Reviews in this issue:
- Spheric Universe Experience - Anima
- Darkwater – Calling The Earth To Witness
- Chris Poland – Return to Metalopolis Live
- Antimatter - Leaving Eden
- Tomorrow's Eve – The Tower [EP]
- Iced Earth – Overture Of The Wicked [EP]
- Canvas Solaris - Cortical Tectonics
- Empyrios - And The Rest Is Silence
- Awake - Illumination
- Suspyre - A Great Divide
- Eyefear – A World Full Of Grey
Spheric Universe Experience - Anima
Tracklist: Sceptic (6:31), Being (2:31), The Inner Quest (5:37), Neptune's Revenge (6:59), Stormy Dome (1:32), World Of Madness (7:06), End Of Trauma (9:28), Heal My Pain (7:06), Questions (3:49), The Key (10:25), Black Meteria (6:38)
Simply stunning. If you are on the look-out for some powerful, melodic, yet inventive progressive metal, then those two words should be enough to tell you that Anima is an album you can not afford to miss. However, if you're not that easily persuaded, then read on and I will do my best to persuade you that it will be money well spent.
In reviewing the debut album from this French band a couple of years ago, I said that Mental Torments was a strong debut with some great moments. The main fault, was a lack of coherence across the album, with just so many ideas that the band never really settled on its own sound.
This was a comment made in numerous reviews. So full credit to the band, as the instrumental and compositional excesses have been well and truly ditched on Anima. As a result, Spheric Universe Experience (let's call them SUE) now sounds like a band with a crystal clear view of what they want to sound like and what sort of audience they are playing for.
What you have here, takes it's biggest influences from Dream Theater, but with plenty of additions to give SUE very much it's own identity. We have the keen melodies and reflective moods of Fates Warning, the technical intensity of Spiral Architect and Watchtower, the occasional curve-ball as thrown by Pain Of Salvation, the regular blast of Styx bombasticity and the pure metallic riffing of Redemption and Symphony X.
Only on the closing instrumental Black Meteria does the band lose the tight control shown elsewhere. It's a real shame, as the song's drawn-out musical wankery sits totally at odds with the rest of the music, and means that the album ends with probably its only fault.
Singer Franck Garcia has also improved his game immensely. His grasp of melody and rhythm is delivered with far more control than on the debut and there's no trace of an accent. Guitarist Vince Benaim has also developed in leaps and bounds. On World Of Madness and End Of Trauma, in particular, he delivers some truly monstrous riffing that is up there with the work of Redemption's Nick Van Dyke in terms of both power and inventiveness. It's all helped by a fantastically powerful and intense production mastered by the ever-reliable Tommy Hansen. Every element of the band just leaps out of the speakers.
Personal favourites are the opening pair of Sceptic and The Inner Quest and the aforementioned World Of Madness and the multi-faceted End Of Trauma. However this album really is just a series of highlights. There is so much detail in this record that you can, like me, be a dozen listenings in, and still feel as if it's your first.
Just absorb the lovely acoustic passage five minutes into Heal My Pain, the ethnic drum patterns at the start of World Of Madness or the Japanese spoken inserts on Heal My Pain.
Without doubt Anima will be sitting in my top five albums of 2007 as it is currently getting an almost daily headphone session.
If there is any justice, this album will lift SUE to the premier league of ProgMetal bands. I'll say it again: Simply stunning.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Darkwater – Calling The Earth To Witness
Tracklist: 2534167 (0:32), All Eyes On Me (8:48), Again (9:01), Habit (12:45), The Play – 1 (2:34), The Play – II (8:38), Shattered (9:38), Tallest Tree (10:13), In My Dreams (6:09)
Darkwater are the latest in what seems a long line of fine prog metal bands to emerge from the metal hotbed that is Sweden. Having formed back in 2003, the time spent working on Calling The Earth To Witness appears to have been well worth it, as this is a highly impressive debut album.
