Reviews in this issue:
- Hourglass – Oblivious To The Obvious
- Ashent – Deconstructive
- Textures - Silhouettes
- Faith – Blessed?
- Elegy – Labyrinth Of Dreams
- Elegy – Supremacy
- Elegy – Lost
- Elegy – Primal Instinct
- Elegy – State Of Mind
- Elegy – Manifestation Of Fear
- Elegy – Principles Of Pain
- Epica - The Classical Conspiracy
- Megadeth – Anthology: Set The World Afire
- Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know
- Forgotten Suns – Innergy
- Lethargy - Purification
- Mastercastle – The Phoenix
- Farther Paint - Lose Control
- Astra – From Within
- TDW - The Haunts
- Miosis - Albedo Abduction
- Beyond The Labyrinth - Castles In The Sand
- Braver Since Then – Adorned Weakness
Hourglass – Oblivious To The Obvious
Disc 1: On The Brink (12:39), Homeward Bound (9:58), Pawn II (13:41), Faces (11:53), 38th Floor (21:22)
Disc 2: Façade (14:50), Skeletons (6:58), Estranged (7:05), Delirium (10:20), Oblivious To The Obvious: [Part 1 ~ No Chance, Part 2 ~ Realization, Part 3 ~ Remember Me, Part 4 ~ In My Hands, Part 5 ~ Redemption] (30:33)
Hourglass is a progressive metal band originating from Utah (USA). Their debut The Journey Into dates from 2002, while its successor the (DPRP recommended!) Subconsious is from 5 years ago. With this double album the band created their magnum opus whilst replacing their vocalist (again). The line up at present is: Brick Williams (guitars), Michael Turner (vocals), Eric Blood (bass & vocals), Jerry Stenquist (keyboards) and John Dunston (drums).
To release a double album with the length these two CD’s have, looks like a pretty daring effort to me, but Hourglass manages to surprise me over and over again. On The Brink starts of in the vein of Dream Theater, the first real riffs sound a bit like As I Am and after some bombastic choir chanting, Turner starts to sing with a voice resembling Ted Leonard’s (Enchant) quite a lot, except for the few growling screams as if he was Devin Townsend for a moment. Eric Blood’s bass playing is outstanding, and different or should I say for more prominent than most other prog-metal acts. Drummer John Dunston plays a lot like Paul Craddick, Enchant’s original drummer, so I would conclude Hourglass has an extremely powerful, versatile rhythm section at least comparable to Enchant’s, perhaps even better. Stenquist plays piano but switches to synths and orchestrations very smoothly. As could be expected, all longer tracks have extensive instrumental parts, a real treat and joy for any prog-metal lover!
Homeward Bound begins with a piano, orchestrations are added and subsequently Williams’ guitar and Blood’s bass. The second part consist of a nice tune in the vein of Enchant again, more poppy and less heavy than the opening track. The third part is featuring Brick Williams on guitar, accompanied by Blood’s busy bass, richly filling drum-breaks and piano. Pawn II opens like Xanadu by Rush but the ‘acoustic’ guitar makes a difference. The atmosphere of undisturbed tranquillity changes when the riffs and the rhythm-section are driving the music in a much heavier, ‘slow head-banging’ direction. An interlude by Blood, Dunston, Senquist and Williams leads to a piece sounding much like Enchant again, with both quiet and up tempo passages and a lot of different influences. Stenquist’s piano and Turner’s softly singing voice are featured in Faces, a breathtaking beautiful ballad. In the second part also bass and orchestrations are added. Halfway the song there’s a symphonic interlude followed by still symphonic music and nice clean guitars by Williams in an atmosphere like Yes was meeting Pink Floyd, while Blood’s bass playing sounds like Klaus Peter Matziol’s (Eloy). In the epic 38th Floor mainly top class progressive metal with a huge variety of styles and sounds. Again halfway a lovely enchanting interlude by bass, strings and percussion, followed by a equally slow part by the whole band. Brick Williams’ gentle guitar dominates the last part of this track, almost Pink Floyd going jazzy before the music returns to the first theme but at first played in more jazzy/funky fashion.
CD2 opens with Façade, at first a delightful piece played by keyboards, later a melody on guitar sounding a bit like a saxophone or trumpet, then awesome bass playing by Blood and subtle percussion. The second part certainly brings back the sounds from Dream Theater and Enchant. In Skeletons some scary sounds by the keyboards, then slow, dark and heavy riffs with a more up tempo chorus and some nice solo’s by synth and guitar. The obligatory ballad on this CD is called Estranged featuring acoustic guitar and Turner singing like Ted Leonard again; very nice strings too. In the second half of the song piano, bass en percussion are added. Delirium is an all instrumental piece in the style of Shadow Gallery playing Liquid Tension Experiment, only the piano is used a lot more.
The final track, over half an hour, is the title track divided in 5 parts. The lyrics are about a man who a most miserable childhood but reflects this on the outside world. As he is diagnosed with cancer het starts looking back at his life and realizes he was an awful man. Before meeting his maker he tries to set things right. The first part No Chance is a catchy piece with very nice melodies, Stenquist using the piano again, Williams predominantly the acoustic guitar, a lovely classical interlude, and -it gets repeated- superb bass playing and drumming. Part 2, Realization, is a slow gentle piece featuring Turner’s versatile vocals and Stenquist’s piano. Part 3, Remember Me, sounds like a crossover between Enchant and early Shadow Gallery. Some mean heavy riffs kick off part 4, In My Hands, the piano counterpointing Williams’ heavy guitar and Turner proves he can sing like Roy Alder too. The grand finale, Redemption, is instrumental and here we hear extremely nice symphonic music next to more heavy stuff featuring solo’s, first by Stenquist and then by Williams, while with the latter the accompaniment by drums, bass and piano give the originally progressive music a funky touch.
In conclusion this double album is top-class progressive rock with a metal edge to it, played by four highly talented musicians and a superb performance from vocalist Mike Turner. Highly recommended!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Ashent – Deconstructive
Tracklist: Sinking Beneath (3:54), Imperfect (4:18), Ephemera (4:17), To Develop Self-Creativity (1:42), The Resonance Of Life (4:48), Cassandra (5:07), Spectral Vanity (5:27), How Could It Feel Like This? (4:28), Ebb And Flow Of Awareness (2:51), Starlinked Innerness (6:17), Eclipsing Binary (4:07), Music For Departure (2:30)
The second release from these aggressive Italian ProgMetallers took a while to sink in, but has become well worth the investment. The more thrashy, deathy, technical approach of the band’s debut album, Flaws Of Elation, didn’t really work for me. The title of this new effort says it all. They certainly have ‘deconstructed’ their whole sound and put it back to form a far more coherent, focused and altogether more appealing musical construction.
Of the 12 tracks, nine are full songs which mostly fit comfortably into the 4-5 minute category with three shorter instrumentals. Somehow the shortness of the songs has not prevented the band from filling the album with a complexity and a breadth of musical styles that few such bands will ever match. Indeed that fact that unlike so many, it doesn’t over-stay its welcome is… well… very welcome. My initial reaction was that this was all a bit disjointed and too easily forgotten. However as is often the case, there was something that encouraged me to show patience, something that has been repaid by discovering an album that I will enjoy for a long time.
The best way I can describe the Ashent concoction is with this sentence. The keyboardist and drummer are keen jazz fans, the bassist is into melodic death metal, and vocalist Steve Braun could easily pass for Steve Perry (Journey) and especially Tony Harnell (Starbreaker, TNT).
