Issue 2014-068: Prog Metal Special
Amoral - Fallen Leaves and Dead Sparrows
On the Other Side Pt. I (7:12), No Familiar Faces (4:05), Prolong a Stay (7:36), Blueprints (4:18), If Not Here, Where (9:11), The Storm Arrives (6:23), See This Through (6:36), On the Other Side Pt. II (9:07)
The band debuted in 2004 as a technical death metal band and the two follow-up albums were even more extreme and brutal; a sort of speed death metal. After that, the vocalist got replaced and the band's approach turned drastically into an 80s melodic hair/thrash metal style of the sorts of TNT with progressive elements. The prog elements became more prominent over time and Fallen Leaves and Dead Sparrows, being the third album in this vein, now has enough potential to be compared to Circus Maximus.
Fallen Leaves and Dead Sparrows is an energetic manifesto of guitars and great vocal melodies. The album is full of guitar hooks, solos and often counterpointed guitar duets. The vocalist has quite a repertoire of great melodies to choose from, as if it were the easiest thing in the world to create them. The rhythm section is great at creating a solid underground and enjoys its rhythmic outbursts whenever the song allows it.
This album should attract all fans of melodic metal and has good potential to lead fans of straight metal into its finer, progressive form. Having no lyrics at hand, I'm unable to determine if the album is based on a concept by what's being sung, but judging from the album's arcs of emotions and moods, I suspect there is one.
The album opener, On the Other Side Pt. I, begins impressively with a double guitar lick, over a punching rhythm section that reminds me of Zero Hour. We are introduced to a polyrhythmic pattern that can either be identified as a 4/4 or 6/8 or yet a 7/8 at the same time. After that, a driving up-tempo part introduces the main chord scheme, leading us into the verse with wonderful melodies, backed up by a grooving bass pattern and guitar arpeggios, all of the likes of Fates Warning. It is directly followed by a TNT-style chorus with a great melody and roaring power chords. The chorus seamlessly leads into a heavy, grooving, double bass staccato riff. It's a true headbanger and then the regular song structure breaks, by adding a bridge of a 2-note melody, which unravels into a wonderful counterpoint guitar duet. Another chorus reminds us what song we're listening to and then the finely-woven metal piece collapses into a clean seven-string arpeggio to introduce the solo part.
Technically it's the classical metal duel, but instead of smashing us with a show-off of technical abilities, the two guitarists keep sub-serving the song. It reminds me of the beautiful solos of Harem Scarem's early years. The final chorus is wrapped into the two intros in reverse order, and we're finally released, almost breathless.
No Familiar Faces starts off as if it originated in Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime, with a double bass-driven, up-tempo metal arpeggio, only to fall into an easy-going Circus Maximus-style verse of good, straight-forward groove. Then the song's opening comes back, as the chorus' instrumentation and vocalist Ari Koivunen adds a melody to it that one might think Circus Maximus' vocalist echoed himself in Operation Mindcrime. This sure is a moment to have a tear for the musical beauty of it all. A guitar solo that manages to weep in despair, a guitar duet of sweeping technique, again in Zero Hour style, and another guitar solo of angry emotion, leads us into the final chorus. We have been spoilt.
Prolong a Stay is a bit of a weaker song on the album. It opens with a clever 7/8 part that has a grunge feel to it and then continues as a single-string thrasher with orchestration. It appears as if the verse's perfect melody hasn't been found and thus it appears a little long. The chorus sneaks-in as a wall of sound with heavy orchestration and continuous blast beats. A quite new idea to add to the orchestration is a drum roll which has timpani integrated. The middle part of the song provides a groovy, thrashy bridge and the solos point out the Harem Scarem influence one more time. One more verse that ends up in a few notes on a classical guitar and another chorus marks a dramatic ending.
