. Water's Edge is a great example, as it begins with some beautiful acoustic guitar. The similarly titled The River is another example of this, with another beautiful melody. The guitars are certainly the stars of this band, with keyboards playing a mostly supportive role. But, the keyboards are essential in adding to the melancholic mood of many of the tracks on display. Take for example One More Time, where keyboards add depth and emotion in the background, adding a major element to the music.

Special mention must be given to the title track, 1000 Yard Stare, which is certainly the highlight of this album. It begins with a great recurring guitar lick with very limited beats in the background behind some menacing lyrics. To my mind, it is some crazy hybrid of Tool and Pink Floyd that sounds really cool. There are so many great moments throughout the ten minute running time, including a very rare keyboard solo, some string sounds, a killer groove carried by bass and drums, and beautiful acoustic picking that brings to mind the music of Phideaux. The end of the track reminds me of classic Pain of Salvation from The Perfect Element era. This track shows how amazing this band can be.

The Anasazi is a band with a lot of promise. Certain parts of this album show an extreme amount of talent in both playing and songwriting. If they could simply polish some of the rough edges of their sound, then they could be great. But, I feel too many of the tracks come off a little bland and sound the same as other tracks. Everything kind of blends together a bit. I also feel that the album is a little slow and could use a few heavier tracks to balance it out. But, overall, I'm impressed with this young French band and hope they continue narrowing in on their sound.
Nathan Waitman: 6 out of 10

Arcane - Known/Learned

Arcane - Known/Learned
Country of Origin: Australia
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 71:57, 50:08
Track List:
CD 1 - Known: Promise (Part 2) (8:53), Unturning (8:25), Instinct (7:01), Womb (In Memoriam) (2:26), Selfsame (8:24), Holding Atropos (4:10), Keeping Stone: Sound on Fire (9:22), Learned (23:16)
CD 2 - Learned: Hunter, Heart & Home (7:47), Little Burden (7:47), Impatience and Slow Poison (7:02), Known (2:51), Nightingale's Weave (8:32), Eyes for the Change (6:19), Keeping Stone: Water Awake (7:35), Promise (Part 1) (2:15)
It has been a long five-year wait, but the follow-up to the underground prog metal classic that is the amazing Chronicles of a Waking Dream has been released, and for the past two months I have been slowly getting to know it.

The third album from Australia's Arcane is not the most friendly nor easy going of albums. For a start it is a double album, weighing in at a lofty 120 minutes. Sometimes length is not a big obstacle, but in this case the music (especially on disc one) is some of the most dense and difficult to absorb that I have heard in quite some time.

The second (and biggest) problem I have had, is that the two discs are totally different. The first is heavy in a wildlife-reserve-of-running-hippos sorta way, the second is more akin to a butterfly – acoustic and gentle. You really do have to be in two totally different headspaces to listen to and appreciate them. One certainly does not follow the other very well.

It was a near impossible first date, but slowly me and Known (disc 1) have built a very close understanding. My relationship with Learned (disc 2) has ... well ... let's just say we're still on speaking terms – just!

I'll deal with Learned first. The shorter of the two, it is almost entirely acoustic-driven and is a lovely showcase for the simply unique vocal talent that is Jim Grey. However, I've found it little more than comfortable background music. There are no real melodic hooks or instrumental runs to grab onto. There is plenty of emotion, but it is just too one-dimensional. As a bonus disc, I guess it'd be okay, but as a partner to Known, I really can't see how the relationship works.

The only good thing is that it emphasis the real power of Arcane, and that is the band's ability to mix the heavy and light to provide an exhilaratingly powerful and passionate musical statement.

Known is certainly not an easy listen. I do find the dark guitar tones over-bearing at times, and some of the riff patterns are overly repetitive. The final track on Known is confusingly entitled Learned, and weighs in at 23 minutes. It has some great moments and ideas, but is too drawn-out and compositionally weak to warrant its length.

That said, most of the music on Known is as close to prog metal heaven as I'm likely to get this, or any other year. The Promise (Part 2) is hauntingly perfect with its twin chorus and the way its dynamics rise and fall throughout.

Guitarist Michael Gagen delivers some mesmerising work. The complex solo which opens Unturning is pure genius, as is the Savatage-sounding riff on Keeping Stone. He also exhibits great subtly and variety to his playing. His Riverside-esque solo on The Promise is packed with emotion, whilst the more bluesy style on Holding Atropos reminds me of Mark Knopfler.