Any musical compatriots? Nothing springs to mind overall, but lots of bands spring to mind when I listen to odd sections. Take Cassandra. It is one of two songs where the deathy vocals play a noticeable part (not too much though). At the start there’s a certain Mercenary/Into Eternity vibe, mixed with Dream Theater instrumentation. We then move into some sweat harmonies and acoustic bursts which recall Canada’s Heavens Cry, before a closing section led by some slightly off-key vocal patterns a la Sphere Of Souls and Sun Caged.
In stark contrast, How Could It Feel is a slice of pure west coast AOR over a jazzy/tribal beat. Star Linked Innerness offers a more epic mood. We have orchestration and some Middle Eastern motifs, amid some melodic deathy vocals. It brings to mind a more schizophrenic Circus Maximus, if you can image that. Another favourite is the funky groove and riff, that with some sublime harmonies, forms the basis of Ephemera – a much heavier Enchant or the bastard child of early Wolverine. With their broad mix of heavy prog and light death metal, jazz and sublime vocals, a more coherent, men-only To-Mera could be another idea.
Yes it sounds a strange mix, but somehow Ashent have managed to pull it off. Each track has its own distinct individuality. There are recognizable and distinct verses and choruses. There’s a darkness and heaviness which combines well with a great sense of drama and intimacy. The vocals are superb. American Steve Braun really has done his reputation no harm at all – easily up there with the singers from Circus Maximus and Seventh Wonder in the ability to bring some AOR to the metal ball. Indeed, any singer who can make a memorable hook out of ‘eclipsing binary’ will go far.
The moderate use of keyboards, the occasional deathy metal approach, blasts of extreme drums and seven-string guitars give a rich, heaviness to the sound. The rounded, strong production gives it all a fresh and modern touch. There is absolutely nothing dated here. It doesn’t all slot together. Opening track Sinking Beneath misses the g-spot, as does the more thrashy, nu-metal elements of Spectral. Music For Departure is just some closing waffle that should have departed shortly after the band entered the studio.
But when considering the artistic whole, Deconstructive has to be judged a surprising success and one that’s sure to be floating around the edges of my Top 10 at the year end.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Textures - Silhouettes
Tracklist: Old Days Born Anew (5:37), The Sun’s Architect (5:16), Awake (4:14), Laments Of An Icarus (4:12), One Eye For A Thousand (6:14), State Of Disobedience (4:10), Storm Warning (5:46), Messengers (5:09), To Erase A Lifetime (6:53)
Dutch outfit Textures are presumably named after a track on the legendary Focus album from 1993 by Cynic; it would make sense if they were, as whilst they are more aggressive and less ethereal than the legendary (and recently re-activated) Floridian band, they are certainly within the the same genre, technical progressive metal operating at the more extreme end of the spectrum.
Textures debuted in 2003 with Polars (initially self-released then re-issued through the French Listenable label), a fairly raw and rough-around-the-edges effort which nonetheless showed considerable promise. This promise was realised to a sizeable degree on the follow up, 2006’s Drawing Circles. This established the bands trademark sound, probably best described as a mix of taut, rhythmic riff-driven math-metal in the vein of Meshuggah with a more emotional approach, epitomised by the use of big, clean-vocalled choruses, melodic guitar lines and atmospheric walls of synths, echoing the style of Devin Townsend on his more approachable albums such as Ocean Machine and Terria. There’s also a definite post-metal vibe, reminiscent of an early period Cult Of Luna.
Silhouettes does not represent such a big step forward in terms of both style and quality as Drawing Circles did from Polars, and is perhaps better seen as a continuation, or if you will a reaffirmation of their core sound.
Textures certainly spring out of the traps with a fine one-two punch on the opening couple of tracks; Old Days Born Anew rides in on a riff that recalls an earlier, rawer Meshuggah, with the second guitar playing a jangling, haunting line that has hints of eighties Killing Joke. The tempo is cleverly slowed down without halting the track’s momentum, and Eric Kalsbeek’s clean, almost soulful singing on what passes as a chorus is nicely contrasted with the more aggressive barks that he delivers elsewhere. The Sun’s Architect, meanwhile, shows the band’s skill in incorporating Richard Rietjidk’s atmospheric keyboard work into a heavy, technical framework and using them to further enhance, rather than detract from, the power of the song. The hooky chorus is well constructed too.
Unfortunately the middle part of the album is less consistent – whilst the churning, powerful One Eye For A Thousand is excellent, its flanked by two rather by-the-numbers metalcore tracks; Awake, meanwhile, has to go down as something of a miss-step – a fairly straightforward emo-tinged pop-rock song that crosses the boundary into mawkishness on a couple of occasions.
Thankfully the album ends as strongly as it started – Messengers is an atmospheric, almost transcendental, electro-influenced piece which boasts a heavy Townsend influence, whilst To Erase A Lifetime gets the balance between keeping things on a tight reign and really going for the throat just right, plus the intricate interplay between the rhythm and lead guitars is a joy to listen to.
Overall, Silhouettes is a good album, but a slightly frustrating one – Textures are surely capable of writing an album full of nine excellent songs, whereas Silhouettes only has five, making it an inconsistent effort. Having witnessed the band live on a number of occasions, I can confirm that on stage they are already a force to be reckoned with, but they will need to produce a more consistently excellent studio album next time around to really make the step up to the big leagues.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Faith – Blessed?
Tracklist: Blessed Void Of Bewilderment (8:21), Big Red, Nebraska (4:52), Polska Efter Ida I Rye (2:23), Necropolis (6:22), Twilight (6:08), Condemned (3:56), Father Pious (6:14), Never Got To Know (5:58), Leipzigpolska (6:05)
Periodically, the CD review team at DPRP engages in spirited discussions of what does and does not constitute “progressive rock”. We receive such a variety of CDs for review that we must necessarily decide what does and doesn’t merit a review on a site that, in its very name and origin, dedicates itself to progressive rock. I myself have come to think that a CD can be called progressive if it lands in my mailbox for review! No, I’m kidding; but I’ll admit that I have definitely broadened my definition quite a lot in recent years. Just as well: for some time, my definition was “Whatever was done by Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, Camel, and U.K. in the Seventies.” I exaggerate – but I’ve recognized that there is more than one way to skin a progressive cat.
You can see what’s coming, can’t you? Here’s a pretty much straightforward doom-metal CD from Sweden, and you’re reading a review of it on a progressive-rock site. Well, to be honest, I thought a lot about whether our site was the place for a review of this album, and I’ve decided that it’s “progressive” enough that it does indeed merit a review here. I mean simply that, although nobody would put Faith’s Blessed? into a main a category other than “doom” (well, some call that subgenre “stoner metal”, but for a number of reasons I don’t care for that term), many of the songs are ambitious and creative in ways not demanded by the subgenre – and that’s “progressive” enough for me.
I’ll aim the rest of my review at both fans of doom metal and, well, non-fans, hoping to appeal mostly to the latter. To the former, I’ll simply say – check these guys out. The CD comes blasting out of the speakers with the wonderfully titled Blessed Void Of Bewilderment, featuring a classic, hammering-but-winding doom-metal riff, reminding us of early Sabbath and, simultaneously, heavier Pink Floyd, mostly in the relative subtlety of the arrangement. Christer Nilsson, bassist and vocalist, has a voice not a million miles removed from that of Thomas Gabriel Warrior of Celtic Frost (I hope I’m not scaring anybody away here) – heavy, doomy (of course!), but expressive. And guitarist Roger Johansson and drummer Peter Svensson find subtleties in a typically unsubtle subgenre, even essaying icy – let’s say “glacial” – funk in Never Got To Know.