Blueprints, an acoustic track in the glorious art of Led Zeppelin, is a great way to chill down a bit. A nice twelve-string lick, accompanied with a Rhodes piano, makes for a melancholic mood, whilst a great keyboard solo in Mini Moog style adds more to the chilling atmosphere. An undetermined ending, the missing of the final chord, ends the song with tension.
A Western guitar lick picks up the tension in the intro of If Not Here, Where, a song that begins as an acoustic ballad, but only up to the end of the first verse, when electric guitars overtake and lead to a heavy progressive instrumental part. Growling vocals carry on the song and then alternate with melodic, clean vocals, where each of them has its own musical theme. The final minute of the song is a streak of blast beats, and what began so beautiful ends as a real ear-bleeder.
A heavy and dramatic intro marks the album's instrumental, The Storm Arrives. Ben Varon and Masi Hukari, the guitarists, create a great imagery, a movie inside your brain with this tune. The storm with its highs and lows and its devastation are perfectly depicted.
A timid piano opens See This Through, which is a straight, classic rock ballad full of wonderful melodies. The song is an embrace, heart-warming and positive, encouraging an emotional attack.
Starting with Irish folk melodies on guitar, On the Other Side Pt. II, brings the story to a positive ending. It has a narrative part in the beginning that reminds me strongly of Haken. Later on it becomes a great album reprise, revisiting the key parts of the album's story, with the grand finale ending in a balanced mental state.
Fallen Leaves and Dead Sparrows is a great effort at blending various metal styles under some wonderful melodies, and spanned over an entertaining arc of moods. It will have many enjoyable spins on my stereo, and I will play it to as many metal fans as I can reach. Although it's greatly enjoyable, anything we get to hear on the album has been done in the world already. The band hasn't found its own stylistical uniqueness.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Anubis Gate - Horizons
Destined to Remember (6:03), Never Like This (A Dream) (4:08), Hear My Call (6:24), Airways (6:50), Revolution Come Undone (5:29), Breach of Faith (7:21), Mindlessness (6:32), Horizons (4:49), A Dream within a Dream (14:10) Erasure (3:32)
Given this shake-up in the line-up you could be forgiven for thinking that the output would be left wanting. However from the opener, Destined to Remember , it is instantly clear that the strength of the vocal range and diversity from Fevre is so strong that there is enough here to make a decent, standout album. With a voice that matches the stratospheric levels of Geoff Tate and Bruce Dickinson in their prime, there is no cause for long-time fans to be concerned.
Complementing the vocal strengths of the group is the presence of melodies, which at times are catchy and almost pop-laden, especially in their slickly produced and glossy veneer. Destined to Remember is an impressive, layered number which impresses from the start and raises the bar high for the rest of the album. Unfortunately the song writing does at times fall flat and fail to match that height in the hour that follows. Never Like This(A Dream) matches the memorable melody from the previous track, and with strong keys in the last third and a pop-like, foot-tapper chorus, it continues to impress.
It's when the third track, Hear My Call, begins that the stodge in the band's approach to song structure begins to expose the weaknesses in this album. Following an overused pattern of chugging, heavy riffage and machine gun-like double bass patterns, the makeup of the tracks begins to feel similar with each song.
Revolution Come Undone is a prime example of this head-down, relentless onslaught. Still catchy at the chorus, the patter of some unsophisticated drumming and drop key chords takes over remorselessly, with only minor breaks in pace here and there. Breach of Faith offers respite in its combination of delicate opening piano, but still loses its way as the metal aspects bleed into the subtler elements of the song.
Ultimately there are many moments on this album where a pleasantly high level of good song writing and excellent musicianship exists, but are smothered in an overused and underwhelming metal delivery.
The albums epic track, A Dream within a Dream does successfully redeem the overall output, revisiting the melody of Never Like This and Airways, cleverly re-crafting their sound into something exceptional. Trippy and atmospheric, there is more of the Porcupine Tree, experimental, progressive vein running throughout the song and the change of pace and style is a welcome one.