Anyone who has heard Arcane before, or Jim Grey's other band Caligula's Horse, will respect him as a vocalist from the very top of the pile. Some of the passages he pulls off on this album are beyond pretty much any other singer on the planet. His delivery on emotive Womb is worth the price of admission alone. Mesmerising.

I also love the way that the band uses piano to accompany the guitar in some of the heavy sections. It offers a subtle softening effect. The whole thing comes in an impressive gatefold digipack, and the production is stellar.

I do feel that the second disc is too much of a distraction, and for such a densely-complicated, dark album, a two-hour listen is just too much, which is a shame. My score is for the first disc alone, which will be one of my top prog metal albums of 2015.
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10

Arcturus - Arcturian

Arcturus - Arcturian
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 48:01
Track List:
The Arcturian Sign (5:08), Crashland (4:08), Angst (4:26), Warp (3:51), Game Over (5:57), Demon (3:27), Pale (5:10), The Journey (4:14), Archer (5:36), Bane (5:50)
For many fans, the return of Arcturus was a big and welcome surprise. As the follow-up to their acclaimed 2006 album Sideshow Symphonies, their followers must have been anxious to find out what the band could deliver after a hiatus of nearly 10 years.

Well, this effort is a very brave and good one. Brave in a way that the band has not been afraid to expand its sound yet again, and good because the songs and musicianship are a true testimony to everything Arcturus has stood for since starting out as a black metal outfit, eventually evolving into the avant garde prog band of today.

Arcturus has created an album without long songs, like many prog fanatics love, but shorter cuts with an abundance of dynamics and hooks. The former Dimmu Borgir bassist, Vortex, again handles most of the vocals on this album and does a great job. He is accompanied by drummer Jan Axel "Hellhamer" Blomberg, Steinar Sverd Johnsen on keyboards, Knut Magne Valle on guitars and Hugh "Skoll" Mingay on bass.

The album opener and first single, The Arcturian Sign, is a strong and well arranged song that really sets the mood. From the industrial beginning, to the gloomy sections within the song, this track really puts the band's cards on the table.

Crashland, with its strings, melodic lines and shredding solo could easily be on a power metal album. This is an asset instead of a defect. It shows the metal side of this band, as is also the case with Warp. The band surely has grown since its formation. But what about their black metal roots? Dare to listen to Angst. While being very dark, very fast and filled with growls, this track never derails. Singer Vortex is challenged to give us his best growls on Pale, although the track is very melodic and strong. The Journey is the closest thing this band will come to a ballad. With its mystical theme and sound, and its hypnotising string arrangements, this is just another example of the many sides to this band and this album.

The songs Game Over and Demon are no-less challenging, but are not highlights within the format of this album, not even after a few spins. The album closer Bane however, does exactly what the last song of an album should do. It finishes things nicely off and left me wondering what could be the next creative output from these Nordic rockers.

This band never chose to take the easy road in writing, recording and mastering this album. The overall sound is good, even though the mixing of the drums could have had a different approach to my taste. But that doesn't kill the thrill of this album for me. It is a demanding, yet great piece of music that will satisfy all those fans that have waited years for this reunion to happen.

Whether it will attract a new legion of fans, is something that remains to be seen. However, with its bombastic keyboards, excellent drumming, shredding guitars and versatile vocals, I can say that this album would be a very good introduction to what Arcturus has to offer. There is never a dull moment in the realm of Arcturus. Let's see if their next album will take a little less time to see the light of day. I am sure they can push some more boundaries and come up with a lot more, now their creative fluids are flowing together again.
Arno Agterberg: 8 out of 10

District 97 - In Vaults

District 97 - In Vaults
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 61:00
Track List:
Snow Country (6:09), Death by a Thousand Cuts (5:35), Handlebars (4:52), A Lottery (5:43), All's Well That Ends Well (7:50), Takeover (5:45), On Paper (4:48), Learn From Danny (8:37), Blinding Vision (11:29)
District 97 released their first album Hybrid Child in 2010. It was one of the most impressive debut albums of the decade. The Chicago-based band was not afraid to show its influences, yet, there was something very fresh about its music. This album was followed two years later by Trouble with Machines. Perhaps my expectations were extremely high, but I was disappointed with that album. It wasn't bad by any stretch, but it just didn't impress me like their debut. Plus, I didn't feel that it chartered any new territory.