Following the short introductory sound montage 2534167, opener proper All Eyes On Me is as good an introduction to the band’s sound – and strengths – as you could wish for. Kicking in with a thick, crisp riff backed with dark, tingling keys, one is immediately reminded of In Search Of Truth-era Evergrey, a comparison which crops up throughout the album. Some of the more florid keyboard work is reminiscent of early Dream Theater (Kevin Moore period), whilst some of the quieter sections have echoes of Pain Of Salvation. Yet it’s the quality of the song writing itself, rather than the influences upon it, which make the most impression – this song is replete with a memorable chorus, great riffs, some quality chops (with the guitar solo’s of Markus Sigfridsson being particularly memorable – alternating between aggressive technicality and languid melody in equal measure) and well executed changes of pace and style, meaning that the nine or so minutes just fly by. The icing on the cake is the fine vocal performance of Henrik Båth – with a style somewhere in between that of Ray Alder and James LaBrie, with a dash of Tom Englund on the slower sections, his confident delivery rarely falters.
This is just the first of many high quality tracks. Again boasts a slightly harder main riff, and features some blazing guitar work which could have come from Symphony X supremo Michael Romeo. Habit is a lengthy but absorbing epic, showing the band’s more proggy, symphonic side as well as featuring several storming heavier passages. The two-part The Play morphs from a well-executed ballad to a stately mid-paced symphonic metal track, with a vaguely Middle Eastern feel to some of the playing. The album ends well with the catchy In My Dreams – at ‘only’ six minutes, its practically a breezy pop song in comparison to some of the lengthier, more weightier counterparts.
The quality meter only really dips once, for Shattered, a song in the vein of Dream Theater’s The Glass Prison which sounds a little laboured in parts, but its’ still a reasonable track. There are also occasions where a little editing would perhaps have benefited the songs, but again this feels rather like nit-picking – many band’s would kill to have written an album as confident and assured as this one on their fifth or sixth outing, let alone as a debut. The razor-sharp, modern edge given to the sound can’t hurt either, as it enhances the band’s chances of getting their music across to as wide a spectrum of metal fans as possible. This is certainly up there in my top five prog metal albums released so far this year – and given that we’ve seen albums by such scene big-hitters such as Symphony X, Redemption, Threshold, not to mention a little known cult band called Dream Theater, that’s illustrious company they’re keeping. Particularly recommended to fans of Evergrey and Redemption’s The Origins Of Ruin, this is well worth hunting down if you like your prog metal dark and full of twists and turns, yet bursting with hooks. A high quality release.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Chris Poland – Return to Metalopolis Live
Tracklist: Return To Metalopolis (3:34), Wake Up Dead (3:34), Khazad Dûm (5:32), Psycho Boy (5:23), Nightmare Hall (3:37), Theatre Of The Damned (6:59), Pandora (4:27), Tin Man (4:27), Alexandria (Live enhanced video)
I always try to make my biases clear at the outset of a review. Sometimes they’re in favour of the artist; sometimes they’re not. The former is the case here, because I’m a huge Megadeth fan, and I believe that many of that band’s finest moments came early in its career, when Chris Poland was Megadeth’s lead guitarist. He played on the debut and sophomore albums, Killing Is My Business . . . And Business is Good! and Peace Sells . . . But Who’s Buying?, and of course he returned in 2004 to play on what was essentially a Dave Mustaine solo album that was nevertheless, for contractual reasons, released as a Megadeth album, The System Has Failed. But he’s made some solo and project albums in the interim, too, and guested on other people’s albums (most recently lending metal cred as well as musical chops to two Lamb of God discs). What we have here, though, is a 1991 concert, a live version of Poland’s 1990 solo album Return To Metalopolis. Poland had mounted a tour to support that album, playing with his brother Mark on drums and Dave Randi on bass, and this is apparently the sole surviving recording from that tour.