Overall there is a fantastic album here, buried under some rather cumbersome metal clunk. More progressive elements do exist however, and the quality of the musicianship helps to make things shine. Without doubt there is something here for many fans of the sub-genre and the production values are superb, helping to deliver something modestly enjoyable.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Artizan - Ancestral Energy
I Am the Storm (5:25), The Raven Queen (3:50), The Guardian (5:00), The Death of Me (4:40), Deep Ocean Dreams (7:08), You Can't Take the Metal (3:46), Ancestral Energy (10:35).
The next pair of tunes, The Raven Queen and The Guardian continue with power metal licks from Shamus McConnery on guitar, active drumming, and melodic singing by Tom Braden, but no highly-memorable melodies. It all takes me back to Jack Black's fantasy epic in the movie School Of Rock.
The Death Of Me opens with a bit more flair by Ty Tammeus increasing the drumming and setting a slightly heavier mood. This aspect of the band is more enjoyable to me. This song takes a bit of a journey in the middle, with some good guitar and drum meandering that made for a nice respite between the singing.
Continuing to Deep Ocean Dreams, the melodies start getting more palatable. Effects are thrown in that are very sympathetic to this genre. I liked the songs the further in I went. Primarily, the adjoining of the bass of Jonathan Jennings Jr. and the drumming makes for the greatest impact.
The album rounds out with You Can't Take The Metal which continues in the same vein while getting better as it goes.
Finally we have the ten-and-a-half-minute ending with the title track Ancestral Energy. This song is likely to be why this album ended up on a prog site due to its length, but there is not a lot of traditional progginess here. The addition of Matt Barlow (previously from Iced Earth) doesn't hurt, but still this album added prog elements not as its forte, but as something complimentary to the style. Nothing wrong with that, as it definitely helps add to the overall mood.
The striking album art is by Eliran Kantor, who has created cover art for several other bands. It is some of the better work out there for this style.
In summary, any fans of fantasy metal riffs from the 80s and 90s will enjoy this. The singer is very melodic but not with an over the top vibrato like some, so it is palatable. The ending epic is a fun piece that has plenty of merit. This is not for fans of dark and heavy metal. This album stays somewhat light-hearted, even in its darker moments. The band doesn't take itself too seriously and sounds like they truly enjoy themselves doing this. That's something I can really appreciate.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Days of Ashes - In the Mirror of Reconciliation
Prologue (4:05), Walls of Concrete (5:07), Sentiment (7:38), Father (2:38), My Face of Despair (5:05), Watching Me Bleed (8:22), Hitting the Ground (2:54), I Don't Blame You (5:15), Kisagatomi (7:34), The Core of Myself (5:59), Touching Spirituality (6:08)
The driving force however seems to be Jolene Fredricson, who's not only sitting behind the drum kit but also plays trumpet on track 1 and bass/additional guitar on track 6. Besides being a multi-talented musician she also has recorded, produced, mixed and mastered this album. She has been quite busy!
The other members of the band line-up are Peter Henningsson (guitar), Jonathan Olsson (bass) and Johan Strende (keyboards). Strende has written most of the music and Eriksson is the man in charge of the lyrical department. The style is melodic progressive metal in the vein of early Dream Theater (period When Dream And Day Unite and Images And Words) and early Pain Of Salvation (period Remedy Lane). Eriksson has a pleasant powerful voice and has the ability to express his emotions when singing the lyrics to the song.
The album is a concept album that took almost six years from idea to release. It's the touching story of one man's journey between hope and despair through life. There is a lot of high-quality progressive metal to be heard on this album from all the musicians. Absolutely my favourite album track is the impressive Watching Me Bleed that probably summarises what D.O.A. stands for musically. We have some brilliant emotional vocals by Eriksson, with great female backing vocals from guest Carita Hoök.