Last year, the band released a live album with John Wetton performing classic King Crimson songs, which was a very entertaining interlude between studio albums. Their admiration for both Wetton and Crimson is apparent, and their shows together proved to be a natural and fun pairing. Now comes the release of their highly anticipated third studio album, In Vaults. From the first listen, one thing is abundantly clear. This is a band committed to progressive rock. For whatever reason, I half expected by this point that they would move in a more commercial direction. That wouldn't be a bad thing necessarily, as they certainly have the elements to appeal to a larger audience. They are all excellent musicians and are fronted by the very talented and charismatic vocalist, Leslie Hunt. There is already a pop flair to their music, that when coupled with their complex arrangements, makes for a quirky and appealing blending of styles.

In Vaults has its fair share of hummable choruses and accessible moments, but it seems that they have escalated the progressive elements. Not overtly, as there are major comparisons that could be made to their previous two studio releases. That said, there is also a refreshing difference this time. Their musical influences are not nearly as evident and in many ways, this is the album that truly solidifies THEIR sound. The album opener, Snow Country starts with a great acoustic intro and then follows a somewhat similar path as previous works by the band. It is a smashing start nonetheless. The song's heavy guitar riffs are intermixed seamlessly with jazzy moments that build to a traditional, but absolutely compelling finale.

Death by a Thousand Cuts is every bit as chaotic as its title would suggest. It is a completely successful metal/prog fiesta and contains work by guitarist Jim Tashjian that will knock your socks off. After that entertaining mayhem, the album's next two tracks, Handlebars and A Lottery, logically bring things down a notch. The change in tone is effective and both tracks are strong. The band has a way of driving up the momentum of a song after a quiet and reflective opening. That may be a somewhat standard practice in prog, but District 97 does it as well as anyone.

All's Well That Ends Well is about as close to a ballad as the band gets, and ultimately, it is also one of the album's highlights. Takeover again moves things in a bit of a different direction and is a pretty straightforward rocker. It may not have the same extreme ebbs and flows as some of the other tracks on the album, but it feels just right.

The songwriting on In Vaults is absolutely the band's strongest to date. That fact is very evident while listening to On Paper, with its bluesy verses leading to an ear-worm chorus and more exceptional guitar moments. Learning from Danny and Blinding Vision end the album. These are the longest, most adventurous and perhaps best tracks on a very strong album. The bottom line is that In Vaults is the work of a band that has blossomed into one of the finest in progressive rock. The enthusiasm and passion displayed on the album is impossible to deny. They have completely hit their stride, and in a form of music that doesn't get a lot of mainstream notice, District 97 deserves attention. There are many moments on this album that reminded me of why I love this genre of music.

Simply put, the songs all work well and the album has a consistent flow that successfully avoids dips in quality. It is fantastic to hear a group of musicians so obviously intent to make the best music that they can. The good news is that they have succeeded. Always complex, yet accessible in an extremely appealing way, In Vaults is District 97's strongest statement to date.
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10

Kingcrow - Eidos - Duo Review

Kingcrow - Eidos
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 62:07
Track List:
The Moth (4:22), Adrift (6:17), Slow Down (5:17), Open Sky (5:34), Fading Out Pt. IV (3:47), The Deeper Divide (7:37), On the Barren Ground (5:18), At the Same Pace (7:45), Eidos (8:16), If Only (7:46)
Andy Read's Review
In the world of music reviewing, there are many genres, sub-genres, niches and sub-niches. However my favourite category is known as the "No-Brainer". It's that small number of bands with which one builds an intimate listening relationship over a number of years. Although their style and output may change and evolve, there is always an inherent quality that you know will reward your confidence in ordering their new album before you've heard a single note. One doesn't have to think twice. It's a No-Brainer.

Every music fan will have their list of bands which lie in their own No-Brainer category. I like to think of my list as small but perfectly formed. Kingcrow is a name that hopefully many of you will at least recognise. Hailing from Rome, Eidos is the fourth album from the sextet that I will treasure, thus making them a leading light in my personal No-Brainer list.

