Tag Archives: Progressive Metal

Circle of Illusion – Jeremia’s Foreshadow of Forgotten Realms

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Jeremia’s Foreshadow of Forgotten Realms” is one hell of a prog rock\metal gem, both its strength and weakness stemming from its theatrical style. It uses motifs that instantly proclaim it a rock opera, like the classic-esque arrangements and the dual operatic vocals, where the two heroes of our story share an unfolding dialogue. The band’s music at first brings to mind bands like DT and Haken, but the great focus on dialogue you hear from beginning to end on this album sets Circle of Illusion apart from other modern prog acts.

Beside the obviously needed and well-placed instrumental breaks, the music seems to be always following the lyrics – by either preparing for them, accentuating words to convey what feelings are being expressed, or complimenting them in the next arriving melody; As I said, a rock opera. Personally, I found following the lyrics was a bit tiring, Maybe since it’s not a very straight-forward story and the lyrics are way too vague at times. So if I were to recommend this album to a friend, I’d ditch the story part and emphasize the great, great musicianship featured in this releaseespecially on tracks like “The Beginning“, “The Memory Returns“, or “New Age“.

– We’re talkin’ beautiful, often symphonic arrangements using many classic instruments as well as modern synth pads and metal guitar tones that set the groove just right. Using this wide diversity of sound together with those perfect female vocals by singer Elga Shafran gives the songs an element of surprise. It’s such a refreshing listen – the most memorable moments for me being probably the Disco sections. Not kidding, there are a few Sections of proggy disco parts and they work really well, reminding you immediately of ABBA with their infectious phrases and hooks. Have a listen below:

As you can hear, the band fuses together many genres – and travels through many moods, doing so in such a charming way it feels very organic, never forced. The only flaw this album has in my opinion, is that by deciding to stick to the theatrical, it is bound to be somewhat formulaic. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of creative freedom here. The guys are exceptional musicians, among the best you’ll find in prog really. I’m merely suggesting that the band’s (obviously conscious) intention was clearly the creation of a rock opera, and they do not deviate from that idea, for good or bad. (Mostly for good, but if you know me – I just gotta have a bit of chaos and destruction in my playlist!).

Putting my tendency for critique aside though, I’d take this record over the countless power-prog copycats out there any day. Forget’em! Circle of Illusion offers you a whole different wonderful thing, an album with so much thought and effort put into it it’s impressive, and if you’re a fan of progressive music, this record of theirs should be in your collection, no doubt about it! Don’t miss out and give it a listen on their Bandcamp page!

9/10

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Ayreon – The Theory of Everything

Ayreon’s 8th studio album “The Theory of Everything” might sound like a very “smart”, lyrically complex album, but the “Theory” issue is only a background plot device that gives vibe and drive to this very familiar story about a genius outcast mistreated by society; “Society”, in this story’s context represented by different characters: The Father, The Mother, The Psychiatrist, The Girl, The Rival. And although these characters differ, they all have the same main motif to their roles, which is misunderstanding the young genius (or “The Prodigy“), and treating him badly according to on their own interests:

-The Father totally disregards the emotions of his son, treating him only as a tool that functions\dysfunctions.
-The Psychiatrist is driven only by his education & research, and to promote the latter he is willing to put the prodigy’s life at risk.
-The Rival represents violent competition and manipulation.

Other characters like the girl or the teacher are more balanced, but almost everyone – except the mother – pushes or pulls at the prodigy, abusing him while falsely claiming to “help” him. If you take the “Theory..” issue out, this story feels common & very familiar. It could easily be the story of an intelligent kid with Asperger\ADD\etc, pick your favorite syndrome. I won’t spoil the entire thing for you, but the story is tragic, as most characters are oblivious to their doing, and even the mother, who can see the truth through her compassion, alone by herself cannot stop this collective abuse.

Regarding the music itself, although claimed to be “four long tracks divided into various segments”, I found the division into many mini-tracks makes it very hard to put the pieces together, mentally speaking. Almost each track has its own unique intro and outro – more like a rock opera or a theatric play\musical than “four long tracks”. Now add to that the huge musical variation this album features and you got an immeasurably segmented thing going on. Describing the different genres at hand would be futile, just know this is prog rock done the right way. Arjen Lucassen is one incredibly inspired guy and he makes DT‘s last album look awful. I mean, MORE awful.

However, in terms of musical coherence, the album loses me halfway. I really want my rock\metal to have something to hold onto, be it a repeating chorus or a kickass riff. Repetition is important, even in prog. Creating tension and breaking it is powerful, yes, but without some repetition in between, songs become a disorienting experience. I get that going “full-prog” or how’d you call it perhaps means the composer gives himself complete creative freedom. I respect that kind of art and my guess is listeners will immensely appreciate it. But you certainly will not be rocking to this CD in the traditional sense, unless you are a diehard fan of Lucassen, or are obsessed with musicals.