So I would suggest to all friends of good progressive metal, keep an eye on this Swedish bunch. I think you will enjoy listening to them and let's hope a second album will not take so long.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Derdian - Human Reset
Eclipse(1:14), Human Reset (5:52), In Everything(6:16), Mafia (6:40), These Rails Will Bleed (2:48), Absolute Power (5:26), Write Your Epitaph (4:08), Music Is Life (6:25), Gods Don't Give a Damn (5:44), After the Storm (4:57), Alone (7:23), Delirium (1:14), My Life Back (6:31)
Derdian is: Ivan Giannini on vocals, guitarists Enrico Pistolese and Dario Radaelli, with Marco Banfi on bass, Salvatore Giordano on drums and keyboardist Marco Garau.
The album counts 13 tracks and has a total length of nearly 65 minutes. Musically Derdian can be categorised as follows: When you put on Human Reset, if you did not know it was Derdian, you would call it the newest outing by Rhapsody of Fire. Musically they are that close that the resemblance is just too big.
You'd better fasten your seatbelts when listening to Human Reset because we will travel at high velocity throughout the album. Double bass drums, thriving basses and classical-sounding electric guitars are just a few of the ingredients. Derdian makes use of another intriguing fact which is the falsetto, high-pitched voice of their singer.
The classical guitars and keyboards, every now and again try to become a bit progressive rock. It's just not progressive enough for my ears, despite the good quality of the song material and performance.
If you happen to like music ala Rhapsody of fire you can go ahead and buy this. You will like it. For a progressive site as we are, I feel that this is just not progressive enough. It's on the very edges of prog metal.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Distorted Harmony - Chain Reaction
Every Time She Smiles (6:49); Children of Red (5:13); Misguided (8:33); Nothing (But the Rain) (2:14); As One (5:52); Hollow (6:09); As You Go (3:13); Natural Selection (5:16); Methylene Blue (7:53)
Utopia, the debut album from this Israeli band seemed to split opinion. Some loved it. Others like me, thought it had too much of a Dream Theater complex. This second album could be from a different band. Chain Reaction mixes a major chunk of modern sounds into the mix. We've some djent, Porcupine Tree atmospherics, electronica and a few screamo growls, amidst mature compositions, effective guitar playing and immediate hooks.
Singer Misha Soukhinin is more pop than metal - in a good way. It reminds me a lot of the wonderful Being album, Antropocene, which was released at the start of the year and Nebulae, the more recent disc from Australia's Hemina.
Developing my initial comment: there is a real quality and richness to the production. Lovely details emerge on each careful listen. My top tracks are the complex opener Every Time She Smiles, the pummeling groove of Misguided, and Natural Selection with its hyper-aggressive opening. A couple of the songs don't really hit me in the same way but overall I feel this album lifts Distorted Horizon into the upper echelons of bands playing this sort of modern progressive metal.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Divine Ascension - Liberator
Dawn Brings No Mercy (6:31), Stronger (5:31), Liberator (6:07), My Contender Lies (5:48), Sorrow's Sacrifice (5:54), Crystal Tears (5:30), Machine Red Sky (5:18), The Final Stand (5:46), Hideaway (5:52), Memoria's Longing (5:33)
Fans soon got tired of the same old sound and look, and soon the next 'new best thing' came along. Those who survived in this sub-genre did so because they had that special bit of quality to win over a more discerning fan. New bands had to have the x-factor to even get a first foot on the first rung of this particular musical ladder.
I bought quite a lot of female-fronted metal around 10 years ago and caught most of the main bands in a live setting. I was excited by the new possibilities that a female voice brought to the metal mix but I soon tired of what became a rather predictable formula.
This up-and-coming sextet from Melborne, Australia is the first female-fronted outfit to really grab my attention since the emergence of Delain. With its second album, Divine Ascension have hit the target by just mastering the basics.
Liberator, is just packed with thick, driving twin guitars, atmospheric layers of keyboards and clever changes of pace and groove, all delivered with great melodies, power and emotion. In Jennifer Borg they've a voice and a presence that is capable of standing with the best in the game.