Whilst Timetropia saw the evolution of Kingcrow, from its hard rock roots into a fully-blossoming progressive outfit, it was the arrival of outstanding singer Diego Marchesi in 2009, and the release of the acclaimed Phlegethon, which deservedly brought the band to a worldwide audience. Tours with Redemption, Jon Oliva and Fates Warning plus numerous festival appearances and their debut headline tour, promoting 2013's In Crescendo raised the band's profile even higher.

Eidos is the album to take Kingcrow to another level. Lyrically and musically it forms the third part of a rolling concept about the journey of life. While Phlegethon passed through childhood, and In Crescendo stood at the end of youth, Eidos (a Plato-esque Greek word meaning form or essence) considers the challenges of early adulthood – pushing boundaries and exploring new territories.

Musically this doesn't so much explore new territory, as delve deeper and wider into the styles which formed the basis of the two previous discs. It is a natural and logical growth.

Describing the Kingcrow sound is not easy as there are no obvious reference band names. I still detect early-period Pain of Salvation and Greek band Wastefall, with a hint of the softer and melodic sides of Fates Warning, but Kingcrow is one of those rare bands with a sound and style all of its own. They mix not-too-heavy with not-too-light, and so hold appeal to those whose tastes shift between heavy progressive rock and lighter, melodic progressive metal. It is, most importantly, a modern progressive sound and style.

Picking out individual tracks is for me rather missing the point. A Kingcrow album is a single piece of art that needs to be viewed as a whole. Individual songs more than stand-up on their own, but set within the piece as a whole, they are so much stronger.

Like the old classic prog albums, the music of Kingcrow offers the greatest reward to those who sit down and allow time for the album to flow as an entity. (An even better option now available, is to take a full afternoon or evening and allow all three albums to run in succession. I've done it twice and it really does offer some wonderful insights.)

I could also extol the virtues of each musician in turn, but again that would be missing the point. The success of Kingcrow is that all the musicians work together and totally compliment each other. Helped by a stable, long-term line-up, there is no showcasing or one-upmanship. As a result, it is often the small details - the inventive drum fill, the emotive burst of guitar, the subtle vocal reflection, the off-kilter bass or keyboard run – which fill Eidos with moments to savour.

The one thing I will dwell on is an appreciation of the directness and economy of the songwriting across this album. Reading the track running times, you could be forgiven for thinking that at an average of six minutes, the music lacks the complexity and diversity that many lovers of this genre seek.

Nothing could be further from reality. Almost every song on Eidos is packed with a diversity of musical ideas and rhythms that many bands would struggle to fit into three albums. For many bands, 'prog' means to take an idea and let it run for a while, before adding in an extra texture, and slowly letting it evolve over the course of a long song format, maybe returning now and then to the main theme for comfort.

The principal Kingcrow songwriter, Diego Cafolla, has perfected a shorthand form of this. Listen to the agile opening track, Moth. Musical idea follows musical idea, yet no single theme lasts for more than two run-throughs. I've lazily counted 22 different themes within the four minutes and 22 seconds of Moth, wrapped around a returning chorus and great guitar motif. It all flows beautifully and memorably. The rest of the album follows the same intriguing pattern. Very clever stuff.

Anyway, I've hopefully done enough to persuade any lover of progressive music that Eidos is an essential listen. The whole thing is superbly produced, and packaged in the way we've come to expect from America's ever-reliable Sensory Records.

If you don't trust me, then the whole thing is streaming on the label's Bandcamp page. Start with The Deeper Divide then go Adrift; two of the best songs the band has ever written.

Eidos is a real gem of an album, from an Italian band that is now building up a very, very impressive body of work. It is one of those rare discs that you can fall in love with, and one that will hold appeal for a big cross-section of progressive music fans.

For those unfamiliar with Kingcrow, I hope you're brave enough to give something new a go. For those already familiar, then it's a No-Brainer!
André de Boer's Review
Kingcrow's sixth studio album is ready, although to me, Eidos is really their third album, as the band only started to shake up the progressive metal world with their staggering 2010 release Phlegethon plus their impressive shows at ProgPower Europe in 2011 and ProgPower USA a year later. Those events marked the band's turning point to epic-ness, with both Phlegeton and In Crescendo earning DPRP Recommended scores (although two of the older albums also received DPRP Recommended as well).