Speaking of subtlety – nice, unexpected accents are provided in some of the songs by guest violinist Hakan Malmros and by Anders Smedenmark, who plays the “nyckelharpa,” or Swedish Key Fiddle. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard that instrument before, but it speaks to Faith’s creativity that it appears on this album. I also like the stop-start structure of some of the songs here and the band’s willingness (not unique in doom, I’ll grant) to stretch out, to let a song take as long as it needs to build and resolve. On repeated listenings, in fact, I’ve found that songs that seemed, on first hearing, too long actually gain a mesmeric power from the repetition of these heavy yet artful riffs.
Have I persuaded the non-doom fans yet? This really is a nifty album. Check out the fiddle breakdown in Leipzigpolska – yeah, what sounds like a Swedish folk tune is played lightly over heavy, heavy, doomy riffing – and you’ll agree, I think, that this band really has something new to offer. For fans of the doom-metal subgenre, I’ll give this album an 8, but my official rating has to reflect a recommendation to fans of progressive rock who might be less doomily inclined. I’ll say again, though, that this is an album worth having.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Elegy – Labyrinth Of Dreams
Tracklist: The Grand Change (4:42), I’m No Fool (4:56), Take My Love (4:46), All Systems Go (2:56), Trouble In Paradise (5:35), Over And Out (3:42), Labyrinth Of Dreams (6:09), Mass Hysteria (1:24), Powergames (4:25), The Guiding Light (3:14)
Bonus Tracks: The Guiding Light [Demo] (3:21), Ballad – [Demo] – Henk’s 1st instrumental (3:46), I’m No Fool [videoclip]
Elegy – Supremacy
Tracklist: Windows Of The World (5:09), Angels Grace (7:08), Poisoned Hearts (5:26), Lust For Life (5:21), Anouk (1:52), Circles In The Sand (4:41), Darkest Night (4:09), Close Your Eyes (0:38), Supremacy (5:00), Erase Me (7:29)
Bonus Tracks: All Systems Go [Demo] (2:58), The Grand Change (4:48)
Elegy – Lost
Tracklist: Lost (4:40), Everything (5:59), Clean Up Your Act (5:02), Always With You (4:32), Under Gods Naked Eye (4:50), 1998 (2:33), Spirits (6:43), Crossed The Line (5:29), Live It Again (4:09), Spanish Inquisition (4:03)
Bonus Tracks: I’m No Fool 1990 [Demo] (5:09), Labyrinth Of Dreams 1990 [Demo] (6:26)
Elegy – Primal Instinct
Tracklist: Take My Love (4:56), Labyrinth Of Dreams (6:37), Always With You (3:59), Spirits (5:50), Erase Me (7:08)
Bonus Tracks: Live Acoustic Sessions : Always With You (2:36), Angel Without Wings (3:35), The Forgotten (2:44), Spirits (3:38), Wish It Was Christmas Everyday (3:50), Plus Live video footage
Elegy – State Of Mind
Tracklist: Equinox (1:39), Visual Vortex (4:45), Trust (4:01), Beyond (5:05), Shadow Dancer (4:13), Aladdins Cave (5:39), State Of Mind (3:33), Destiny Calling (6:32), Resurrection (1:03), Losers Game (3:57), Suppression (5:07)
Bonus Tracks: Trust [Demo] (4:33), Shadow Dancer [Demo] (3:44), Suppression (5:01), Visual Vortex [videoclip]
Elegy – Manifestation Of Fear
Tracklist: Unorthodox Methods (5:16), Frenzy (4:33), Angel Without Wings (4:45), Savage Grace (4:58), Master Of Deception (5:26), Solitary Day (Living In An Ivory Tower (4:44), Manifestation Of Fear (5:40), Victim Of Circumstance (5:30), The Forgotten (3:30), Redemption (2:09), Metamorphosis (6:21)
Bonus Tracks: Solitary Day [extended version Japan] (5:48), Master Of Deception [Demo] (5:50), Metamorphosis [Demo] (4:32)
Elegy – Principles Of Pain
Tracklist: Under My Skin (4:35), The Inner Room (3:58), No Code No Honour (4:38), Walking Nightmare (5:27), Pilgrims Parade (4:14), Principles Of Pain (5:16), Creatures Of Habit (4:36), Silence In The Wind (4:56), Hypothesis (5:00), Missing Persons (3:44), A Childs Breath (6:32)
Bonus Tracks: Sacred [extra track Japan] (4:41), Under My Skin [Demo] (4:34), No Code No Honour [Demo] (4:36), Pilgrims Parade [Demo] (4:15), Principles Of Pain [videoclip]
The Dutch progressive/ power metal outfit Elegy have released 8 studio efforts to date, but are still a relatively unknown comodity, even to fans of the genre. This failure to break through from the second tier to the upper echelons can be put down to a number of things, but being shuffled from one label to another is surely one of them, with the result that a number of their albums have fallen out of print. Metal Minds have now decided to put this right with this major reissue job, presenting seven of the band’s albums (oddly 2000’s Forbidden Fruit is omitted) in limited edition, batch of 2000. All have been given the now-obligatory 24-bit remastering job, and have various bonus tracks attached, although there are no liner notes, which may have been an opportunity missed.
Elegy had been around for a few years by the time they released their debut Labyrinth Of Dreams in 1992, but had apparently still not settled on one particular style. Despite being released in the year grunge took off (which is presumably why they looked towards Japan for success) the inspiration is very much from the late eighties rock scene, with the power metal stylings of Helloween and Iron Maiden being chief amongst these. Lead guitarist Henk van der Laars is a shredder from the neoclassical school, and he gets plenty of opportunity to show off his chops, including on two instrumental tracks. Vocalist Eduard Hovinga, meanwhile, had clearly heard Geoff Tate and appears to be trying to emulate the legendary Queensrÿche singer – he’s OK (if heavily accented) on the lower register stuff, but has little control when reaching the higher echelons; thankfully there’s not too much of that on this release. The ‘Ryche influence extends to some of the music – the main riff on Over And Out is lifted from the Empire track Jet City Woman, whilst Trouble In Paradise mines the earlier sound of the band circa 1986’s Rage For Order. Overall it’s an uneven and fairly forgettable release – standouts are the grandiose opener The Grand Change and the bombastic title track; material such as the faintly embarrassing glam/cock rock of I’m No Fool and the bland Euro-metal-by-numbers romp The Guiding Light are best passed over. Production is OK considering the age of the album, when an overloud, booming drum sound and the like was the norm. Lyrics are uniformly poor – a good translator was sorely needed. The bonus tracks are of the one-listen-only variety – if that. Ayreon fans may be interested to know that Ed Warby drums on this album.