To be honest there's not too many progressive elements in the mix, but for fans of female-fronted melodic metal this comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hemina - Nebulae
Before (2:05), Nightlives (7:16), Freedom (3:28), Lust (5:49), Soulmates (6:00), Strength (7:53), Loss (4:27), Hope (6:25), Promise (3:49), Otherworldly (11:10)
Hemina is among the new wave of progressive metal bands that Australia seems to have a patent on these days. The wave of prog metal from Australia seems without end. In my humble opinion Hemina is one of the best of them.
Why? The band has the immensely talented Douglas Skene as its main man, lead vocalist and lead guitar player. Many among you may know Douglas Skene as one of the members of another Aussie metal-outfit called Anubis. The other members of the band are Jessica Martin (in the meantime married to Doug) on bass guitar and vocals, plus Mitch Coull on guitars and vocals, and Phil Eltakchi (keyboards and vocals).
A couple of years Hemina really surprised me with Synthetic and now the band has done the same with its second work. Ten songs of a high level that really establish what I thought listening to their debut album; hoping for a follow up that would be equally as good or even better.
The variety in music on this album is awesome. It all kicks off in a prologue style with Before, then smoothly continuing with a true prog metal song in Nightlives, giving way to Dougie's trademark sound in vocals.
Freedom, the third track on the album was released as a single prior to the full album and can be divined as a pop rock-like song. We then get something entirely different with the fourth track called Lust. This kicks-off in a more jazz-rock style and vocally reminds me of works the legendary Frank Zappa from the 70s. The playing displayed by the entire band here is simply brilliant.
We continue with the next highlight on this awesome album. Soulmates brings us Doug and Jessica on vocals. The sincere emotion in their dual singing sends shivers down my spine. It seems they are a true-love couple.
I have read in other reviews that Hemina is Australia's answer to Dream Theater. That gives DT too much credit in my mind. Hemina is Hemina. Not a clone or a band that needs to prove Australia can make prog metal as good as DT.
The next four tracks on this great album prove that Hemina is a different proposition, going out on a limb all together. The last track is the only real epic-length song on this album of almost an hour's worth of awesome Aussie prog. Otherworldly is 11:10 in length and is a true example of the mastery of this band. It is a massive song, full of weird twists and turns, harmonic vocals and guitar work.
These harmonic vocals and guitars can be found throughout the entire album and when used right, it is a cool trademark for the band. The addition of lead vocals by Jessica Martin is, as I say, a great addition. Boy she has a voice.
The highlights on this album, if we can indeed speak of highlights, are Lust, Soulmates and Otherworldly.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Mechanical Organic - The Global Hive Part 2
Show Me Oblivion (6:19), The Guiding Lie (5:26), Of Leprous Minds (4:09), Hate Remembers/Love Forgot (6:48), Empty Shell (5:10), Through The Lens (4:18), The Drifting Part (7:03), An Architect's Farewell (4:39), To Be King (6:31) youtube = PgMN3DyvEYc
Then came a lovely, sunny day, I sat out in our garden, I turned up the full music system and bingo the music of Mechanical Organic echoed around our autumnal orchard and sounded superb, exciting, exhilarating.
Mechanical Organic is a technical prog metal band from Australia whose profile has risen since becoming a full band and the worldwide release of its fourth effort in 2012. The band was initially more of a solo, studio project for keyboardist and composer Eddie Katz. His debut release, Flat Earth Society, came out in 2006, followed by two single-track releases – albeit with one of the tracks clocking in at 25 minutes.
In 2012 Eddie recruited a singer, a full band and released The Global Hive Part 1 to general praise, including a good mark from the DPRP's Gert Hulshof in his review here
TGH Part Two is a very intense listening experience. The repetitive, staccato riffage, the straining, high-pitched voice of David Bellion, and the tense keyboard washes combine into a veil that is dark and brooding. It matches the storyline which seems to consist of plenty of satanic rituals and demonic mind control. There are calmer moments, to reflect and take a breath, whilst voice-overs assist in the storytelling.