So we now have Eidos in our hands and in our ears. Will it be in our hearts too? I can take away the stress right away by answering: YES! I think Kingcrow has successfully created an album that will hold the marked-out path they wish to follow and simultaneously transcend the previous ones.

The band was kind enough to release the opening track, The Moth, with a video, so you can get an idea of what we are talking about here. Set aside the truly awesome animated video by Gastón Viñas, and you can find out the way the band is evolving with that song.

To highlight the other tracks, I'd like to offer a short observation on each. The second song, Adrift, starts off with acoustic guitars, whilst the solo vocal is replaced by choirs with a rising tension. It then bounces back to the acoustic side, and crawls out in a typical Kingcrow way to some screaming riffing with fantastic changing rhythms, and ending with Diego singing " will never be the same....". How apt!

These astonishing tracks are followed by Slow Down, that has great energy. I guess this song should be the second single off this album with its great atmosphere, varied high-class riffing and a beat you can't let go of. Here the lyrics say "...I can't slow down...". Apt again.

The fourth song, Open Sky, is a bit of an eccentric, easy-going one. Use it to fill up your energy levels, before starting off for the next six songs, of which Fading Out Pt. IV must sound familiar as a song title, if you know the band's history. With its associating Spanish influence this is a great track. The album's second half gives us The Deeper Divide, which in a serious seven-and-a-half minutes, stands out with its interaction of different vocals against the musical interpretation. Maybe the most 'prog' song of the album?

The entire album is progressive in every note and every twitch of every song. On The Barren Ground is the most accessible of all, hence another candidate for single number two. I really love At The Same Pace, which does what it says and has both a haunting and tranquilising effect through that pace.

The penultimate song is the title track and the longest, heaviest track of the album. If Only closes with an enchanting acoustic guitar melody, which pulls us through the song to the end of the album with a sublime feeling.

This album again comes DPRP recommended of course. Kingcrow has managed to step to the next level through smart and intriguing compositions that will both satisfy the current fan base, as well as attract new ones from the progressive rock or metal corners of the spectrum. A tad darker than the previous albums, but up to the right level; a level that few bands can match.
Andy Read: 9 out of 10
André de Boer: 9.5 out of 10

Maiden United - Remembrance

Maiden United - Remembrance
Country of Origin: Various
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 38:09
Track List:
Strange World (4:19), Charlotte the Harlot (4:16), Killers (4:12), Remember Tomorrow (5:53), Burning Ambition (2:48), Futureal (ft. Blaze Bayley) (2:51), Aces High (5:03), Prowler (ft. Paul Di’Anno) (4:24), Still Life '15 (4:19)
Not many tribute bands get a mention on this site, and as a rule they get little attention from me. By definition, 'progressive' rock is meant to look forward not back.

However this particular project has managed to take a more interesting approach to the tribute band concept, and its personnel alone will generate interest for many readers of this website.

Whilst almost every other tribute band relies of reproducing replicas of the artist they are seeking to imitate, Maiden United seeks to take songs from across the Iron Maiden back catalogue, and transform them into a new acoustic setting.

The results are both musically interesting and highly listenable, benefiting from applying the technique to a mix of well-known Maiden classics and more obscure numbers.

Five of the songs feature the vocals of Damian Wilson (Threshold, Ayreon, Headspace), who once again displays why he is one of the premier rock/metal singers of this generation. Those aware of his solo albums and shows, will know his ability to transform any piece of music to another level, and again here he totally outclasses the other singers by a country mile.

There is also class in the core of the band behind him. Guitarist Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation, For all we Know), bassist Joey Bruers from Maiden tribute band Up the Irons, Stef Broks from Textures on drums and Thijs Schrijnemakers (keyboards) have created some clever and very different re-workings of Maiden songs.

Most effective of these are the Wilson-led versions of Killers and Remember Tomorrow, which are both transformed in their new context.

Less interesting are the two tracks which feature ex-Maiden singers Blaze Bayley and Paul Di'Anno. No doubt their involvement will be a big bonus from a marketing/sales point of view, but their versions don't really differ much from the originals, somewhat missing the supposed point of the exercise. Much better is the new-sound version of Aces High with the very different voice of Dutch singer Wudstick.