Several line-up changes took place prior to the recording of Elegy’s second album, Supremacy, including the first appearance of long time drummer Dirk Brunenburg. By now, the band had firmed up their style – prog/power metal in the vein of contemporaries such as Stratovarious, Kamelot and Symphony X, with the almost-obligatory hints of Dream Theater (but with the Queensrÿche influence pretty much iradicated). The song writing is also stronger, with more flow to the songs and some good riffs showing that van der Laars isn’t just a widdle-widdle merchant. Highlights are Angels Grace, which has some nice classical pickings from van den Laars and has a good build up and more considered approach, the title track, with its call and response chorus, and the closing Erase Me, their most progressive and symphonic piece thus far. There’s the odd clunker, such as the overly cheesy Darkest Night, and Hovinga’s vocals still don’t convince, but this is a big improvement from the debut. It is tempting, however, to take a mark off for the appalling cover. Bonus tracks are demo’s of Labyrinth Of Dreams tracks and are totally disposable.
Released a year later, Lost sees the addition of a permanent keyboard player, Gerrit Hager, who brings a wider variety of synth sounds to the party; unfortunately, said keyboards all but swamp the guitar work on many occasions. In addition, Elegy seemed to be intent on injecting a poppier feel to much of the material, resulting in songs such as Everything and Always With You coming across as overly saccharine. Highlights are the well-worked title track and the bombastic Spirits, but as Hovinga sings in the higher range for much of the album, even these are something of a chore to listen to.
Following this release, there were more line-up changes, with the main one being the departure of Hovinga. His replacement was Englishman Ian Parry, who DPRP readers may know from his appearance on a couple of Ayreon albums, or his own ongoing Consortium Project. Parry is possessed of a much stronger, more controlled singing voice than Hovinga; I’d say it comes across as a mixture of Ronnie James Dio and Magnum’s Bob Catley, imbued with a typical Euro power metal sensibility. Truthfully I’d have to say that his is not a vocal style which excites me that much, but it is a reliable one that suits the material and does not draw away the attention from the music as was frequently the case with his predecessor.
Parry’s first outing with the band was a five track EP, Primal Instinct, made principally for the Japanese market. Comprising of tracks from the first three albums rendered in the then-popular ‘unplugged’ format, these are hardly essential to anyone but completists, although they do show that having Parry singing on the earlier albums would certainly have improved matters. Having said that, he does over-emote on occasions here. Van der Laars guitar playing is impressive, with some nice flamenco-style playing on Always With You, whilst Spirits is probably the track that comes over best in this format. Nonetheless it would probably have been better to have put these tracks as bonuses on some of the other albums, rather than release them as stand-alone works. The plethora of bonus tracks and ‘home movie footage’ doesn’t really add anything other than extending the running time – the ‘highlight’ being an utterly po-faced Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, Parry intoning the cheesy lyrics as if they were the Magna Carta.
Parry’s first all-new studio album with the band, State Of Mind, probably stands as the highlight of this batch of re-issues. The band sound far more focussed than on previous offerings, and the song-writing is solid throughout. This time around, there is a definite AOR bent to the material, with memorable melodies and stick-in-the-head choruses the order of the day on songs such as Trust, Beyond and the title track. Shadow Dancer is more of a standard, fast-paced Euro metal romp, and Destiny’s Calling a rather forgettable power ballad, but these lesser tracks are balanced by the dark, slow-burning prog-metal of Visual Vortex, the Eastern-tinged Aladdin’s Cave and aggressive closer Suppression. Extras are the usual assortment of album demo’s plus a video clip for Visual Vortex.
The following year’s Manifestation Of Fear is a more complex beast, a concept album based on the story of a child of a poor single mother growing up alone in a corrupted industrial city, the paths he takes, the unscrupulous person he becomes and the remorse he subsequently feels as the result of his actions. It’s a story that Parry has obviously invested a lot of time in, but sometimes it feels like this was at the expense of the music. The songs are all solidly constructed, with an understandably darker hue than previously seen on an Elegy album, but in general lack the hooks and variety of those on State Of Mind. The exception is the thundering closer Metamorphosis, which leaves you wishing they’d written more tracks in this vein. The standout of this album, however, is the guitar solos of Henk van der Laars, with his soaring, melodic work on Master Of Deception and the twisty turny neoclassical shredding on Frenzy being particularly notable.
Jumping to 2002, and the band were now without founder member and one of their main songwriters, Henk van der Laars. In his place was another virtuoso, Frenchman Patrick Rondat. Rondat is perhaps best known for his work with new age composer Jean Michel Jarre, so it’s a little surprising that Principles Of Pain sees a new heavier edge brought to the band, with songs such as Under My Skin, Creatures Of Habit and the standout title track featuring down tuned riffing and an aggressive, vaguely sinister feel. Don’t get the impression that Elegy have suddenly turned into Pantera, however; there’s still plenty of anthemic, stadium-ready choruses, and the obligatory quota of fast paced power metal workouts (No Code No Honour, Pilgrims Parade) and lighters-in-the-air ballads (Silence In The Wind). Ultimately, this is a solidly enjoyable genre effort, but it didn’t really have the song-writing clout to raise the band’s profile, and therefore the fact that Elegy have effectively been ‘on ice’ since shortly after its release is not that surprising.
All in all, there’s some good stuff here, but too often its hidden away on generally inconsequential albums – making one feel that a ‘best of’ compilation may have been the best way forward. As it is, State Of Mind is the pick of the bunch, but even this is not really from the top drawer – to use an English football analogy, Elegy can be seem more as a solid championship band occasionally flirting with promotion, rather than one comfortably in the premier league with the likes of Symphony X and Dream Theater. It remains to be seen whether this is how the story ends, or whether the band will be resurrected for another shot at glory.
Labyrinth Of Dreams: 4 out of 10
Supremacy: 6 out of 10
Lost: 4.5 out of 10
Primal Instinct: 5 out of 10
State Of Mind: 7.5 out of 10
Manifestation Of Fear: 6 out of 10
Principles Of Pain: 7 out of 10
Epica - The Classical Conspiracy
CD1: Palladium (3:46), Dies Irae (2:15), Ombra Mai Fu (3:06), Adagio (9:02), Spiderman Medley (4:16), Presto (3:08), Motagues & Capulets (2:11), The Imperial March (3:25), Stabat Mater Dolorosa (4:31), Unholy Trinity (3:11), In The Hall Of The Mountain King (3:11), Pirates Of The Caribbean (6:44), Indigo (2:04), The Last Crucade (4:18), Sensorium (5:06), Quietus (4:22), Chasing The Dragon (8:03), Feint (4:34)
CD2: Never Enough (5:37), Beyond Belief (5:28), Cry For The Moon (7:44), Safeguard To Paradise (3:59), Black Infinity (4:45), Living A Lie (5:24), The Phantom Agony (10:30), Sancta Terra (5:11), Illusive Consensus (5:45), Consign To Oblivion (12:06)
Epica is a gothic rock band from the Netherlands, founded by ex-After Forever guitarist/composer/grunter Mark Jansen. The first albums were released through Transmission Records, now they have a contract with Nuclear Blast. All albums so far have been produced by the team of Sascha Paeth (with Miro and Olaf Reitmeier) at the Gate Studio in Wolfsburg (Germany). In order to make their music sound bombastic and somewhat classical, they added a choir and an orchestra on their last studio album The Divine Conspiracy.
Now Epica have taken this and other pieces of their music to the next level, performing live with an orchestra and a choir. The double album is a sort of ‘best of’ on CD2 and part of CD1 in combination with a number of well known classical themes and some themes of renowned movies such as Spiderman, Star Wars and Pirates of The Caribbean. The arrangements on the classical pieces by Verdi, Händel, Dvořak, Prokoviev, Grieg, Pergolesh and Vivaldi are very tasteful. They feature the orchestra but the band plays along quite nicely, resulting in a more powerful sound and a more modern rhythmic foundation by Ariën van Weesenbeek and Yves Huts. Probably this will also be the last official live performance with guitarist Ad Sluijter who left the band recently.