In a way, the nine songs are not about following conventional progressive metal song-writing. It's all about creating an atmosphere to match the story. However there is also a steady flow of musical highlights with some memorable riffs and clever vocal hooks. The high-energy opening track, Show Me Oblivion, is the best the band has yet delivered. I just feel they need songwriting of this standard throughout an album to get a full-hearted recommendation from me.
So-called Technical Metal has always been a small fringe of the ProgMetal genre. The high-pitched vocals and complex, technical, guitar-based, heavy riffage is not to everyone's taste. But for those who enjoy Zero Hour, Memento Waltz, Watchtower, Spiral Architect and fellow countrymen Eyefear, Mechanical Organic is well worth investigating.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Nightingale - Retribution
On Stolen Wings (4:29), Lucifer's Lament (4:49), Chasing the Storm Away (3:52), Warriors of the Dawn (3:41), Forevermore (4:07), Divided I Fall (3:39), The Voyage of Endurance (5:06), 27 (Curse or Coincidence?) (5:10), The Maze (3:52), Echoes of a Dream (5:43)
The Breathing Shadow was a one-off, goth-flavoured solo album to satisfy his interest in bands such as The Sisters Of Mercy. The aim was to get it out of his system before putting Nightingale quietly to bed, as Swanö moved on to other projects.
However it proved such a success that his label (and fans) demanded a follow-up. The problem was that Swano didn't like Goth anymore!
He'd moved onto reviving his love of melodic hard rock and bands such as Foreigner and Journey. Nightingale was revived and has gone on to release five more "one-off" albums reflecting his "other" music tastes at any given time.
Now, I've heard most of the Nightingale albums and apart from the debut, all have their feet firmly in the classic, melodic hard rock of the 70s and 80s, with a hint of pomp and Prog thrown in for good measure. All have two or three tracks I really enjoy, but I've found the bulk of the songs to be of a more mediocre standard.
Retribution follows a similar path, offering 10 songs of between four and five minutes. Unfortunately there isn't really a single song which leaps out at me. Whilst I do really like Swano's voice, the style and playing sounds dated here. There's nowhere near enough crunch to the guitar. The keyboards are way back in the mix, if there at all. Hell, we even have a ballad halfway through.
Stylistically there is nothing here to disappoint those who have loved the previous Nightingale material and/or have a perchance for melodic hard rock. Fans of Swanö's heavier works and of progressive rock and metal may well find this too lightweight and simplistic.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Psycrence - A Frail Deception
A Losing Game (6:08), Convergence (5:31), Forced Evolution (6:13), Moral Decay (5:37), Subconscious Eyes (5:14), Incised Path (5:15), Distance (7:39), Reflection (7:57), Hold Close The Flame (7:07)
Formed in Athens, Psycrence has been around since 2009, releasing a self-produced EP entitled Distance a year later. A Frail Deception is the band's debut album.
Musically, Psycrence is the type of band which focuses on the guitar riffs and vocal melodies. The nine tracks all occupy a mid-paced, melodic, power metal style which fans of Vanden Plas, Threshold, Pantommind or a heavier version of Magnitude Nine will enjoy. If you're looking for complexity, risks and elongated solo spots, then it's probably best if you move on now.
Built on a lovely piano riff, the opening track, A Losing Game, builds into a powerful, mid-tempo expedition into the world of progressive power metal. It's my favourite track on the disc. Incised Path isn't far behind with its memorable hook and flowing, hard rock riffage. Reflection is on par with anything on the Until Rain album. Indeed, fans of twin guitar solos will find much to admire in the playing of Michael Aggelos Kouropoulos and Kimon Zeliotis.