And it was one heck of a concert (at a now-defunct venue in Phoenix, Arizona, called The Mason Jar), from the sounds of it. The energy is palpable throughout, and though the Lion Music promo letter hedges its bets by saying that “the recording is as is,” in fact the production is for the most part very good, capturing the heaviness and intensity of the performances well. Now, just as I’m predisposed to like the album, many of you may be predisposed not to. If you don’t care for instrumental thrash/shred guitar albums (if, for example, you’d rather use an Yngvie Malmsteen CD as a coaster than listen to it), you’ll probably want to give this one a pass. However, you’d be missing some excellent progressive instrumental thrash if you did.
Poland’s only nod to his fame with Megadeth is a stirring cover of the classic Wake Up Dead, with eerily Mustainian vocals ably supplied by bassist Dave Randi; the rest of the album is purely instrumental, with all songs composed by Poland. The excellent band, however, does more than merely back up Poland’s more-or-less constant soloing; the drums and bass are equally interesting both in performance and tone, and Poland knows when to lay back, hit a few chords, and let the other instruments carry a song for a while. That lack of ego goes a long way towards making this an extremely listenable CD rather than a self-indulgent vanity project, as, I have to say from my reviewing experience, too many guitar-instrumental albums are. The compositions are varied and melodic, and, though Poland’s soloing is the focus of many songs, it’s not simply noodling wankery meant only to show how many hours he spent sitting on his bed as a teenager practicing scales. It’s always melodic and pleasing, so that the songs really are songs and not exercises.
I suppose I could single out a couple of favourites (leaving aside Wake Up Dead, which is a no-brainer for a Megadeth fan). Return To Metalopolis is a perfect opener, partly because it sets Poland apart from his Megadeth days. This is pure progressive guitar rock, lilting and atmospheric even when it’s thrashing away with power and precision. And if Nightmare Hall doesn’t bring a smile to your face with the little drum, bass, and guitar musical jokes at the beginning, you need to listen again. That song, like the album as a whole, revels in the obvious joy these musicians are taking in their technically demanding yet groove-y and admirably restrained music – all the more impressive because they’re performing it live.
So you know what I think: this is a fine album of its kind. The production, despite my earlier praise, isn’t perfect – occasionally the mix fades in and out a bit; and the CD is a bit brief and clearly cobbled together for this release (the seventh, eighth, and ninth tracks are, in order, a studio demo, a B-side from Poland’s first OHM album, and a video from a 1999 performance). But if you’ve any interest in first-rate progressive/shred/thrash guitar playing that backs up the chops with musicality, you can’t go wrong with this welcome 16-year-delayed offering.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Antimatter - Leaving Eden
Tracklist: Redemption (6:07), Another Face In A Window (7:00), Gosts (4:36), The Freak Show (5:10), Landlocked (4:00), Conspire (4:12), Leaving Eden (5:50), The Immaculate Misconception (5:11), Fighting For A Lost Cause (5:35)
It is difficult to untangle the histories of Anathema and Antimatter. A number of people in Antimatter also play(ed) in Anathema and in fact Duncan Patterson left Anathema to form Antimatter together with his friend Mick Moss (although now Duncan Patterson has left Antimatter. Danny Cavanagh (yes, one of the two Cavanagh brothers in Anathema) acted as a guest musician on this album and just to make the story complete Jamie Cavanagh played drums on Lights Out, one of Antimatter's previous albums and just before A Fine Day To Exit/A Natural Disaster Danny left Anathema to join Antimatter. But he was persuaded to keep playing with Anathema so he is still a part of that band. Still with us??
Strangely enough we have reviewed a number of Anathema albums but not one Antimatter album and that is a pity, because if Leaving Eden is any indication of what this band can do, we have missed out on some fine pieces of music. From the first tones it is clear that Antimatter is not into happy music - the first subdued measurers make that very clear. Strange thing is: once you really get to know Antimatter, this sadness changes into energetic and is even uplifting. The refrains might be sad but much of the choruses are so strong that it is hard not to take some energy off them. Still it isn't the kind of energy that makes you happy - it is the kind of energy that makes you strong. And you may find yourself living from chorus to chorus waiting for the splendid guitar and keyboard solos to come.