So this is what it is, but for those who enjoy Maiden songs in a new setting and especially anything involving Damian Wilson, it is well worth 38 minutes of your time.
Andy Read: 8 out of 10

Mechanism - Between The Words

Mechanism - Between The Words
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 48:97
Track List:
I (1:14), All I See (4:45), III (0:55), Jump Into Flight (7:54), Prize for Every Sin (9:05), Between the Words (2:39), Abused (7:08), VIII (0:48), Countless Ways (5:54), X (1:48), Trapped (6:48)
Formed in Gdańsk, Poland, in 2009, Mechanism released their debut album in February of this year. Upon first listen, their music deceptively resembles traditional 21st century hard rock or metal. However, upon repeated listens, it becomes clear that Mechanism moves beyond traditional metal into the realm of prog. Elements such as layered keyboards and a unifying conceptual theme, serve to firmly cement Between the Words as a progressive metal album.

Mechanism is made up of five members: Rafał Stefanowski on vocals, Michał Cywiński on guitars, Kamil Chmielowiec on keyboards, Artur Olkowicz on bass, and Adrian Łukaszewski on drums. Since their formation in 2009, the band has performed at many rock festivals in Poland in an attempt to build support for their debut release. In doing so, they have refined their sound, to create a balance between the popular hard rock of today and the virtuosity and thoughtful lyrics of prog metal.

Book-ended by instrumental sections conjuring images of industrialism, Between the Words jumps straight into guitar-heavy rock with the second song, All I See. The lyrics and the concept of the album deal with the narrator's inability to break free from his past and from his emotions. Throughout the course of the record, he falls deeper into despair, before he begins to hallucinate. Eventually, the narrator gives up hope completely, and he decides it is better to be alone than risk being hurt by others. He fails to realise that he is hurting himself through his own memories.

The bi-polar nature of the narrator is reflected by the stylistic changes in the song, Abused. The verses of the song are calm and quiet, representing the narrator's sanity, while the chorus is heavy and bass-driven, suggesting the anger and frustration he has with his hopeless circumstance. By the end of the album, the listener is left hoping for a positive resolution, but, instead, he is greeted with despair, as the album closes with the industrial sounds with which it began.

Between the Words is not what one would expect when listening to a progressive metal album. Adrian Łukaszewski's drums are more reminiscent of the progressive rock of Flying Colors than of the prog metal of Dream Theater. Mechanism introduce some musical variety with songs such as Between the Words, which is a short, tranquil piano piece, reminiscent of Mannheim Steamroller's first album, Fresh Aire I. The guitar work throughout the album is heavy, with very few soaring solos. Rafał Stefanowski's vocals are similar in tone to more mainstream rock/metal groups, with his approach aptly fitting the dark concept of the album. Nevertheless, it is the keyboards, complicated bass work, and prog drumming that classify this album as progressive metal.

The biggest drawback to this album is the concept itself. Between the Words is not exactly a depressing album to listen to, but the concept is so loosely constructed that it greatly limits the band in what they are able to accomplish lyrically. Some of the lyrics themselves are awkwardly phrased, which can be attributed to the fact that the band members are not native English speakers. The biggest disappointment is the lack of variety with the guitars. Added guitar solos and acoustic guitar would be a welcome touch.

The album mix is relatively strong for a band with limited resources, although I feel that the guitars are too high on the mix, with the drums sitting too far back. It sounds as if the other instruments muffle the drums.

Between the Words is a solid first album for these Polish prog metallers. While they may have been overzealous in creating a full concept album with their first record, they manage to combine several styles of music, while tying it all together with similar instrumental and sonic pieces. This album will particularly appeal to prog listeners who also happen to enjoy the mainstream North American hard rock and the metal bands of the last 15 years.
Bryan Morey: 6.5 out of 10

Midnight Rain - Truth in the Light

Midnight Rain - Truth in the Light
Country of Origin: Serbia
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 44:34
Track List:
Freedom of War (4:32), Serenity (5:56), Never Make a Promise (3:55), Neverending Love (3:17), Another Side of Argument (3:38), Midnight Rain (5:25), Calling Doug (3:40), Tiamat (11:12), Realms of Oblivion (3:34)
I stumbled across this album some time ago and gave it a hearty recommendation on our Something For The Weekend feature. Having now got my hands on the full CD package, I'm delighted to bring you an even heartier demand, that if your have your progressive roots in classic melodic hard rock, then you need to add this to your play list.

