TIME REQUIEM – THE INNER CIRCLE OF REALITY

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Out now on Regain RecordsOriginal review published in 2004

Keyboard whiz Richard Andersson returns with the second Time Requiem album – “The Inner Circle Of Reality”. The bands debut from 2002 was a superb slice of progressive neo-classical metal with a strong Malmsteen overtone to it. “The Inner Circle Of Reality” sees the Malmsteen-esque sound being replaced by a sound more inline with the likes of Symphony X or Adagio (of whom Andersson contributed solos for Sanctus Ignis). This is however much more keyboard led than either Symphony X or Adagio and this is what keeps Time Requiem original in a highly competitive genre.

The band has seen a couple of personnel changes with bassist Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Csörsz in the drummers seat. The album was recorded and mixed by Reingold and Andersson and the sonic results are very powerful.

Opener “Reflections” is sure to please all fans of Symphony X thanks its intricate riffing and powerful vocals courtesy of Apollo Papathansio (a cross between Jorn Lande and Russell Allen), this is a very intense track that just begs to be cranked up.

Title track “The Inner Circle Of Reality” is an epic in every sense, clocking in at over 11 minutes it takes you through a myriad of levels thanks to its very progressive nature. The verse is quite superb with a very classy melody line and this gives added weight to the package. The track has a slight neo-classical feel in places which is sure to make fans of the bands debut feel right at home. At around the six minute mark Richard Andersson takes us back to 70’s Prog with a keyboard solo that is quite Rick Wakeman. This then moves into territory similar to that of U.K. with some greet Mini Moog-esque sounds being used before guitarist Magnus Nordh comes in with a smooth legato filled solo. This causes Andersson to up his chops and we are flying high! The track then leads back into another verse and chorus and the track comes full circle.

“Dreams Of Tomorrow” starts with a dark mystical quality with harpsichords, horns and cymbal crashes, close to Adagio, a dark nature lends itself to Apollo Papathansio delivering a very classy vocal. The track has a superb chorus, which sees a great musical progression underneath. The track is a bit more guitar led than the other numbers and this helps make the riff stand out. The solo sections see some blazing duels from Nordh and Andersson. Andersson’s solo here being positively blinding.

The trademark Time Requiem sound leads us into “Attar Of Roses”. This track has a very majestic quality to it (in both sound and reference to Majestic – Andersson’s previous band). The neo-classical overtones are here in spades and make you realise just what a special partnership Richard Andersson and Yngwie Malmsteen could have if they ever get around to hooking up! The solo section sees all manner of classical inflections from Andersson and makes you realise why he is at the top of the metal keyboard player rostrum. But it’s the strength of the verse that really makes the track quite superb.

“Definition Of Insanity” begins with keyboards and drums setting a heavy prog setting. This transcends into a progression that fans of Dream Theater will appreciate right away. The track is up-tempo but is the most mainstream sounding track on the album – catchy metal with progressive overtones.

“Quest Of A Million Souls” sees Andersson lay down some sublime keyboard solos. What sets this guy apart from a lot of metal crowd is his ability to add a very human lyrical quality to his work. This is achieved by making great use of the pitch wheel and sounds that although familiar seem warmer than the average synth tone. The almost ballad nature of the track does offer some rest from the frantic work found elsewhere, but the classical influences again rear there head on the chorus chord progression.

“Hidden Memories” you just know is gonna be killer from as soon as the initial keyboard pattern rings out. I hear shades of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells here as well as a little Images & Words era Dream Theater in the intro. This is thrown out the window for the relatively simple verses and a chorus that manages to combine frantic double bass drum work with a simple vocal melody line. Then a variation on the intro comes back and you realise how well the blend works. Andersson’s keyboard solo really hits all the right notes, with an almost Malmsteen feel to the way he can extend passages and yet maintain the interest of the listener.

A short instrumental piece between Andersson and bassist Jonas Reingold for” Bach Prelude Variations”. Short, classic, and a nice way to end the album.