Of course the mark of Anathema is very clear on this album (or must I say the Cavanagh mark is clear on both Antimatter and Anathema). Just listen to the beginning of Another Face In The Window: those keys really sound familiar. The same can be said of Landlocked a track that would have fitted on Anathema's A Natural Disasters without any problems. Still this is strange because after Duncan Patterson leaving, it appears to be Mick Moss that is the biggest driving force behind this release.
There are a lot of familiarities with Anathema but of course there are also large differences: the excellent voice of Mick Moss, the fact that none of the songs become really up tempo and that the atmosphere remains subdued throughout to complete album. The lyrics are a even sadder than Anathema's but some of them really have a point.
Redemption is a perfect example of what is to come on this album: quiet keyboards, very atmospheric vocals, lyrics with a sad subject. Tension is built up from the beginning amplified by acoustic guitars and then when the tension breaks into an electric guitar solos it almost feels like a liberation. The last lines of the lyrics (repeated over and over) might become the theme song to an off-day. "Looks like it's gonna be, another one of those rainy days again".
Another Face In The Window shows how Antimatter is crossing over from prog-metal/doom metal to almost grunge. It is certainly caused by the vocals (they sound like Eddie Vedder here and there) but the build up of the song also reminds of Pearl Jam. Ghosts is one of the highlights of the album, and for an album that does not have lesser moments that is a very big praise. The Freak Show again has a very sad start and this atmosphere does not really disappear with the chorus, although it does have a strong electric guitar solo. The use of distortion on the vocals and the grain of the song also hint towards the music of 16 Horsepower. Landlocked is a instrumental piece that sounds the most like an Anathema track. Keyboards with acoustic guitars and violins, a brilliant track with an interesting atmosphere.
Conspire is an intimate track because the vocals are only accompanied by an acoustic guitar and later violins are added, but again no bass guitar or drums. This seems to fade into the next track Leaving Eden that is quite the opposite: electric guitars, percussion, bass guitars. Again the vocals are changed so they sound like recorded with an old microphone. Again an excellent tension build up, tasty guitar solos and a complete song decorated by guitar hauls. The Immaculate Lie starts of with a number of piano chords and an acoustic guitar, the piano loops after that keep this instrumental song interesting. Violins and a guitar solo of long stretched notes make this song complete.
The last song on the album Fighting For A Lost Cause is again a track of acoustic guitars and vocals only, later accompanied by strings. It ends in acoustic guitar and leaves you with the hollow feeling that can only be filled by another spin of this brilliant album.
As stated before this is the first review of an Antimatter album on DPRP - but getting acquainted with this one sure left a taste for more. An album as good as this one must have been preceded by at least a couple of noteworthy ones. And what if Leaving Eden is not their best album to date (hard to imagine)? Then there must be more like these! This Antimatter release does not really fit into any category, there is not one that does justice to this rich music. Rich because of the atmosphere, not because the music is stuffed with loops and rhythms. Antimatter shows the art of good music is leaving stuff out. Simple complexity might be a good description.
Leaving Eden is a big surprise and a must-have for fans of Anathema. People into sad and melancholic music should also buy this album. But in fact this album is a must-have for all people that like quality music. Put on some headphones, close your eyes and get enveloped in the music of Antimatter. If you take into account that you will not be happier, you will find peace and quiet in this music, it has worked wonders for me in the past months. Most definitely DPRP recommended!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Tomorrow's Eve – The Tower [EP]
Tracklist: The Tower (7:00), Remember (6:10), Success 2007 (5:45), Not From This World 2007 (3:21)
Tomorrow's Eve is a progressive metal band that has been around in one shape or another since the late 90’s. They have released three albums to date all of which have received a thumbs up from the DPRP (The Unexpected World 2000, Mirror Of Creation 2003, and Mirror Of Creation 2 ~ Genesis II 2006). Only guitarist Rainer Grund and keyboardist Oliver Schwickert remain from the original band with bassist Chris Doerr, drummer Tom Diener and vocalist Martin LeMar joining to complete the current lineup in 2004. If you’ve yet to hear the band then you may be asking the question does the world really need another German prog metal act? Well the answer is when they’re this good, yes. The band's website describes the music on this EP as “dark and aggressive” which I feel is a tad misleading. True guitars crunch and the vocals are from the Bruce Dickinson school of hard rock but the music has more than its fair share of light to offset the shade.
