- Lots of fast solos
Affector, a multinational progressive band, even ‘supergroup’ if you will, boasts quite an impressive lineup which left most of us eager to hear their first release; a lineup which brings together strong elements of the bands from which members hail such as Symphony X, Enchant, and the Neal Morse band. What’s more, we excitedly expected a strong keyboard presence from the likes of big name hitters Jordan Rudess, Neal Morse, and Derek Sherinian. On paper, Harmagedon is the kind of album that looks very promising. But how did it actually work out?
I think it worked. Musically speaking, Harmagedon, simply put, is good, solid prog metal. I really enjoyed the fact that Affector is able to walk a fine line of being technical enough to please the prog metal fans while being delicate enough to satisfy my tastes in more subtle aspects of their music. For the most part, the instrumental sections of songs are full of technical wizardry, odd times, and all that other stuff that prog metal bands love, without ever losing sight of musicality. When the vocals enter, the mood often shifts to more melodic, progressive rock; guitars become less heavy, the groove factor on the drums kicks it up a few notches, Lepond’s fantastic bass playing becomes far more noticeable, and Leonard’s vocals take center stage. I felt like this approach really worked for the band since it leaves the impression that this isn’t just a record that’s about wowing teenagers with shredding licks. While the riffing is both catchy and complex, I never really felt like the metal aspects were above and beyond what other progressive metal bands have done; they aren’t breaking any new ground here, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the other end, the more melodic prog rock side of the band doesn’t really define itself with any truly distinct territory in terms of composition or instrumentation either. All that said, I believe that Affector’s strong point is their ability to blend their lighter and heavier sides into something which, while not being groundbreaking, still looks like smart composition full of hooks, mood shifts, and all around rockin’ tunes.
If you are a fan of any of the keyboard players mentioned as ‘guest appearances, you most definitely will get what you are hoping for. Rudess’s solos absolutely smoke, just like you’d expect from him: a constant storm of furious speed, especially on the title track, “Harmageddon,” where his relentless assault of notes will pulverize you. Neal’s keys tend to be more subtle and restrained as he takes the reins on the ballad “Cry,” adding nice touches of ambience and a few subtle leads. “Falling Away and the Rise of the Beast” is absolutely loaded, with two solos by Morse and a couple more by Sherinian. Each of their individual leads are easily distinguishable, with Morse’s solos sounding very much more like classic prog leads and phrasing while Sherinian’s approach is slightly more modern and full of ‘guitar inspired’ tone and nuances. Adding to all of this is Alex Sargento’s synth arrangements across the album, which are subtle, but add a nice touch of ambience to the record. Don’t be fooled though; this is very much a guitar driven record, so if you’re looking for lots of great guitar augmented by keys on hyper-drive, well, you found the place to be.
Moving on to the lyrics, it’s not too rare to see criticism of rock or metal bands that inject their music with primarily Christian themes. However, by taking a peek at reviews online, Affector seems to have figured out how to nail it in a way to please all fans regardless of their beliefs as the band tells the story of the end of the world, primarily through direct quotations of the Bible. Fries and Leijenaar managed to piece together Biblical verses into a narrative that makes sense without resorting to extremes like taking all the most brutal verses from Revelations and gluing them together in an attempt to be ultra-metal or on the other end, sounding like worship music. Instead, the two composers really manage to dig into a variety of sections of this ancient text and pull out/arrange verses that give a meaningful scope and trajectory of the themes that the album presents. The result is a proper treatment of the text to where the lyrics feel weighty, ancient, mystical, epic, and significant from a both a religious and a cultural perspective, eliminating the necessity of a purely Christian audience. In other words, if you like prog metal and prog rock, you’ll probably agree that Fries and Leijenaar did a quality job on arranging the lyrics.
While there are plenty of fantastic musicians on this album, Fries and Leijenaar show themselves as the true backbone of the band. Apart from being the two main composers, Fries is proving himself to be a solid guitar player whose playing is constantly melodic and catchy while Leijenaar not only delivers solid, heavy prog metal drumming, but also does a fine job on the album from the producer seat. In large part, I would guess that it is thanks to him that the album production is tight, punchy and clear. Affector’s first offering proves to be strong and shows potential and room for this band to grow and develop their sound. I don’t see any reason why it would take too long for these guys to establish themselves firmly as key players in the prog metal scene.