I'd like to hear the keyboards feature much more heavily in future. The two songs in which the keys feature most strongly, are also my favourites. Singer Takis Nikolakakis has a certain tone and a slight accent which I haven't fully warmed to. In terms of songwriting, the formula of starting a song slowly and then building with the twin guitars, is overused. The hungrier pace of Moral Decay and the slower groove of Distance try to add some variety, but I'm a more demanding listener nowadays.
A Frail Deception is a solid debut that will find much favour with those who like their progmetal to be accessible and direct.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Vanden Plas - Chronicles of the Immortals, Pt. I: Netherworld
Vision 1ne (3:52), Vision 2wo The Black Knight (8:29), Vision 3hree Godmaker (5:24), Vision 4our Misery Affection Prelude (1:39), Vision 5ive A Ghosts Requiem (3:56), Vision 6ix New Vampyre (6:16), Vision 7even The King And The Children Of Lost World (7:53), Vision 8ight Misery Affection (5:18), Vision 9ine Soul Alliance (6:40), Vision 10n Inside (6:42)
This is a very ambitious album for the band. First of all this album is based on a story by writer Wolfgang Hohlbein, making it a true concept album. The story is a dark fantasy told by a group known as the immortals, who witness an epic battle between heaven and hell. It is a very interesting story to build an album around, and I think it helps elevate the music to new heights.
The album is very over-the-top and theatrical, but I think it fits with what the band is trying to do. The album contains the same progressive metal base that fans are used to, but there are many added elements that are used in order to better tell the story, and these elements help bring emotional depth and variety.
The album is split into ten tracks that are labelled as 'visions'. The first of these starts as a spoken-word introduction amongst a very dramatic soundscape with a definite classical influence. After this intro, there is some great keyboard playing and Andy Kuntz's powerful voice in a dramatic ballad. This theatricality reminds me of the works of Trans-Siberian Orchestra who bring an over-the-top dramatic flair to their Christmas-themed albums. Another good reference point is Ayreon who is well-known in the progressive rock world for highly ambitious concept albums.
This leads into one of the better tracks on the album, The Black Knight. This is a more-standard progressive rock track with some great, distorted guitar and synth lines. I'm struck by how the band is able to balance the use of tricky instrumentation with pop sensibilities, showcased beautifully with a very catchy chorus. Godmaker is one of the heavier tracks, where the whole band is able to shine. This one reminds me of the earlier days of Dream Theater, a band that surely influenced Vanden Plas.
The fourth vision is a short duet between Andy Kuntz and a female singer. It is a pleasant break between some of the heavier tracks. This same mood continues with A Ghost's Requiem which is very emotional and contains classical instrumentation and makes great use of a big choir. New Vampyre returns to the progressive metal sound we are used to and has some fantastic instrumental work. I love the emotional guitar solo in the middle of this track from Stephan Lill. After this there is a great, intricate progressive metal workout where Gunter Werno's keyboards are front and center. This is one of my favorite sections of the record.
The next vision, The King And The Children of Lost World continues in much the same vein with great work from all instrumentalists and a really strong, catchy chorus.
Misery Affection is an expansion of the prelude that was shown on track four. What strikes me is how beautiful the piano playing is on this record, it has a very strong presence. The final two tracks contain all the elements that have graced the record thus far, including a strong progressive metal base, emotional vocals and an epic feel.
This is an extremely strong progressive metal release. The band has fully accepted the challenge of adapting a very ambitious story into their music and the result is very satisfying. This album almost veers into musical theatre territory. Everything has a very dramatic feel, from the instrumentation to the emotional vocals. There are definitely influences from classical, symphonic prog, metal and maybe even Broadway in the ballads.
Sometimes I felt a little overwhelmed with how over-the-top everything was, and I wished there were more instrumental sections of the complex progressive metal workouts that the band is known for. But I respect what the band has set out to accomplish in telling the story. I love their use of symphony instruments and a full-blown choir to help make everything that much more epic in its scope.