With The Inner Circle Of Reality, Time Requiem has managed to add another extremely strong album to their discography. I probably prefer the bands’ debut a little more due to the slightly more neo-classical nature of it, but there is a lot to absorb and enjoy on this release. The band are obviously maturing and honing their sound to something that Richard Andersson’s ideal vision represents and it’s a ride that is a very rewarding one.

Hot Spots : Reflections, The Inner Circle Of Reality, Attar Of Roses, Hidden Memories.
Rating : 90%

CONSORTIUM PROJECT III – TERRA INCOGNITA (THE UNDISCOVERED WORLD)

Out now on Lion Music

Part III of Lion Music’s Consortium Project ‘quadrilogy reissues’ with remastered sound and 2 bonus tracks.  After the excellent starting two movements Consortium Project III seemed to embrace the progressive metal elements a little more than on its predecessors, in some ways parallels could be drawn with the likes of early Symphony X, perhaps in part due to the mystical Egyptian feel in some of the tracks.

Generally speaking its all very good stuff once again, with another stellar backing cast to Ian Parry’s premier vocal including guitarists Stephan Lill (Vanden Plas), Mike Chlasciak (Halford) and drums from ever present Casey Grillo (Kamelot) amongst others.

Opener The Council Of Elders has the by now obligatory scene setting story part before hitting it stride, but Spirit Of Kindness and The Ark (of the covenant) are as strong as anything heard elsewhere in the five album suite.  Big riffs, a good sense of pompous atmosphere and all round excellent performances. Lost Empire begins as if from a movie soundtrack before hitting a fervent progressive power metal vibe, here the aforementioned similarities with Symphony X are depicted nicely. Reductio Ad Absurdum is a nice multi-faceted number with a nice blend of calm and imminent foreboding evil in equal measures.

The almost new-age calm of White Sands (California Lighthouse) do perhaps seem a little out of place but offer up a nice rest bight midway through before Great Exploration kicks back in with its mid-tempo pomp and is home to a majestic chorus.  Across The Seas is another highly melodic track before Across The Seven Seas takes you on a musical voyage being a prog metal treat, home to fantastic guitar solo too and arguably the highlight of the album.

Nemesis is back to the dark metallic edge, whilst Beyond The Gateways Of Legends  sees a quite magnificent soaring vocal from Parry and ranks as another highlight.  Its hard to think of another voice in metal other than perhaps the much missed Ronnie James Dio that can capture such impressive power with a the ability to give the listener visual imagery with their delivery.   The title track sees the original 11 track release with a fitting finale being majestic in scope, yet also offering up an insight into the sound that would later be heard on Consortium Project IV.

As it stands this new “quadrilogy series remaster” gives us a demo version of Great Exploration and the title track and its nice to hear how the final track grew from this more stripped down demos.

Overall Terra Incognita is another fine slice of progressive power metal from Consortium Project.  In some ways it’s a different beast to what came before yet shares many of the trademarks of its predecessors e.g. strong performances, good songcraft and all round executed to a very high standard.  If you enjoyed parts I and II then III will not disappoint and is on a par with those other fine releases.

Rating – 92%

SUN CAGED – THE LOTUS EFFECT

Out now on Lion Music

Sun Caged, the Dutch progressive metallers with two impressive albums already under their belts return after a four year absence with “The Lotus Effect”.  This new album sees the band consolidate their sound in fine style with an album that’s clocks in at over 70 minutes across 14 tracks and has been well worth the wait.

“The Lotus Effect” sees Sun Caged deliver not only their heaviest album to date, but also their most varied with a lot of different musical textures adding to the big riffs coming out of guitar master Marcel Coenen’s guitar.  The melody is high in most numbers, aided by Paul Adrian Villarreal’s distinctive and impressive vocals and Rene Kroon’s keyboard work also covers a lot of ground.  New bassist Daniel Kohn has also formed a formidable rhythm unit with drummer Roel van Helden.