Two new songs that are soon to be featured on the next full length CD open the set. Following a symphonic introduction The Tower rattles along at a lively pace with a compelling guitar riff and LeMar injecting his vocal performance with all the melodrama he can muster. It finally recedes for a delicate piano and vocal outro. The song sums up the band very nicely. Hard and heavy it is, but with bags of melody and some excellent playing all round. With his gritty riffs providing the foundation Grund overlays some very tuneful guitar lines along with Schwickert’s orchestral synth layers. Doerr and Diener between them pound out a rock solid rhythm leaving LeMar to assume the frontman role with confidence and conviction. They compare favourably with most of the usual melodic prog metal suspects although they often veer more towards the heavier end of the scale.
Remember is taken at a more leisurely pace, or at least as leisurely as these guys get! The stately delivery includes some very fine classical style piano and skilfully measured vocals. This time round they bring compatriots Everon to mind. It moves up several gears at the midway point for some blistering guitar and synth exchanges.
Success 2007 is a re-recording of a song that dates back to the bands debut 2000 album The Unexpected World. This version is leaner and heavier than the original eschewing the instrumental frills and containing a stronger vocal performance. It opens at a breakneck speed that makes the two proceeding tracks seem almost pedestrian. The monumental power chords and agile synth work compliment each other perfectly.
Not From This World 2007 another re-recording seems a curious choice given that the original appeared only recently on last year's Mirror Of Creation 2 ~ Genesis II album. This version is somewhat shorter than its predecessor although it remains a duet incorporating the gorgeous voice of Jennie Kloos. As a ballad it has a big musical show feel about it which remains just the right side of sickly sweet although the dramatic keyboard symphonics do go slightly overboard.
As an introduction to the music of Tomorrow's Eve The Tower is an excellent taster. The song writing is very good with memorable melodies and strong hooks. True the band does have a tendency towards bombast and lyrically an obsession with dark imagery but it’s all extremely well performed. Special mention has to go to the clean and weighty production by Phil Hillen ensuring that the band sounds very gutsy when needed. The EP is available through the bands website for less than five euros so I really cannot think of a reason not to highly recommend it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Iced Earth – Overture Of The Wicked [EP]
Tracklist: Ten Thousand Strong (3:54), Prophecy (6:00), Birth Of The Wicked (4:31), The Coming Curse (8:00)
You wait over three years for a new Iced Earth album, then two come along in quick succession – typical! Mainman Jon Schaffer has turned his attention away from the American Civil War theme explored on previous release The Glorious Burden and retreated back to more fantasy-based climes, with the two forthcoming albums taking off where the three-part Something Wicked trilogy that appeared the 1998 album (and firm fan favourite) Something Wicked This Way Comes ended.
Fans are going to have to wait a little longer to get a real feel for how the new material will sound, however, as there is only four minutes of original music on this EP, in the form of Ten Thousand Strong. The other three tracks are the aforementioned trilogy, re-recorded by the current line-up (Schaffer, vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and drummer Brett Smedley, with lead guitar work by the now-departed Tim Mills) – a logical enough exercise given that it forms the launch pad of the new albums, but one that’s of course bound to cause differences of opinion between older fans, many of whom firmly prefer previous vocalist Matt Barlow to Owens.
First things first; Ten Thousand Strong is introduced by a trademark glass-breaking Owens scream, before galloping off at a fair old pace, only slowing down for a pretty anthemic chorus. It probably won’t go down as a classic, but is stronger than many of the shorter tracks on the first disc of The Glorious Burden.