7/10

Jeff Loomis – Requiem For The Living(2013)

Taking a break from Nevermore in 2005 has given guitar player Jeff Loomis a chance for artistic freedom, but while he can and has created instrumental works that can stand by themselves, he continuously chooses to work with vocalists. The result is, his recent releases are all about this really cool balance between his role as a shredder and as a riff-writer; and when those two are equal in strength, you get a really heavy thing going on. I’m talking of course about Jeff’s most recent EP released on April 16th, “Requiem For The Living“.

So, let’s talk about the music. The title track on this short release was actually featured on Loomis’ previous album – why? I have no idea. It’s a classic heavy metal\shred piece, but the real beatdown begins with track 2 “A Liar’s Chain“. Moving in an even more new-school direction than before, this song is such groove metal attack! you’d think Lamb of God are playing(including the snarling vocals) if it weren’t for those later melodies and solo section.

Speak of Nothing” continues in a similar but sped-up fashion, more than bordering on melodic death metal with those aggressive drum patterns and the super-melodic chorus! It can only be described as riff-tastic hybrid, combining the straightforward attitude of a killer metal band with Jeff’s recognizable guitar tone and intelligent composing style. Oh and it’s catchy as hell..

The last track on “Requiem For The Living” seems to just go all out melodic DM, it’s brilliant. Not sure if this was intentional, maybe Jeff just wanted to write a heavy song? But the whole thing just crawls with a sick vibe reminiscent of Carcass‘ “Heartwork”, especially due to Jue Nurre’s work on vocals(and guitars). Such a splendid track, here is “Glass Roots“:

This short EP is packed with great heavy and melodic music by some super talented folks, making me wish it was a longer, full album! Jeff Loomis‘ collaborations with other musicians always deliver, and as usual I will be following up on any future releases by him. This killer EP gets a definite score of 9/10 from me! And hey, if you like what you hear, you can get it on iTunes at such a low price it’s ridiculous.

Soen – Cognitive

Soen is a supergroup that includes two well-known musicians – bassist Steve DiGiorgio(ex-death, testament) and Martin Lopez(ex-opeth). Considering these explosive talents, you’ll be surprised to know Soen‘s music is actually quite low-key in many ways. You could say the songs are intelligent & at times heavy, but more in the “alternative” sense(e.g Tool).

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The group’s 2012 release, “Cognitive“, draws much of its strength from the lesser known band members, Kim Platbarzdis(guitars) and Joel Ekelöf (vocals). Ekelöf’s voice really grabs you – not with violence but with a calm yet earnest, purposeful delivery that make you take this record quite seriously.

The album opens up with an intro urging us to “wash away the deceit” and disease, though how can we when we are “confined by the source“? “Fraktal” and “Fraccios” present this album’s complex bleak reality, describing a fragmented soul that tries to be conscious, fight its self-repression and assemble itself back together. Or at least that’s my understanding. The lyrics are well-written, that’s for sure.

Delene” arrives with more punch, but often replaces it with this soothing drugged tranquility, Joel’s voice dragging like a sigh; like a scar, the vibe of this track feels like remaining, drawing you deeper and reaching one of my faves here, “Last Light” . On “Last Light“, the atmosphere of “Cognitive” grows exponentially, its honest dim-lit lyrical truth hitting just the right note, just the right spot, so that you cannot remain unfeeling:

I’m becoming what I thought, what I shouldn’t be, what I fear the most
Let me stay here for a while, I depend on this, it’s my only light.

During this part of the album, the percussion takes a bit of a latin vibe with those bongos. A very interesting and fresh creative choice that fits in just great with Soen‘s music. Complementing Lopez’s unique rhythms, the guitar player often brings very subtle, at times even minimal instrumentation to the table, yet the band gets so much out it. It’s incredible how less can be so much more.

Oscillation” and the immense “Canvas” offer a heavier rhythm section, while the lyrics finally find some clear elevated consciousness where faith is and wounds can heal; later,  reaching towards freedom from illusion, putting the listener’s fate in his own hands.

The album closes with 4 more interesting tracks like the thoughtful, memorable warning of “Ideate” and the heaviest piece on the album – “Purpose“. Though, heaviness is actually this album’s sole disadvantage in a way. While the guys excel at creating a low-key enviroment, their bouts of aggression never become complete outbursts, production-wise. For example, some C parts almost demand a heartfelt scream, but the band chooses to remain restrained over reaching violent catharsis.

Still, “Cognitive” wasn’t meant to be real heavy and the bottom line is it’s a refreshing release that pronounces it’s different faucets of truth vividly and beautifully using different sonic soundscapes. Yep, The whole thing isn’t titled “Cognitive” for no reason. A unique, even necessary listen; Underrated’s score for Soen‘s “Cognitive” is 8/10 !