Opener “Seam Ripper (and the blanket statement)” is an 8 minute stunner which perfectly characterises Sun Caged unique take on prog metal. “Tip-Toe the Fault-Line” and the blinding “Shades Of Hades” (see audio player above) deliver a more straight-ahead delivery with potent riffs and strong choruses.  The melody is high in numbers such as “Ashes To Earn” and the 10 minute epic “Pareidolized (The Ocean in the Shell)” which is a stunner pure and simple.  Elsewhere the quality is exceptionally high. Whilst the album takes several spins to full reveal itself the listener is rewarded further with each passing play – and this is a release you will find yourself coming back to.

“The Lotus Effect” may have taken some time to see the light of day, but its Sun Caged finest release thus far and an essential slice of progressive metal.  For those fed up of the hundreds of Dream Theater and Symphony X clones check out this album for a refreshing and original take on the progressive metal genre.

Rating – 95%

HAKEN – AQUARIUS (ARCHIVE)

 

Out now on Sensory Records

Haken are a rarity in that that are a virtuosic progressive rock/ metal band from England, normally us Brits go for stuff much more obvious and trend driven so its nice to be able to assess something from my homeland in one of my favourite genres.  Aquarius is the bands debut release –and as you might expect for a prog band its a 7 track 72 minute, larger than life conceptual sci-fi/fantasy work brought to us by the Sensory label.

Led by the enigmatic vocals of Ross Jennings, the music is heavy coming across as a mix of Vanden Plas and Symphony X in the heavier segments, with the more esoteric instrumental stylings of Transatlantic.  No doubt some critics will want to market the band as a UK Dream Theater but these would be quite wide of the mark to these ears as this features a much more diverse sound, one might say all encompassing with its jazz and fusion leanings in places. 

The opening trio of tracks all clock in over the 10 minute mark each so the band make their prog credententials known right from the off, luckily the music is enjoyable but quite often falls into the ‘where’s the song?’ category.  That said ‘Eternal Rain’ does come close with its more traditional song structure.   A little fine tuning, or perhaps critical appraisal from within the bands ranks of what is really needed in the songs overall would pay dividends if they wish to draw in the more casual listener, but prog fans as a whole should enjoy the barrage of musicality – if not the occasional grunted vocals. ‘Drowning In The Flood’ reminded me somewhat of the music on the Sphere Of Souls debut which is no bad thing either.

Sonically the album is one of the better efforts from the Sensory label of late, being mostly clear and mud free in the mix department – which is essential for maximum enjoyment in this genre.

Overall Haken have come up with a solid debut in ‘Aquarius’ and may just kick start a renaissance of original progressive music in the UK.  A nice start.

Rating -80%

SYMPHONY X – PARADISE LOST (ARCHIVE REVIEW)

Symphony X return after 5 years with the highly anticipated “Paradise Lost” which many fans hoped would see the band return somewhat to their classic “Damnation Game”/”Divine Wings Of Tragedy” sound.  It more or less goes without saying that the bands rapid fans will buy this regardless of what critics say so this review is aimed more for the un-initiated.  Simply said Symphony X have proved over the last decade or so that they are one of the best bands in the progressive metal genre and “Paradise Lost” is an excellent starting point for anyone yet to sample the bands brand of metal.  Gloriously pompous with lush orchestral keyboards arrangements by Michael Pinella, sublime guitar riffs and solos from one of Metal’s best players in Michael Romeo, a superb rhythm section of drummer Jason Rullo and bassist  Michael Anthony LePond all topped off with arguably one of metals best vocalists since Ronnie James Dio in Russell Allen