The Something Wicked trilogy is well known to Iced Earth fans, a typical IE epic which moves smoothly between its three increasingly heavy and anthemic sections, and in this case brings a notable Eastern feel to proceedings. This new version adds an extra layer of crispness to the guitars, the acrobatic drumming of Smedley makes the original rhythm sound positively leaden, and Tim Mills’ leads are certainly more inspired than his predecessors. The production isn’t perfect though, with Smedley’s snare drum having an irritatingly hollow and overly-dominant sound, and Schaffer’s rhythm guitar sound seems to lack depth.
Owens does a sturdy job, but he’s always going to be on a hiding to nothing covering Barlow-era material, as Barlow’s voice has an individuality and emotional resonance that he can’t really compete with, even though he’s technically a stronger singer.
The main differences between the two versions are in the final (and strongest) piece of the trilogy, The Coming Curse – Schaffer cuts out the lengthy piano introduction, rather waters down the main riff and subtly changes the Eastern motif’s that dominate the middle section to feature a choir which helps add to the atmosphere.
Overall then, a good purchase for new fans, as the Something Wicked trilogy pretty much sums up what Iced Earth are about, whilst existing fans will want the new song and will be intrigued to hear the re-recorded epic – although whether they like it or not is another matter…
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Canvas Solaris - Cortical Tectonics
Tracklist: Berserker Hypothesis (3:55), Sinusoid Mirage (6:58), Interface (5:41), Gamma Knife (8:02), Rhizome (4:19), Reticular Consciousness (17:03)
Cortical Tectonics is the third release from this Georgia-based, instrumental, tech-metal trio and as the album title suggests, this is never going to be a straightforward listen.
Formed in 1999, the band is led by guitarists Nathan Sapp and Ben Simpkins (who also plays the bass), alongside sticksman Hunter Ginn. Evolving out of the death metal/mathcore scene, Canvas Solaris' music will fit nicely into the collection of anyone who has a taste for the likes of Spiral Architect and Gordian Knot, but with something of interest to fans of Cynic, Dillinger Escape Plan, King Crimson, Tangerine Dream and Mr Bungle.
The songs on Cortical Tectonics come complete with titles such as Sinusoid Mirage and Berserker Hypothethesis.
Much of what I said about their last offering - the equally challengingly titled Prenumbra Diffuse - could apply to the six tracks here. Yet there is also a noticeable growth and development in their sound, with extra layers created through an increased use of keyboards and acoustic passages.
There's plenty of peace and quiet to be found among the more intense metallic onslaughts. The effect can best be heard on the 17-minute epic Reticular Consciousness (another snappy title!). Here the alternation between introspective passages and hyper-technical expositions, makes a far more varied listen.
In every respect, this album screams quality at you and should more than establish Canvas Solaris as one of the leading bands in this sub-genre.
Still baffled by the title though. As far as I'm aware the outer covering of my organs ('cortical') have never been much good at studying the Earth's structural features as a whole ('tectonics')!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Empyrios - And The Rest Is Silence
Tracklist: Wreckage (0:42), Tort (5:06), The Ruiner (4:48), Unbalanced Equilibrium (3:55), PsychoTerrorism (5:29), Prelude To The Sleepless Tragedy (0:45), Insomnia (4:57), Eal (6:37), Perseverance (3:56), Losing Myself In The Downward Spiral (1:14), Failure Of Eye (4:56), FarCry (2:56)
If you enjoy being one of the first to track down a new album from a promising ProgMetal or Power Metal band, then I'd like to pass on a good place to find one. There's a small, independent Greek label called Burning Star Records which seems to have a canny ear for undiscovered talent.
Their albums are a little tricky to get hold of, as the label only appears to distribute in Greece or through the internet, but I've recently tracked down four of their releases, all of which have something to offer. Albums by Art Of Simplicity, Astra and Everwood all have their plus points, if flawed in their consistency. However far and away my favourite, and a band I would recommend that a few larger record labels should check out, are Empyrios.