The concert took place in the Hungarian town of Miskolc on June 14th 2008. In conjunction with the extended Remenyi Ede chamber orchestra and the Miskolc National Theatre choir, Epica added another chapter to its already colourful history. It must have been a very memorable evening, considering the enthusiasm of both band and audience. Simone did well that night and at times she comes close to the vibrant performance and powerful vocal of her colleague Floor Jansen (ex-After Forever).
Epica has always been more classically orientated than for example After Forever, Within Temptation or Lunatica. Their interest in bombastic movie scores shows in this night’s performance. Any fan of classically orientated female fronted metal should check this double album out, you won’t be disappointed. Performing live is what music is all about and Epica proves that their music is truly best performed with both an orchestra and a choir. Well done indeed!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Megadeth – Anthology: Set The World Afire
Disc 1: Mechanix (4:21), Rattlehead (3:40), Peace Sells (4:01), Wake Up Dead (3:38), Devils Island (5:05), Anarchy In The U.K. (3:01), Set The World Afire (5:48), Into The Lungs Of Hell (3:23), In My Darkest Hour (6:26), Holy Wars… The Punishment Due (6:31), Tornado Of Souls (5:19), Hangar 18 (5:11), Take No Prisoners (3:28), Go To Hell (4:35), Sweating Bullets (5:27), Crown Of Worms (3:18), High Speed Dirt [Demo] (4:47)
Disc 2: Skin O’ My Teeth (3:15), Ashes In Your Mouth (6:05), Breakpoint (3:27), Angry Again (3:47), Train Of Consequences (3:31), Reckoning Day (4:02), A Tout Le Monde (4:22), The Killing Road (3:51), New World Order (3:48), Trust (5:10), She-Wolf (3:38), Insomnia (4:16), Prince Of Darkness (6:27), Kill The King (3:43), Dread And The Fugitive Mind (4:23), Foreclosure Of A Dream (4:22), Symphony Of Destruction [Live, Cow Palace, 1992] (3:50), Peace Sells [Live, Cow Palace, 1992] (4:16)
I’m not going to begin by arguing for Megadeth as a progressive-metal band. Rather, I’m going to accept that many readers will skip this review because they don’t care for Megadeth (or perhaps for thrash metal in general) and plow ahead, simply explaining the many virtues of the band and implicitly suggesting that rather than considering Megadeth as in the traditional sense “progressive” it makes sense to evaluate and celebrate the way that venerable group has stretched the boundaries of heavy metal and introduced its fans to something grander than the music offered by its most famous thrash-metal contemporaries, Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica. I’ve always thought Megadeth the most interesting of those four bands (while happily confessing myself also a fan of the other three), mostly because of leader (and sole original band member at this point) Dave Mustaine and his great talent and even greater ambition.
What we have here are 35 tracks spanning Megadeth’s career from the first album, 1985’s Killing Is My Business… And Business is Good! to 2001’s lame The World Needs A Hero (which is represented here by only one track – not even the single, Moto Psycho, but the album cut Dread And The Fugitive Mind). The double-disc album doesn’t venture into Mustaine’s last two solo-with-guests albums, The System Has Failed and United Abominations. Not surprisingly, the selection is heavy on fan favourites from the earlier albums; more surprisingly for such a package in such times as ours, there are only three rarities: two live cuts and one demo. For those of us (okay, I’ll admit that I’m one) who have all the band’s proper albums, this two-disc set is unnecessary. However, for those less fanatical about the band, this set is a very good and representative collection.
Do I have to say much about the songs themselves? If you know them, you know them well; if you don’t, you probably don’t want to. I think I’ll highlight a few of the songs that persuaded me that a review of such an album belonged on DPRP, but before that I’ll say a few words about a couple of songs that not only can’t be called in any way progressive but might even be labelled regressive. One of them is the cover of The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The U.K. I take it as an article of faith that, except perhaps as a lark during a live performance, for a band to cover a Sex Pistols songs is just a plain bad idea, and I don’t think Megadeth brings anything to the song except for speed and Mustaine’s more-contemptuous-than-Johnny’s sneering voice. It’s maybe fun to hear once but doesn’t, in my opinion, belong on a career retrospective. (Neither did the band’s infamous cover of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking – and, thankfully, it doesn’t appear here.)
Less forgiveable than an ill-advised cover, though, are some of Mustaine’s plainly misogynistic songs, best exemplified here by She-Wolf, from 1997’s otherwise fairly decent album Cryptic Writings. (Unfortunately, only She-Wolf and Trust from that album made it onto this collection; I’d have made different choices, but, oh well, Dave never got around to consulting me.) She-Wolf is one of the Megadeth songs in which that misogyny is particularly glaring, and it drags down the tone of the collection at least slightly; I suppose I should just be grateful that the even more execrable 1000 Times Goodbye from The World Needs A Hero didn’t make it onto the album.
Those criticisms aside, I can happily recommend pretty much everything else on this two-and-a-half-hour collection. I suppose tracks like the early Holy Wars. . .The Punishment Due, Set The World Afire, Symphony Of Destruction, and Hangar 18 best exemplify the progressive elements of Megadeth’s music – okay, here I go, defending them as “progressive” in the sense of “having the talent and ambition to progress beyond what’s normally expected of a metal band” – but later killer songs like Reckoning Day and Insomnia show Mustaine continuing to experiment with the band’s sound, not content to settle for having blazed a trail as a pioneer of thrash metal. And of course Mustaine is and always has been what drives the band, with his wacky and challenging chord voicings, often unconventional song structures, and (at his best, though not in the songs mentioned a couple paragraphs ago) provocative, intelligent lyrics about social ills.
What remains to be said? If you have none or only a few of Megadeth’s albums and would like to hear more, this overview will be a fine addition to your collection. My few qualifications aside, I think this selection fairly represents the achievement of a band that has unfairly been overshadowed by other, less talented groups in the same genre – in popularity, though I myself think not in musical excellence – for more than two decades.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10 for the choice of songs... 8.5 for the music itself
Heaven & Hell - The Devil You Know
Tracklist: Atom And Evil (5:13), Fear (4:46), Bible Black (6:27), Double The Pain (5:24), Rock And Roll Angel (6:02), The Turn Of The Screw (5:00), Eating The Cannibals (3:35), Follow The Tears (6:10), Neverwhere (4:33), Breaking Into Heaven (6:53)
Progressive rock? No definitely not! But so many of the musicians from today name these godfathers of hard rock as their heroes, it seems appropriate to have a review on the new album of Heaven & Hell for DPRP as well. In fact this band is the same as Black Sabbath from around 1980, when Toni Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio and Vinnie Appice were playing together and recorded the albums Heaven & Hell and Mob Rules, most certainly not Sabbath’s worst albums, on the contrary!
