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Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 2)

Review: Dreamgrave – “Monuments” (EP)

Release date: October 26, 2017
Rating: outstanding (4)

Line-up:
Dömötör Gyimesi – vocals, guitars
János Mayer – keyboards
Mária Molnár – vocals
Tamás Tóth – drums
Krisztina Baranyi – violin
Péter Gilián – bass

The first full-length release called “Presentiment” by the Hungarian progressive band Dreamgrave saw the light of day over three years ago and ever since then, “Presentiment” remains an album I listen to on a regular basis. I believe that Dreamgrave’s formula for success is their diversity, and they continue to release great music with their (fairly) new EP “Monuments”. For a more detailed introduction to the band, I suggest reading my (slightly embarrassing) review of Dreamgrave’s debut album on powerofmetal.dk.

I had nothing but the highest expectations of this new release. Still, I was surprised to hear an even broader spectrum of different sounds and styles than I had anticipated, compiled into only three tracks. The EP starts with the track “Drop The Curtain”, which has an atmosphere similar to the two part-track “Presentiment” off the same-named record. This is a beautiful way to create cohesiveness between the two records. “Drop The Curtain”, however, is, in contrast to “Presentiment”, a much more “welcoming” track, less intrinsic. All in all, it’s a succeeded opening track that leaves nothing to be desired. Singer Mária Molnár’s singing style surprised me a little bit, she sounds very much like young Tarja Turunen here. This changes drastically on the next track, however. On “Monuments”, you’ll find skating followed by classical singing (all by the same vocalist!), groovy rhythms, eerie and mysterious acoustic parts, gothic metal in the style of early After Forever, classic progressive metal, and a very intriguing mix of medieval music, prog and jazz towards the end. I would like to be able to describe this track with some kind of adjectives, put a label on it. “Monuments”, however, proves that it is impossible to put a label on everything. Although it took some time for it to grow on me, I now adore this … damn, I’ll just stop searching for the perfect adjective, just give “Monuments” a listen.
Many of the aforementioned influences can be found in the next and last track called “The Passing Faith In Others”. There is one last surprise to be found here – lyrics in Hungarian language, which I heard being spoken every day growing up, but haven’t heard since a few years. I therefore felt connected to this song right away.

There are many reasons why “Monuments” is a critical release for Dreamgrave. It shows much more than “just” three new and outstanding tracks. It shows that Dreamgrave moved beyond their dark, cinematic progressive metal style into territories many metal bands don’t dare to explore. Moreover, it once again shows that they don’t neglect any aspect of their music: From the composition, to the vocal harmonies and the production, everything sounds well taken care of. Especially vocal melodies and harmonies are things that many bands don’t put enough emphasis on.
The crazy thing about Dreamgrave is, beyond all this beautiful music that they are creating, that I always feel like they have only scratched the surface of what is to come. Taking into consideration the music they have been releasing and the steps they have taken on their journey so far, it is safe to say that Dreamgrave is an ever-evolving band that, at least in my eyes (and ears), has truly earned its place in the progressive scene, and I would love to see Dreamgrave growing from an insider tip to a well-known progressive act.

Tracks:
01. Drop The Curtain
02. Monuments
03. The Passing Faith in Others

Review: Epica – The Solace System (EP)

Release date: September 1, 2017
Rating: average (3)

Line-up:
Simone Simons – vocals
Mark Jansen – guitar, vocals
Isaac Delahaye – guitar
Rob van der Loo – bass
Coen Janssen – keyboard
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums

Epica, to me, is the best example of a band that steadily climbed towards success. Nightwish may be the better known band in the genre, but Epica make up for that with hard work – they seem to have been working harder than their Finnish counterpart have for the past five years. Just look at how well they have been developing. They aren’t just another symphonic metal band anymore; Epica have become a symphonic metal powerhouse with all the bells and whistles. Not only do they collaborate with highly acclaimed orchestras and choirs for their very well-frequented shows and studio albums, they also release well-produced videos and have one of the biggest metal labels at their side since ten years.

