Aeon Zen — Transversal
With a recording career stretching across more than a decade, UK-based progressive metal act Aeon Zen have decided to say their farewells and thank-yous with a final 30-minute song Transversal.
Starting as a solo project by songwriter and musician Rich Gray in 2008, Aeon Zen quickly grew into a full band with a solid reputation in the progressive metal scene, enjoying tours with the likes of Devin Townsend, and invitations to festivals such as ProgPower and Tech Fest. DPRP has previously reviewed three of the five Aeon Zen albums: Face Of The Unknown (2010), Enigma (2013), and Ephemera (2015)
In 2015, the story took a twist as Rich joined renowned thrash metal band Annihilator. Aeon Zen became somewhat redundant. Transversal serves as the final chapter in the Aeon Zen story. The majority of the music was written mostly by Gray in 2007 (even before Aeon Zen's formation). Work on the song restarted in 2020 when Rich began to re-record everything and lyrics were written by singer Andi Kravljaca. Transversal also features a plethora of guitar solos from Alistair Bell and the drumming of Steve Burton.
Lyrically, Transversal looks back on a career with many twists and turns. This full circle can also be seen in the artwork which contains elements of every previous Aeon Zen album.
Transversal, despite being split into 10 parts, is designed to be listened to as one song. Three of these parts last only a minute and just two parts stretch (almost) to the five-minute mark. There are no gaps between the parts. Various motifs are repeated across different parts, therefore I find splitting the "song" into "parts" is more of a distraction than a help. It is a single piece of continuous music.
Musically this sits half of the time in the melodic prog-metal-light sphere previously perfected by Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder, and Minds Eye. Repeated bursts of metallic guitar add the heavy, to the lighter vocal sections.
The other half takes its influence from modern heavy prog with a nice blending of atmospheric, and then more symphonic sections. The opening (Twilight) section is a good example of where this blend works well. A New Day offers lively symphonics in an Alice in Funland setting. Purgatory Rechristened is the only part that is metalically heavy. Here, the opening and closing motif is built around a Malmsteen-esque shred-fest where I'm reminded of Alcratazz or Graham Bonnet-era MSG. The mid-section has hint of Symphony X and Seventh Wonder.
The best part of Transversal is the vocal performance of Andi Kravljacam. His super-smooth, melodic delivery holds my attention throughout the ever-changing styles, helped in no small part by some lovely "choir" backing vocals and harmonies.
It does take a few spins to unveil its charms fully, but this is an impressive slab of modern, heavy, progressive music and it provides a very happy ending to the Aeon Zen journey.
Transversal will be released on 24th of September 2021 and will be available as a CD and in digital formats.
Decimals — Symmetry
Over the last 18 months, the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, leaving the arts world in a challenging place. One benefit has been the opportunity that musicians have had to compose and record. One of the beneficiaries are Decimals, a three-piece progressive metal instrumental band formed in 2016 and hailing from Barcelona, who have just released their first full-length album.
The band are Albert Gimeno (drums), Carles Romagosa (bass) and Alex Bru (guitar). In 2018 they released an EP Ancient Astronauts. Two singles followed in 2019 with An Indecent Obsession and Absolute Power. Between September 2020 to June 2021, they recorded these nine tracks and in July 2021 they released their first full length album entitled Symmetry. It consists of an excellent 45 minutes of progressive metal.
The band cite Dream Theater as possibly their biggest influence. They also include Tool and Rush. Alan Parsons gets a mention, which I see no overlap apart from a propensity for concept albums. Additionally newer bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Plini and God is an Astronaut. The influence of soundtracks is also cited, with film score composers like Hans Zimmer, for example.
Decimals use the story sequence to compose to a coherent OST format; the ups and downs of which one experiences will keep you on your toes. Listening and contrasting Symmetry with the earlier releases demonstrates a tremendous maturing in their musical style and expression.
It is clear that Decimals are heavily influenced by Dream Theater. There is no problem with that, as many bands are. This results in a dip into the DT treasure trove and helping themselves to some riffs and formats for the parts and chapters. Being influenced and being the same, are two different things. Decimals are the former.
Symmetry, in true prog tradition is a concept album. It is based on a space journey. To quote the band: “It is a concept work that tells a space-related story of events and communication between different parallel universes and its inhabitants.” This story was used by the band in order to develop the music, trying to imagine a soundtrack that would best match each event.