The album is not as wistful and gloomy as Dehumanizer but one recognizes Iommi’s riffs immediately. Songs like Atom And Evil and Fear are in the same vein as the other songs in this line up. Dio’s voice is still holding out remarkably well but seems to lose only just a tiny bit of power. Bible Black starts off with a beautiful acoustic guitar and a bluesy lead guitar is playing melodies in the background. When the band kicks in, it’s top class hard rock again. Butler plays his bass as no one in that genre can and I must admit: although it’s nothing new, it sounds like pure heavy delight to my ears: it might be coming from Hell, I’m likely not the only one who thinks he’s in Heaven with this album! Butler opens Double The Pain with another catchy riff. A heavy but slower song is Rock And Roll Angel, very suitable for ‘headbanging smoothly’. A beautiful interlude in the same style as the opening of Bible Black shows these guys were pioneers for progressive metal for sure! Parts of Turn Of The Screw remind of Dehumanizer indeed. Straight rockers are Eating The Cannibals and Neverwhere. The first time we hear keyboards more clearly is the organ in Follow The Tears, while an occasional orchestration can be heard throughout the album. Breaking Into Heaven is the closing masterpiece with a catchy chorus and superb harmonies by veteran Ronnie Dio. Go see them live this summer!
On the DVD are interviews with the four members of the band, as can be seen on the website of the band, with some shots from the band at work in the studio.
The Devil You Know, the title says it all: music from hell (but with a wink) and yes, we do know indeed! No one on this earth but Tony Iommi is capable of finding such heavenly heavy riffs over and over again and still being able to avoid repeating himself.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Forgotten Suns – Innergy
Tracklist: Flashback (4:13), Racing The Hours (7:58), News (10:00), Doppelganger (4:06), An Outer Body Experience (7:03), Outside In (10:03), Nanoworld (12:28), Mind Over Matter (8:44)
There’s been a lot of changes in the world of Portugal's Forgotten Suns since 2004's Snooze. A revamped line-up features a new singer Nio Nunes, and the more traditional prog influences from their past efforts have been largely thrown out of the window. This is pure, old-school Prog Metal and sounds like a different band.
I will admit to only a cursory listen to their previous albums (Fiction Edge was the debut in 2000) but from what I remember the production is the other major change from before. Innergy really does blast loud and clear from the speakers.
There are eight tracks on the CD. All but two are fairly lengthy, allowing for plenty of room for the band to explore the extended song format. A tune like News or the opener Flashback contain some catchy melodies and lots of insane keyboard and guitar exchanges, reminding me of Dream Theater's earlier works. New singer Nio has a strong voice when he coasts in the middle of his range, which he does most of the time. His forays into the upper ranges doesn’t bring with it the same accuracy. He sounds like he’s forcing the notes rather than singing them.
Three epics take up the back end of the CD; Outside In, Nanoworld, and Mind Over Matter. Each one contains plenty of musical fireworks but each also lacks control and focus. I’d suggest this new style of writing is still a work in progress. Some elements, especially the twin guitar and keyboard work is compelling. There are also some great melodies which Nio handles with panache. Equally some passages meander a little too far off the beaten track – and in some cases come back and do it all again. An outside producer with a greater separation from the songwriting process may be more willing to press the edit key next time around.
Innergy is a very solid progressive metal album - fans of more traditional Prog Metal with a heavy emphasis on instrumentation will find a lot to savour on Innergy. Those who prefer a more varied, modern or focused approach or who may be fussy about their singers may need to approach with a little more caution. Our rating system states that a very good release is ‘A worthy album that you will return to from time to time’. That’s exactly what I will do, so the score is…
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lethargy - Purification
Tracklist: Stealth (3:49), Innocence Serene (4:04), A Lost Adoration (4:08), Ideal Orphans (3:30), 14:9 (4:29), Convenient Ignorant Amnesia (3:54), I See Man's End In His construction (6:00), Inertia (3:51), Bleachin' Bones (3:28), Purification (5:54), Fragile Crystal Dream (4:01)
This review is about the debut album from UK rockers Lethargy and not the heavy metal band from the US with the same name. So not heavy metal but also not really progressive rock. This Lethargy plays grunge rock heavily influenced by Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and King's X with also a bit of Rage Against The Machine and like them the lyrics of Lethargy are with a political bent.
Stealth is in Alice In Chains style, the sound is very fresh and aggressive, the vocals are clearer than expected but still with a rough edge. The grunge scene is known for their Eddie Vedder like singing, a bit mumbling and over dramatic. Innocence Serene sounds a bit more like Pearl Jam but without the mumbling. A powerful riff and some changing rhythms, not enough to come close to Dream Theater, a band that also for them is listed as an inspiration. A Lost Adoration continues in an aggressive manner that you will either love or hate. Ideal Orphans sounds like a mixture of Rage Against The Machine and Alice in Chains. By the time I got to 14:9 I found I still like the sound of Lethargy, more than I expected as many a grunge album is pulled out of my CD player at this point. Convenient Ignorant Amnesia is a small dip in the album and after that the ballad I See Man's End In His construction does not really interest me. Inertia is a slow powerful pounding rock song that completely brought back my attention to this album. Bleachin' bones is also slow and pounding but not as good as Inertia. The title track I like the most, it varies more than the rest of the songs but still keeps a steady flow. The album ends with a beautiful ballad, Fragile Crystal Dream. No distorted guitars but a piano, just to show these guys can also do something else.
This is just one of those albums that is certainly not progressive enough to have a DPRP-recommendation but still is a good album. If you like grunge rock music then this album is of interest to you. The sound is comparable to that of Alice in Chains and Rage Against The Machine, it is very fresh and aggressive and at some points better than I have heard from many of the big names lately. The vocals have a rough edge but in comparison to other bands in the grunge genre the vocals appealed to me, not the mumbling dramatic kind. If you are a die-hard progressice rock fan then stay away from this album, if you like a bit of alternative rock then check out the samples and judge for yourself. If your hard starts beating faster while reading the names of the bands summed up as influences then this album is a must-have.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mastercastle – The Phoenix
Tracklist: Words Are Swords (3:33), Princess Of Love (4:25), Space (4:08), My Screams (5:27), Lullaby Noir (4:48), The Phoenix (5:18), Greed Blade (4:04), Dawn Of Promises (5:44), Memories (3:33), Cradle Of Stone (4:40)
Guitarist Pier Gonella has played in a number of neoclassical/power metal bands (Labyrinth, Odyssea), so you may have thought that he’d go for at least a partial change in direction for his new outfit Mastercastle’s debut release. However a cursory listen to The Phoenix soon dispels this notion; whilst possibly more riff-led and straightforward than some of his other projects, this still falls firmly into the ‘power metal with progressive touches’ camp. The main difference between this and his other projects is probably the presence of a female lead vocalist; Giorgia Gueglio’s voice has a pronounced accent, and possibly struggles a bit on the slower material, but what she lacks in technical perfection she makes up for with the power and gusto of her delivery. Despite her presence, however, its probably Gonella’s playing which most will focus on, and he delivers the goods – the riffs which drive the likes of Words Are Swords and Cradle Of Stone are powerful and memorable, whilst the duelling leads on Memories and the neo-classical shredding on My Screams show he’s no slouch on the technical front either.
All this would be as nothing, however, if the songs weren’t up to much, but thankfully the writing is generally of a high standard. The aforementioned Words Are Swords is a powerful opener, a driving rocker with a strong chorus. Princess Of Love is rather cheesy, almost a rock band’s take on a conventional modern pop song, but it is naggingly catchy, whilst Space has an excellent groove. Memories and My Screams are instrumentals, but have solid structures and strong melodies, with Gonella resisting the temptation just to show off (although he does do a bit of this, of course). The highlight is the excellent title track, which builds well, has numerous well-handled tempo changes, and fine vocal melodies, particularly on the bridge.