Epica have even been working so hard that they wrote enough material for their latest full length record “The Holographic Principle” to release an EP called “The Solace System” with the songs that didn’t make it to the album, and this EP is more than overdue to be reviewed. So my first question here is: Why would a band do that? If the material isn’t good enough to make it to a full length album, then it probably isn’t good enough for an EP either. Yes, that is a harsh statement, but these days, I don’t believe that any band can afford releasing mediocre material when everybody knows they can do better. (In this case, though, I do have to add that there are a couple of tracks on “The Holographic Principle” that sound like garbage.) Also, if Mark Jansen and co. are so eager to put out all the material they have been writing, I’d rather have a new Mayan album, as I always liked their quasi Epica-side project more.
Of course, this EP doesn’t sound bad: Take tracks like “Architect Of Light” and “Decoded Poetry” or the heart-warming ballad “Immortal Melancholy” (Epica are great at ballads in general) – beautiful tracks that could have easily made it to “The Holographic Principle” in my opinion. But the rest, and even the aforementioned tracks, sounds so typical of Epica it’s almost ironic. This doesn’t have to be a negative point – if that’s what you want, be my guest. For me, it’s just not enough.
Also, what in the name of God is Simone doing on this EP? Her voice lacks any kind of warmth and emotion. Yes, everyone who knows me also knows that I had a hard time getting used to her vocals until I finally had to admit that she does a pretty good job – sometimes at least. Most of the time, her vocals sound like charivari to me. Additionally, beginning with the last full-length record “The Holographic Principle”, her voice has increasingly been sounding way too autotuned and quite bland most of the time. I much preferred the vocals in Epica ten years ago – just listen to “The Divine Conspiracy” and you will understand what I am talking about. Back then, Simons’ long notes had power and grip to them. Now she is doing … whatever she is doing. I am not attempting to understand what that exactly is, but she is definitely struggling.

The main problem, however, is that Epica are getting predictable: Choirs, epic melodies, heavy riffs and confusing vocals, we know the drill by now. The purpose of this EP probably wasn’t pushing boundaries, I will admit that, so for what this is, it’s solid. I just can’t help but think that Epica have released much better material before. “The Solace System” is average – not more and not less.

Tracks:
01. The Solace System
02. Fight Your Demons
03. Architect Of Light
04. Wheel Of Destiny
05. Immortal Melancholy
06. Decoded Poetry

Review: The Contortionist – “Clairvoyant”

Release date: September 15, 2017
Rating: outstanding (4)

Line-up:

Michael Lessard – vocals
Robby Baca – guitar
Cameron Maynard – guitar
Joey Baca – percussion
Jordan Eberhardt – bass
Eric Guenther – keyboards

I am the type of person who listens to black metal while studying. I am also the type of person who falls asleep to Swallow The Sun. But from time to time, I am like everyone else: I’m craving calm, balanced music, and that’s the kind of music The Contortionist, one of the greatest prog bands on the market, have been offering for the last couple of years. If you aren’t familiar with The Contortionist, note that this band’s style pretty much went from a quite balanced mix of prog rock, djent and deathcore to almost meditative post-rock and fusion in less than ten years. Someone even commented on one of The Contortionist’s music videos saying that their new material feels very soothing for people who struggle with anxiety.

The Contortionist still play progressive music of course, but ever since their third record “Language” released in 2014, it seems as if they have found a niche they enjoy and to which they will probably stick for the future. While there still were some djent and deathcore elements to be found on that album, things have changed a little with “Clairvoyant” – the harsh vocals have completely disappeared and even though there are some heavier parts, they can’t really be compared to The Contortionist’s djent/deathcore past.
One thing I often dislike about progressive bands is how they try to include every single idea they might have had during songwriting without considering if those different elements are in tune with each other. The Contortionist, on the contrary, have been establishing a more simplified approach to songwriting, and have perfected the art of writing songs that flow perfectly from beginning to end and into each other from the first to the last track. That is why discussing every track individually wouldn’t make any sense – you really have to listen to the whole record to understand it. Some beautiful songs, however, are “Godspeed”, “Reimagined” and “Absolve”.
Additionally, I can’t stress enough what great of a vocalist Michael Lessard is. It is not only his ability to change from soft head voice singing to pig squeals that makes him special, but also the fact that he sounds absolutely flawless live. He really has full control over his voice and I particularly enjoy how he incorporates his r’n’b influences into his vocals. On “Clairvoyant”, he dispenses with harsh vocals, though, and to be honest, I do believe that giving up the harsh vocals wasn’t the best idea. I see, however, where The Contortionist wanted to go with this record and that such vocals just wouldn’t fit into the musical concept of “Clairvoyant”.
Another aspect that could be seen as a downside to this record in general is the fact that it flows to the point where it lacks a certain surprise effect. Or, in other words, you could be listening to “Clairvoyant” and there probably wouldn’t be any kind of “WTF!” moment. Of course, a record shouldn’t be solely based on those moments, but a little surprise here and there would be welcome on this particular one. Having Lessard’s whole vocal spectrum would probably enable a more extreme sound dimension to the record and make it even more interesting and enjoyable.

Other than that, I can’t think of anything negative. Just keep in mind that if you are looking for tech metal and djent, The Contortionist isn’t the band to offer you that kind of style of music anymore. Apart from that, I believe that this album can make you happy: It is great at calming you down, and to top it all, it will satisfy any progressive music freak’s need for extraordinary music.

Tracks:
01. Monochrome (Passive)
02. Godspeed
03. Reimagined
04. Clairvoyant
05. The Center
06. Absolve
07. Relapse
08. Return To Earth
09. Monochrome (Pensive)

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