This Italian band came to life in 2001 with the aim of creating something different in the Metal scene by combining many different elements. I believe its only previous release was a demo The Eversinner in 2002.
The five members behind Empyrios show their intentions right from the start, with a strong instrumental intro and the aggressive stylings of Tort.
Basically the music on ..And The Rest Is Silence lies firmly in Symphony X territory but with less symphonics and a greater willingness to go off in odd directions. There's a strong hint of Wastefall and Pain Of Salvation in certain songs, and numerous refrains bring to mind Ray Alder's side project, Engine. I have little doubt that this will appeal in equal measures to Power and ProgMetal fans.
The songs are of a pretty consistent standard throughout but the occasional musical twist and turn and a delicate variety in the levels of intensity, maintain the interest. Silvio Mancini is a promising frontman with a good level of emotion and power in his voice. The biggest restraint on the music is the production, which really struggles to cope with the sheer power of the music. The heavy bass constantly distorts, and the balance between the vocals and the other instruments does neither any favours. A bit longer in the studio next time around could easily polish these rough edges, and in particular allow Mancini's voice to shine through.
So top marks to Empyrios for releasing one of the best debut ProgMetal albums I've heard this year, and even higher marks to their label for investing in the sort of new talent that keeps the scene alive. Click on the weblinks above to find out more and support these promising up-and-coming bands and their label.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Awake - Illumination
Tracklist: Disbelief (3:23), Retribution (3:29), Crime Of Passion (4:16), Choices In Time (4:31), Begin Again (3:56), The Price You Have To Pay (4:22), Dream Within (4:22), Illumination (4:12), Forgiven Now Forever (4:28), My Last Goodbye (6:12), Shadows (5:33)
Having reviewed the debut album by this young English band a few years ago, I have kept a close eye on how their careers have developed. Known originally as Humanity, When Silence Calls was a solid piece of doom-tinged progressivish metal which I thought had a similar sort of vibe in places to the kings of Morose Metal, Evergrey. Humanity later appeared at the UK's Bloodstock Festival where I bumped into a couple of the band members talking to one of the other band's on the bill ... yep you've guessed it ... Evergrey. Apparently they'd never heard of Evergrey before, but having read my comparison in the review, they thought they'd check them out, and liked what they heard.
Roll-on two more years and Humanity has become Awake. Having their second album before me, it appears that they really did like Evergrey a lot. Illumination was recorded and mixed at the Evergrey-blessed Division One Studios in Gothenburg under the guidance of Tom S Englund, who also added some backing vocals. In addition, Evergrey guitarist Henrik Danhage appears for a guest solo on one of the tracks. Little surprise therefore that the eleven tracks on offer can only be described as Evergrey-lite. If ever the 'Evergrey clone' label is applied to any album then it'll have to be this one. Almost every song could have been lifted from the Inner Circle or Monday Morning Apocalypse sessions, the sound is so similar.
The song structures, the vocal phrasing, the delicate keyboard touches over the guitars, the guitar riffs and the lyrical themes are all direct descendants from Sweden's finest. Simon Shedwell even manages to put in a damn fine impression of Mr Englund (no mean feat!). It is a more direct, melodic metal version and the riffing isn't as heavy or intense, but if you played this blind, you could only guess that this was the new Evergrey album. I'm not sure how much of this is actually due to Tom Englund's production though, as I have a demo version of two tracks (Retribution & Choices In Time) recorded prior to their collaboration, and they both sound remarkably familiar.
For some of you, the similarities will be just too much. If you have an aversion to 'clone' bands, then I'd suggest you give this a miss. I must admit that that was my feeling after the first two spins. However I will also admit that I'm still playing it - and really enjoying the darn thing.
The melodies are great, there's some superb head-banging riffing, the vocals are great too and most importantly there is a certain depth to the song-writing that prolongs my interest. The catchy pairing of Retribution and Crime Of Passion, the chunky riff that drives The Price You Have To Pay and the slightly different groove of the title track, all help create a very enjoyable melodic metal album. Three ballads make it a little lightweight for me and the guitars and the keys could be taken a notch or two higher.