It doesn’t all work, however; Lullaby Noir is a by-the-numbers ballad that shows up Gueglio’s vocal limitations, whilst Dawn Of Promises is pure filler. Greed Blade certainly shows ambition in its lyrical content, telling of the disaster of Vaiont, a dam on the Italian alps that, after a landslide, created a giant wave which destroyed towns and villages in the valley; however, the attempt to cram all this information into the track, via voice overs and spoken word sections, rather serves to disrupt the flow of the song.
For all its flaws, however, this is a good debut that shows plenty of promise; it’s nice to see female fronted metal bands try something different than the plethora of femme/goth metal bands doing the rounds, and hopefully Gonella will continue this collaboration for at least a second album, where I’m sure improvements will be made.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Farther Paint – Lose Control
Tracklist: Lose Control (1:33), Hold Me (5:17), No One Is Around Me (6:44), Chains (2:00), Illusion In My Hands (7:34), Anger (6:58), Inside The Cage (6:50), My Noise (5:49)
By describing their music as ‘highly technical progressive metal’, Italian’s Farther Paint are only really scratching the surface of what is contained within Lose Control, their second album. Being charitable, you would call this a highly eclectic, musically ambitious set; others might choose less flattering descriptive terms. Whichever way you look at it, there’s a lot going on. Take opener proper, Hold Me. Opening with a crescendo of chopping and changing notes on guitar and keyboards, not unlike a passage you may have found on an early Dream Theater record, the song then morphs into a very poppy verse, with Monia Rossi’s voice in the AOR/pop chanteuse mode, a world away from the usual goth/operatic female singers you get in this genre. Throughout there are frequent time and pace changes, various beeps and buzzes from the world of electronica crop up frequently, and the drums sound like they are played on an eighties drum machine, despite the fact that a human being (or more specifically a ‘drum monster’) is listed in the credits. Structurally it’s a bit of a mess, but there’s enough hooks contained within, along with a freshness and vitality that would be hard to fake, to get the song over the finishing line.
And so it goes – Illusion In My Hands once more mixes the world of electro and progressive metal; No One Is Around Me could almost be a Lita Ford rocker from the eighties with art metal trappings, whilst the instrumental Anger touches all bases, from guitar virtuosity through an early seventies funk-flavoured section to a electro-guitar mash up that could almost be from a Dilinger Escape Plan album. One thing’s for sure – the album never stands still.
For all its flaws – and there are plenty, from a weedy production job through to some clumsily executed time changes, down to the fact that Rossi’s voice doesn’t necessarily suit the heavier sections – there’s something endearing and likeable about Farther Paint. If looking for a modern day point of comparison, I’d say French act (and Lion Music label-mates) Venturia are possibly cut from a similar cloth, although at present it’s the latter act who have written the more cohesive and satisfying material. There’s enough here, however, to suggest that Farther Paint are capable of going on to better things.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Astra – From Within
Tracklist: Over The Hills (5:18), Promises You Made (4:08), Memories Remain (5:31), The Rage Behind (1:25), Save Another Day (5:04), Hypocrisy (7:14), Road To Nowhere (5:28), Simple Mind (5:51), The Hitman (6:27), Never Say Goodbye (5:04)
The debut album from this Italian quintet came out on Burning Star Records a few years ago. About Me: Through Life And Beyond opened their account in a promising manner, but a combination of poor production, and inconsistent songs and vocals meant it's not one I’ve been minded to revisit. Astra started life in 2001, first as an instrumental outfit and then as Dream Theater covers band winning the first Italian Official Dream Theater Covers Band contest in 2002.
This, their first album with Lion Music, shows the necessary step-up in class in terms of production and a tighter focus on finding their own sound. Whether it’s a big enough step-up remains to be seen. Musically the band sits more on the ProgPower side of metal. The emphasis is on tough, low riffage in the verses, mixed with cleaner, melodic, semi-anthemic choruses. A couple of songs veer more towards AOR and melodic hard rock (Save Another Day) and occasional passages have strong hints of Dream Theater (Promises You Made and Simple Mind). There are also a couple of Queen moments, most notably in the closing piano ballad (Never Say Good-bye) which could have been written for Freddie Mercury.
My favourites are the riff-fueled energy and off-beat verse of Memories Remain, and Hypocrisy where the sharp, pounding riffs of Vanden Plas, Myrath and Symphony X contrast well with the lighter DGM-inspired chorus, and a clever slowing of pace in the middle bridge. Most tracks clock in around the 5/6 minute mark. Yet while there’s little emphasis on solos or extended song structure, most tracks do feature some clever changes of pace and mood. The guitars are to the fore but there is always a place for the keys of Emanuele Casali.
The problem for me still lies with the vocals. I’m afraid that I didn't particularly like Titta Tani with DGM on record. On stage, his appearance at Progpower Europe 2007 was uncomfortable, and while in places he does the job here, too often he tries styles and phrases which just turn me off. The forced power of The Hitman and the deathy growls on Over The Hills are prime examples. He can hit the notes, especially on the more melodic, hard rock elements, but there’s a rough edge and strain to his voice I just find unpleasant. He’s not helped by backing vocals which possess a thick whiff of Italian accent.
My score below is heavily weighed by my personal taste in vocalists, and a general lack of memorability to most of the songs. Overall this a very solid, very accessible album. There’s nothing to warrant an adjective like ‘outstanding’, but Astra will hold strong appeal for fans who enjoy straightforward ProgPower metal that shows the melody of DGM with the riffing and symphonics of Symphony X.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
TDW - The Haunts
Tracklist: Chameleon (5:11), Wake Up Call, Part 1 (1:12), 2006 AD (2:15), Home (4:59), The Bright Child (7:04), Desert Of Memories (4:27), The Daze (6:47), Wake Up Call, Part 2 (5:34), The Haunts (13:23)
TDW is the acronym for Tom De Wit, a young songwriter/vocalist/keyboard player based in The Netherlands. For TDW's second CD release (there have been download versions of others) he is joined by Michiel van der Werff (guitars), Leander Doornekamp (bass) and the puzzling Mr. Andersóhn (drums & percussion). The Haunts is a concept album dealing with the trials and tribulations of one Juan Jacobson. A troubled soul who struggles to deal with life's inevitable problems and one that culminates in his own self destruction.
TDW are steeped in the traditions of progressive metal, however the clever use of electronic percussion adds a modern twist to the proceedings. So we might look at a combination of say Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree as a basic template. The tracks therefore vary from twisty progmetal workouts to simple, often melancholic, songs, that work surprisingly together, and although perhaps not a new concept the storyline and lyrics work well in the main. The Haunts, however, still proved to be a tricky album to digest, although patience in the end did reveal a good if perhaps slightly flawed album. Why?
Well firstly we need to address Mr Andersóhn, who to my ears came across as well thought out, but ultimately programmed drummer. I may be doing someone a disservice here (and if so I apologise), however the drums were a little to precise and clinical to my tastes. This said the liberal use of what was obviously electronic drums and percussion worked well in combination and isolation on much of the album. Secondly the mixing and production I found a tad studio sterile. Lastly Tom's voice, which personally I liked, lacked the bite and upper range to incise effectively into the heavier sections. Certianly though in the quieter sections the voice shone and nicely captured the lyrics.