Midnight Rain is a studio-only project lead by two Serbian songwriters and musicians, Boris Šurlan and Vlad Invictus. This appears to be their second release, with Evolution 1 coming out in 2013. That album can be heard from their Bandcamp page, but Truth Is the Light is a major step-up in class in all departments, especially the vocals and production.

For their second release the pair has recruited 14 different vocalists and the same number of different instrumentalists. Normally on such albums, the constant changing of personnel is a big distraction for me. However there is such a coherence to the nine tracks here, that I didn't notice so many musicians had been utilised, until I was able to read the credits in the CD booklet.

However, the collective approach has led to each song having its own identity. The central focus is a modern, yet eclectic style of hard rock, with melody and catchy soloing to the fore. Only one track exceeds the six-minute mark, yet every song is packed with the variety and depth gained by blending various genres, including blues rock, symphonic metal and jazz, to progressive rock, avant-garde and metal. The mix of male and female vocals adds a further range of textures.

There isn't a weak song to be found here. If I had to pick a favourite, then I'd probably gravitate towards the superb females which elevate the bluesy Serenity, or the pop-induced catchiness of Never Make a Promise.

The bottom-line is that Midnight Rain has produced an album that has so many great hooks, I just can not avoid being dragged back to it again and again.
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10

P.A.W.N. - The Gift of Awareness

P.A.W.N. - The Gift of Awareness
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 78:34
Track List:
Sailors of the Sky (12:29), The Princess is out tonight (5:37), A Voyage of Uncertainty (12:48), Vessels (8:22), Fatal Wounds (13:14), The Gift of Awareness (26:04)
P.A.W.N. is a progressive metal outfit from Germany which originated from a Hamburg death metal project of the late 90s, not an unfamiliar history to start a progressive metal band it would seem.

With the release of their first album, The Gift Of Awareness, the pairing of Sebastian Rudolph (Keyboards and all guitars) and Dennis Matzat (Drums and percussion) have looked to combine the intensity of their metal origins with the classical basis of progressive rock, and in doing so they have created an album that largely works on many levels, except perhaps in the one area that they started from, metal.

Their self-produced project features only six tracks and yet the overall running time is almost and hour and twenty minutes. With the exception of the second track, all the others are touching epic length-and-beyond in run time. This is where the album experiences some of its problems.

Progressive rock does often labour to the idea that longer is better, and sometimes this isn't so. When the final, 26 minute-epic, The Gift of Awareness rolls around, there is a feeling of fatigue that begins to set in. That said, if you have the stamina there are many fine moments on this CD.

The opener, Sailors Of The Sky is perhaps one of them, succeeding in being the most complete piece on the whole record. It starts with a delicate and ethereal texture, which in turn launches itself into a bigger, grandiose rock sound full of monster, epic chords and crunchy metal riffs, P.A.W.N.'s signature sound. The hardness here is used to best effect on this song, more so than at any other point on the album.

Then the real highlight of their work reveals itself in the delightful voice of guest singer, Lisa-Marie Rothe. Powerful and sensual, Rothe has a hint of Valerie Gracious about her tone, and the rich, dark mystery of her voice lifts the music to a higher level.

The medieval A Voyage of Uncertainty also wins out on this debut release. Less brutal and more melodic, the piece jumps around enjoyably through long instrumental passages, and avoids much of the bombastic tendencies that are prevalent and overused throughout the rest of the album. The runtime of this song could have been shorter and the piece tightened up better.

With Vessels and the ponderous Fatal Wounds, the desire for shorter, more varied pieces really begins to stand out. The latter could have been left out altogether, and the aforementioned album-titled track is probably ten minutes too long as well. There is an over-abundance of repetitive chugging, bolstered by intense double bass pounding from Matzat to be found here. Without doubt there is a lot to admire about this release though, and if you enjoy high class musicianship, combined with epic length, lofty melodic metal then you would be remiss to ignore this release. A worthy first effort and sumptuously packaged, it really only falls short due to its lack of self-editing. A producer on this project could have made all the difference and would have been the key in sharpening this release into something easier to sit through, creating a more digestible winner.
Eric Perry: 6 out of 10