Nevertheless, the improvement in all departments from the band's debut album is mightily impressive, especially in the ability to pen some addictive melodies, and in the vocals of Simon Shedwell. Awake is still a very young band. If they can maintain the songwriting quality, whilst developing a stronger musical identity of their own, this five-piece really does have the potential to match, and maybe even surpass, their Swedish mentors.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Suspyre - A Great Divide
Tracklist: Opus II: The Alignment Of Galaxies (34:16) - [I] Forever the Voices (1:12), The Singer (9:00), [II] The Spirit (3:19), [III] Galactic Backward Movements (9:50), [IV] Manipulation In Time (8:44), Resolution (2:11), Opus III: The Origin Of A Curse (36:05) - [I] April in the Fall (5:43), Subliminal Delusions (6:37), [II] Bending The Violet (2:31), The Piano Plays At Last (6:02), [III] Alterations Of The Ivory (7:42), [IV] Blood And Passion (7:30)
This is the second album from this diversely influenced bunch of prog metallers and is one of the best albums yet from the US-based Nightmare label.
Taking the classic ProgMetal template copyrighted by Dream Theater, this American six-piece has extended and remodelled it with some heavy fusion and power metal elements. Add to that a touch of technical metal and a more easily digestible melodic metal, this is a pretty challenging listen.
Think Andromeda-meets-Symphony X on a blind date with Watchtower and Robben Ford and you'll get a good idea of where this is going. Another clue comes if you take a look at the track listing, and see that the album's made up of two, four-part suites, each clocking in at around 35 minutes.
I'm not the greatest fusion fan, so as there is a heavy reliance on that in the extended soloing, this album was always going to be a little hard to get into. There's no denying that the musicianship is classy, and despite their length, the instrumental sections flow into each other very smoothly. The singer is great but I feel a little wasted when he spends so much time out of action.
Despite its broad influences, A Great Divide is not startlingly original, but for anyone who likes heavy ProgMetal, with extended instrumental workouts and a heavy dose of fusion, then this will be spot on.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Eyefear – A World Full Of Grey
Tracklist: Searching For Forgiveness (7:11), A World Full Of Grey (5:15); Changes (4:56), Lost Within (5:44), Moments (0:38), The Eyes Tell No Lies (6:08), Whispers Of The Soul (5:27), Haunted Memories (6:31), Breathe Again (4:50), Searching For Forgiveness [radio edit] (4:45)
Australia may be geographically a long way from the main centres of progressive metal in the 21st century but the advent of the internet has brought it a whole lot closer, both as an avenue for bands getting their music out to the wider world, and for those bands to have access to music from the key prog-power territory of mainland Europe. I bring this up as, had I not read in the promo that Eyefear were from ‘down under’ I would have assumed they were ‘just another Euro prog-metal band’, as A World Full Of Grey, their third album, is pretty standard genre stuff.
Whether by accident or design, the two bands that came most to mind when listening to A World Full Of Grey are Evergrey (obviously an increasing influence on the scene) and Fates Warning circa A Pleasant Shade Of Grey. Add a sizeable dose of Euro power metal and a smidgeon of classic Queensrÿche, and top with the Bruce Dickinson-esque vocals of front-man Danny Cecati (a man who also, it must be said, has one of most impressively long manes of hair I’ve yet to see!) and you have the basic recipe for what could be a pretty strong outing. Yet, whilst this is competently written and performed, it just lacks the hooks and excitement factor to really make an impression. There is some strong material here – the aggressive edge to Lost Again grabs the attention, as does the anthemic title track – but it’s not enough to really save an album that quickly becomes rather pedestrian and routine due to a the sameness of pace and a rigid adherence to the standard prog metal template. A pleasant enough listen for those who just can't get enough new progressive metal, but there’s plenty of better stuff around at the moment
Conclusion: 6 out of 10