On the positive side The Haunts is a well thought out concept album which ably combines the lyrical and musical content. The music also shows great variety and never relies on sheer power, but creates its dynamic via the highs, lows and space afforded to the arrangements. The music also never becomes over "widdly" and in fact I was never aware of any extended solo sections. Tom De Wit's voice, as mentioned, was a bonus, lacking the all too frequent histrionics and uncontrolled vibrato in the upper registers. The death growls, although (very) sparsely used here, actually worked - although perhaps not a career move. Tom's keyboards are also strong throughout, utilizing a number of sounds which create an interesting sonic palette. Van der Werff certainly has a good grasp of the guitar, driving the tracks along with gusto, although the long sustained guitar chords were perhaps over used. Doornekamp is solid in the mix and forms a strong basis for all the tracks.
All the tracks were consistent across the album - standouts were Home which included all the elements that made up TDW's sound and the mini epic title track.
TDW are a young band (in their teens or thereabouts) and certainly this release suggests that we may well here more these guys. In fact the band are currently working on the follow up to The Haunts.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Miosis - Albedo Abduction
Tracklist: State Of Lacuna (9:10), Once Divine (5:04), Our Floods (6:46), Benandanti (7:43), Flow (6:38), The Lucid (7:53), Red (11:27)
Swedish outfit Miosis’ full length debut represents one of Lion Music’s periodic forays outside its safety zone of prog/power metal bands and guitar virtuosos. Although they hail from Gothenberg, the melodic death metal that city is famous for is not the primary influence on this band. If I described Albedo Abduction as dark, industrial-tinged technical progressive metal, one band’s name should come bubbling to the surface pretty quickly, and there can be no denying the influence of this band on Miosis’ music. To say that Miosis sound a little bit like Tool is rather like saying that Bill Gates is a little bit rich. From the complex, repetitive and hypnotic rhythms, to the move from restrained control to heavy aggression, down to the reigned-in stream-of-consciousness vocals (even when Torin Williams is emoting, he sounds like Maynard James Keenan on his A Perfect Circle side project), the ghost of the American innovators looms extremely large. OK, you could say that Miosis have a rawer, slightly less detached sound, but whether this is down to design or a minimal recording budget, its hard to say.
All this doesn’t mean that Albedo Abduction is bad – it isn’t. The songs are well constructed, have a good mix of lighter and darker styles, flow well – even when stretched over ten minutes, as finale Red (not a King Crimson cover) is. They also show that, when they stray away from Tool-isms, they are more than capable – witness the powerful chorus of Once Divine, or the ambient, atmospheric instrumental section on Flow. The problem is that they just don’t do this enough to really make themselves stand out as a band in their own right.
Ultimately, whilst this is a good listen, and the band clearly have the chops and the song-writing skills, they really need to move away from the large shadow currently looming over them and go for a more original approach next time out if they want to make headway in the more modern side of the progressive metal scene.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Beyond The Labyrinth - Castles In The Sand
Tracklist: The Curtain Falls (1:18), Solitary Dancer (5:40), Pure Sabotage (3:47), The Enemy Within (4:49), Draining My Energy (3:22), Beyond The Labyrinth (4:26), Castles In The Sand (6:59), For Eternity (4:25), Caught In The Game (4:39), Caged (4:50), Time To Fly (4:02), No Place For A Dreamer (5:24)
Every once in a while a concept album comes along and the general concept I glean from it is that it’s not that good. Castles In The Sand, the sophomore release from Belgian band Beyond The Labyrinth, is one of those releases.
Basically the style of music played on this CD is progressive metal. The band is made up of Jo De Boeck on vocals, Geert Fieuw on guitars, songwriting, keyboards, and midi programming; Danny Focke on keyboards, Gerry “Krenryg” Verstreken on bass, and Bruno “Drumaholic” Goedhuys on drums and percussion. Guest musicians include Henry “Medea” Meeuws and Fredéric “Fré” Ost on second guitar solo on one track each, Kirill Pokrovsky on piano on one track, and Kirsten “The Spanish Inquisition” Fernandez Saurez on what are credited as “backing vocals and Ohs and Ahs on most of the songs”.
Castles In The Sand took eleven years to write, with another ten months of preparation and three months of recording. While I admit that during the eleven year time frame the band was also working on their debut release Signs, it seems as though eleven years would have been enough time to come up with something more creative.
The track Pure Sabotage features a rollicking tempo and some keyboard elements evoking Mark Kelly. It also has some fine guitar soloing from Fieuw and Meeuws. But then this track is followed by The Enemy Within which besides the cliché of a song title relies on the same tempo of the previous song, making things sound repetitive.
Some of the tracks stand well on their own, but not as part of the CD as a whole. The title track starts out with a ballad-like opening with some melodic piano from Pokrovsky and switches tempo faster and slower throughout the track, making it a mini-epic of sorts. The CD would have fared better in my mind with more varied tracks like these. For Eternity is another individually strong track featuring some more Kelly references and some carefully restrained midi programming from Fieuw, who across the CD has a generic but not unpleasant sounding singing voice. As an aside, a version of For Eternity recorded by the Lisa LaRue Project 2K9 is the first single as part of that band’s virtual album release, entitled World Class. (DPRP News, Week 19 2009).
I could not detect too many similarities to other bands on this CD, and that may be a good thing. Castles In The Sand has generally good sound quality with the possible exception of the drums, which are played well by Goedhuys but sound under produced at first listen. The CD cover art pictures a child on a beach building a sand castle.
I am not a big fan of progressive metal in general but to me a good prog metal CD needs to contain symphonic elements and technical virtuosity, neither of which can be found on Castles In The Sand. I would suggest that Beyond The Labyrinth focus more on these characteristics with their next release. Fans of progressive metal may like parts of this CD but I suspect their may be some debate in the prog metal community about its merit. If you seek lighter fare, Beyond The Labyrinth may not be for you.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Braver Since Then – Adorned Weakness
Tracklist: Left Behind Tears (7:07), Someone Else’s Art (5:12), Destination Over Destined To Fail (6:20), Puppety Oddballs Eat An Orange (5:00), Strength And Limitations (4:47), Estrogen Poisoning (3:12), Blood And Imagination (4:47), Juicy Fruit (1:10), A Smile And A Far Away Place (9:53), Possession & Ballad Of A Wannabe Cyber Geek (5:44), Hidden Track (2:28)
John Lutzow (guitars, vocals and keyboards) was a member of Leviathan, a band I have to admit I did not really like and as he wrote all the songs for this album I wasn't expecting anything particularly good… Unfortunately my worst nightmare came through as this album is nothing but experimental “rock” music without good compositions or real structure whatsoever. Just look at the complete idiotic song titles and you know what you can expect.
Joining Lutzow in Braver Since Then are Derek Blake (bass & vocals) and Trevor Helfer (drums & percussion), both from Leviathan, who released its first album, Naming My Pain in 1995 followed by the all instrumental Stanza Tripoli in 1996. Since then the band have cosistantly released albums.
As for this latest release nothing has changed my opinion. Puppety Oddballs Eat An Orange is not even a song, as it is filled with voices a bit of acoustic guitar, but no music whatsoever… Estrogen Poisoning also only features piano and a whispering female voice; again there is no music, just like in Juicy Fruit. The only reasonable rock song is the opening track although that one sounds rather old-fashioned to me, with an organ solo and rather tedius vocals.
Not really an album that you would like to have in your record collection!!!
Conclusion: 3 out of 10