The development of Symmetry using the soundtrack as a structure is a device that works well; the concept of the space journey captured by the different parts.
I found myself being a little cynical at first, maybe this is due to the concept-album-conscious-bias I carry (think concept albums and capes!) Admittedly, it took this reviewer a bit of time to hear the alignment between the music and the chapters and parts.
Initially an argument I had with myself was that a vocalist would benefit the band as a coordinating focus conveying the story. The standard of music and the way the music sits in the concept, convinced me that the band's current make-up is successful.
On listening to the opening track, my cynicism quickly evaporated. NGC 661, which for any sky spotters, is a cluster of stars located in the constellation Serpens, opens with a haunting, atmospheric melody followed by the addition of strings, building to a crescendo which is swapped for shredding guitars and tuned-down bass and blast beats. This prelude signals an intention to the listener that they would be wise to strap themselves in!
The album is broken into five section: three chapters (Regret, Pillars Of Destruction, Circle Of Eternity) with a Prelude and an Epilogue, with a total of nine tracks.
While NGC 661, the prelude, starts us off, Signals gets into it with a riff which drives the journey forward. Cryptic Existence is a softer guitar picking with a Spanish flavour. Atlas resumes the momentum. Keep Safe from the Rain, Redemption and Self Reflect owe a hat-tip to DT. Beyond the Gate gives the feel that we are coming to an end with the addition of voice and strings, while Echo completes the journey.
Symmetry is an excellent album which takes the listener forward, combining metal, melody, dramatic sequences with driven guitars and drums, mixed-in with quite a few tender passages. Added to this is the quality of production which is excellent and carried out by the band. Recognising their musical ability and imagination, this is a great listen. I highly recommend that admirers of prog metal seek out this album. You won't be disappointed.
Fotis Delinikolas — Alma
Fotis Delinikolas is a guitar player from Athens, Greece, and this is his debut solo album. Apparently, Delinikolas has been a professional musician since he was 16, and has many years of experience behind him. The musicianship and production on this album surely sounds like that is the case.
The main banner that this album falls under is progressive metal. Folky influences (Greek, obviously) tend to give many musical styles a more down-to-earth and honest feel, and it works here as well. But there's more.
Joe Satriani must be one of his heroes. This music brings a Satch vibe in many sections, without me being able to tell you a song or album that it sounds like.
I love how within one song, like the title track, he goes from alt-rock (as if played by Eddie Van Halen), prog metal riffing (à la Petrucci), to hard funk, to bluesy guitar soloing. The first part of Chimera could have been on a Dream Theater album, until the bluesy feelings come in of course. (DT don't have the blues.)
In Dualism, and to a lesser degree on Judas, Delinikolas is moving towards jazzy territories. This leaves me a bit cold, I got the same reaction when I heard Steve Lukather's Luke album in 1997, although this is a tad heavier. Raindrop is a breather, touching post-rock in build-up, but mostly driving a great Eric Johnson flow in melodic style.
I could see this guy share a stage, record a song, or a whole album with his fellow Greek colleague Oh. because there is definitely a musical overlap!
While obviously guitar-driven, the wide range of styles of using that instrument, plus taking the influences from a broad spectrum of other genres, and modern-progressive songwriting makes a wonderfully diverse prog-metal album. Despite all of this diversity, this is a sound album; one that never feels like a patchwork.
It's been a while since I listened to Satch and I plan to listen to some Satch albums soon. But only after I've listened to Alma a couple of times more ... which is something you should too if any of the names in this review mean anything to you, or you like guitar-driven prog metal.
Pentral — What Lies Ahead of Us
Pentral is new power trio that should be of interest to fans of heavy, progressive-tinged rock music. The band's topicality, and unique selling point, is that they are based in the Amazonian region of Brazil. Their debut album, What Lies Ahead of Us, explores the fractious relationships between people from different backgrounds and cultures, and ultimately humankind's conflict with nature.
Whilst rooted in the classic power trio sound, Pentral's music is an engaging mix of deep, dark guitar riffage, odd time signatures, tribal rhythms, atmospheric passages and lyrics telling the story of a couple and their new-born child fleeing from their rainforest home, as corporate greed and global environmental disaster rage around them.