Instrumental opener “Oculus ex Inferni” is complex and film score like before “Set The World On Fire (The Lie of Lies” comes hurtling out the gates of hell with an intensity and purpose that it totally satisfying.  “Domination” begins with a complex bass guitar part which is then backed up Romeo and crew and it’s another all round sonic delivery with massive riffs, soaring vocals and a tightness rarely heard – this is metal with spirit and a highlight.  “The Serpents Kiss” repeats the previous tracks overall hugeness with its scolding main riff yet the band allow melody to also shine in tandem.  The title track “Paradise Lost” is another in the line of magical Symphony X compositions that the band throw into nearly every album which is a very special own brand of melodic progressive with numerous sections and beautiful melody which grows as it progresses and Russell Allen’s vocals are truly mesmerising.  “Eve Of Seduction” sees the band work through some complex instrumental patterns before another manic riff which even Pantera fans would get a massive kick out of.  “The Walls Of Babylon” is complex in arrangement yet quite digestible thanks to one of Allen’s best vocals on the album and its a definite highlight with all the Symphony X ingredients here in abundance.  “Seven” sees some neo-classical inflections which is sure to please fans of the bands earlier releases.  Here Romeo’s guitar and Pinella’s keyboards are unleashed to dramatic effect before Michael Anthony LePond lays downs a complex bass line, Romeo surprisingly delivers a very short and relatively simple solo before launching back into the main riff.  “The Sacrifice” sees the band return to grand epic majestic tone which again is a sheer sonic treat in all respects and another vocal master display from Allen.  “Revelation (Divus Pennae Ex Tragoedia)” ends the album on a definite high with a riff count high enough to win gold medal at the riff Olympics, yet luckily this is also backed up by more delicious melodies all topped with a grandiose extended middle instrumental section where each band member shines.

With “Paradise Lost”, Symphony X has made the album many fans felt they needed to make.  After 2 relatively ordinary albums (by their own standards) with “The Odyssey” and “V: The New Mythology Suite” this new work seems them return to the quality heard on their classic earlier albums yet with the best elements from the aforementioned “Odyssey/New Mythology”.  Simply said the wait has been worth it and this is an essential purchase for long-term fans and newbie’s alike.  Welcome back.

RATING  – 94%

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ALLEN • LANDE – THE SHOWDOWN (REVIEW)

Third instalment from the Frontiers “manufactured” band  with two of the most acclaimed vocalists in metal in Symphony X’s Russell Allen and Ark/Masterplan/Solo vocalist Jorn Lande.  As with the previous two efforts all the music is penned by “songwriter for hire” Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear / Starbreaker etc)  who contributes all guitar, bass and keyboard to the album.  As if often the case with long distance albums of this type the project does loose some of the closeness a direct collaboration between all involved might give.  That said, despite this being quite formulaic melodic metal in terms of song writing its going to be somewhat of a hit and miss affair.

Vocally there is little to fault. Lande is in fine form giving a commanding delivery. Allen’s vocals don’t have quite the sheen they had back in earlier Symphony X days but still are still noteworthy in terms of phrasing and impression.  Karlsson’s guitar work is perfectly functional, the guy has never blown me away in terms of originality but is solid enough, his strength more as a songwriter than a guitar hero which is perhaps the whole idea given the branding of this album.

Highlights come in the guise of the title track with its punchy delivery and here the two vocalists combine admirably.  Goodies are to be had elsewhere in the melodic vocal fest of “Turn All Into Gold” and “The Guardian” where the mix of vocalists and song writing again gel nicely indeed.  That’s not to say all is strong, the album does get a little safe and bland in a number of places, particuarly “Maya” and the plodding “Eternity”.  Overall the song writing is solid, but lacking a little in terms of originality and there is a sense of having heard in all before by a number of different acts.

“The Showdown” sees the tried and tested Allen Lande formula again working mostly as it should with the album being a little heavier and more straight-ahead than its predecessors, but like its precursors also leaves me finding it somewhat of a mixed bag, not that there is anything terrible here but nothing truly mind blowing either.

 Overall if you liked the predecessors you will like this.

Rating  – 78%