What is even more exciting, is that this is only Part 1. I can't wait to see what is in store for Part 2 that will help close out this amazing story. This album comes highly recommended to all who don't mind a heavy dose of drama and theatre with their progressive metal.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Watchmoore - Watchmoore
Meta (5:09), Fractures (3:23), Drag the Rivers (4:03), React (Dissociate) (4:02), Endless (4:45)
Overall, the music on this EP reminds me of a less adventurous and less sophisticated Karnivool, although I can sense a few other influences here and there.
Opening track Meta features some very dry, clean guitars, sounding a bit like The Cure. The music does get a bit heavier, with the distorted guitar parts reminding me of Alternative 4-era Anathema. The vocals kind of match that description as well at times. The drums are both the busiest and most interesting thing on this EP as far as I'm concerned. The drummer comes up with some pretty intricate, jazz-influenced grooves and snare work, akin to Mastodon's Brann Dailor.
Even though there are 'proggy' time signatures and all that, vocally and just sonically the first two tracks don't leave that much of an impression. That changes with Drag the Rivers. It opens with a bona fide Mastodon type riff, while the drums enter with a metalcore attitude. This is totally unexpected at this point and out of place, but definitely more exciting than anything that went before. Although the music and vocals immediately go mellow again, there's more character to the vocal melodies this time, and the clean guitars perfectly complement the song. After a heavy 5/8 prog break, the track gets really interesting. The eastern-flavoured vocal part is excellent. However, the track continues in a less engaging way, and seems to cut off way to soon.
Production-wise, for a first EP it sounds decent enough. Every instrument is clearly audible. The drums have a triggered sound to them that sometimes gets in the way of the dynamics the band utilises. Watchmoore could benefit from a more natural drum sound on their next release. The bass sounds fine, as do the guitars. I do miss some 'out-there' guitars, if you know what I mean. It's either compressed cleans or abrasive distortion on this EP. Why not utilise the spectrum of sounds that's lie between those two extremes?
I feel the strengths on this EP are definitely the heaviest moments, like the intro to Drag the Rivers and the outro of the EP closer, Endless. That outro riff in Endless is really cool, but unfortunately gets heavily under-utilised.
The main reason this EP doesn't 'stick', is a certain lack of character to the vocal melodies and the delivery of them. The melodies usually follow a rather predictable path, with lots of long notes that can get whiny sounding if you do that too much. The aforementioned eastern-tinged melody in Drag the Rivers is a highlight when it comes to the vocals of this EP. That's a catchy moment that really draws listeners into the song. Also, the moments where the vocals get harmonized are a nice touch that could get expanded on a bit more.
I've seen some YouTube videos of the band playing in an acoustic setting, and the vocals are already sounding a lot more emotive than they do on this EP. The vocalist can apparently do a lot more than what we hear here. I hope he brings that energy and experience to their second release.
It's no secret that when there's a lack of good vocal melodies, there's a lack of good songs, no matter how many odd time signatures you throw at them. A low point is React (Dissociate)'s fade-out at the end. Fade outs are fine, if a song at least went somewhere first.
There are some good ideas here and there, but judging from the content of this EP, the band isn't entirely sure of where to go with their sound. I see the most promise in the heavier moments. The clean stuff, at this point, misses the mark overall. I hear what they're trying to do, but it doesn't really convey the vibe that they're going for, whether that may be dark, ethereal or both. It's evident that these guys can come up with some rad grooves, but there's a world between the ambition of the drums and the rather 'normal' chord structures and riffs. It is almost like they don't really belong together. There's some 'glue' needed here.
Drag the Rivers. If Watchmoore can flex their compositional muscle like they do on that one, they should be on the right track to becoming a force to be reckoned with. I suggest anyone who's into Karnivool-ish prog rock to check out that track. Just click the YouTube link below. Hopefully it is a foreshadowing of where this band will go next. The talent is there.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10