Pentral ("spirit" in Latin) consists of brothers Victor (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars) and Vagner Lima (drums) and Joe Ferry (bass guitar). In the band's own words: "We are passionate about environmental protection, equality and the fight against racism. We see music as a powerful and positive way of changing the world for the better."
Their potential is highlighted on the two stand-out tracks. Opener, Silent Trees is their clearest blend of rock and ethnic influences. The Hindu mantra intro grabs the attention. The way that, after some intense riffage, the guitar solo is beautifully unveiled on an acoustic guitar, followed by a very neo-prog ambient section, is very clever.
The second single, Disconnected is just a very catchy-enjoyable slice of heavy, power rock, enlivened by a very clever use of groove and odd time signatures.
The constant variation of atmosphere, harmony, melody and groove across the album is admirable, as is the heart-felt message that seeks to make people think. What I am not getting (apart from the two tracks mentioned above) are the instrumental nor the vocal hooks that make me want to come back to this album as a whole. However, as an opening statement this shows great promise. A band to keep an eye on.
The Vicious Head Society — Extension Level Event
The first thing to attract me to this album was the cover art. From the first time I watched the classic 1969 version of Planet Of The Apes, the closing scene of Taylor, played by the wonderful Charlton Heston, riding along the beach on horseback, and then seeing the fallen Statue Of Liberty, remains with me as one of the iconic scenes in movie history. So when a similar image presented itself as the cover of Extension Level Event, I had to hear what was on offer.
The intriguingly-named The Vicious Head Society is the project conceived by Irish guitarist Graham Keane. Admittedly this was the first I had heard of Graham and his band, and Extension Level Event happens to be the follow-up to his 2017 debut album, Abject Tomorrow.
To add additional interest for me, the album is a concept album. It looks at how people would act if the end of the world was coming. Each song is written from a different perspective, looking at how an individual would react. Could such an event be faced with a degree of respect? Could you at this point forgive those who had done you serious hard in the past? Sounds like a dark subject, but one which Graham musically addresses with a great deal of passion and emotion.
Musically, this progressive metal album ticks all the right boxes. It is a heavy album, but it never sacrifices melody, even with the inclusion of growling vocals, which I at first really disliked. After multiple listens, I have realised that they have a significance in the telling of the stories, and their inclusion makes sense.
There are inspirations from Dream Theater, Death and Ayreon on the heavy side, but this is well mixed with more progressive passages reminding the listener of Yes, or bands from the NWOBPR, particularly Pallas and Marillion. The more I listened to the album, it dawned upon me that possibly the biggest influence with TVHS was Queensrÿche. The metal and melody bought to mind the joy of listening to The Warning through to Empire albums of this great band.
While Graham provides the majority of the instrumentation on the album, he does pull in help in a number of areas including the vocals. And how wisely he has chosen, as the main vocalist on the album, Nathan Maxx, has a stunning voice. One which is not of the traditional heavy metal variety, but a voice that has more akin to the great AOR vocalists than your typical metal screamer.
The album title track kicks off proceedings, and this turns out to be a near-ten-minute instrumental. This serves as an overture to the album, featuring differing musical motifs which the listener will find dotted around the rest of the album. A ten-minute instrumental may seem to be either a risk, or confidence in the music that a new listener will be captivated enough to see what the rest of the album contains. For me, it is certainly the latter. The music contains enough variation and twists, that I was certainly interested in progressing with the journey.
To this end I have been thoroughly rewarded, and have revisited the album regularly. It is a certain grower that I foresee being in my top ten at the end of the year.
Each track has its own distinct personality, and anyone who likes the aforementioned Queensrÿche and Ayreon should find plenty to enjoy here. On A Silver Thread is not far removed from Ayreon's early output, with heavy melody and singer Nathan Maxx sounding similar to Arjen Lucassen on vocals, this giving a wonderful feel to the track.
The Signal contains the type of musical drama that Queensrÿche managed so easily in their early years. The unusually titled YP138 contains a dual musical blast of frenetic keyboards and guitar which reminded me how well Dream Theater used to produce astounding passages in things like The Dance Of Eternity and The Dark Eternal Night.
So, this is a definite no-brainer of an album for anyone who likes any of the bands mentioned, and a huge deal of credit needs to be lavished upon Graham Keane for delivering such an exceptional slice of quality progressive metal.