I has a sad. Why, you might ask? Well, I’m sitting here with the following album reviews and realizing things did not go how I had hoped. I generally try to review mostly albums that I really liked, with the idea in mind that most people are more interested in reading about album they would like to check out rather than ones that they would like to avoid. Therefore, when I chose to review these albums it’s because upon first listen I thought they were strong albums and decided to put them on my review list. In this case, unfortunately, my opinion changed when I actually decided to listen to them closely for review. So, why did I end up including them in my reviews anyways? Because I think that you guys might still think they’re strong albums despite my opinions and ratings that follow. Am I just weird? Maybe. Did I have a bad day? I don’t think so. But, I do think that all of these albums have something strong to offer to particular fans.
Reign of the Architect – Rise
I went into Reign of the Architect pretty excited due to two criteria: it has one of the absolute raddest album cover artworks ever and it’s associated with Yuval Kramer (Amaseffer). Throw in an Ayreon style cast of singers, Joost Van Den Broek on keys and Michael LePond on bass and the expectations just continue to skyrocket. Yet, in the end, what seemed to be a very promising album ended up being a bit of a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.
Let me start by saying that in general the songs follow a pretty simple/standard song format that includes a few melodic and riffing ideas without spreading out in epic ways. This isn’t really a problem because there are a lot of good songs here. Particuarly what caught my attention from the start was the variety in the album. The beginning of the album sort of spells this out as it transitions from “Different Heart” to “Hymn to Loneliness,” a shift from slow (but heavy) melancholy music with excellent singers and orchestral elements to a female vocal driven keyboard ballad with percussion that hints at electronic. By the time we get to the third track, “False,” we see a full on explosion of heavy symphonic with an impressive interweaving of vocals over an incredibly dark atmosphere. We even get a little surprise fusion guitar solo in there! With “Such a Celebration” we get a very epic non-heavy piece that starts out with acoustic guitar and vocals but merges into an ultra-eerie symphonic piece with haunting use of group vocals that sent a shiver down my spine.
Up til now I was very impressed with the quality of the songwriting, but suddenly it became very inconsistent as the album began to inject generic metal songs with vocals that left much to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, I can put up with a lot from metal vocals (I am also an extreme metal fan), but there was something quite off about songs like “Leaking Wounds,” “Distant Similarities,” “As the Old Turns to Sorrow,” and “Hopeless War.” There were some solid pieces in between, like “One Single Sour Grape” with its fantastic juxtoposition between tormented vocal delivery and delicate acoustic guitar/piano, as well as a really cool chorus on “Crown of Shattered Dreams.”
Overall, Reign of the Architect’s debut hints at some great things, but ends up being inconsistent. Definitely worth checking out, just keep in mind that not every track is necessarily going to appeal to everyone.
Unreal City – La Crudelta di Aprile
As a general rule of thumb, if it’s symphonic prog and it’s Italian, I’m pretty much going to love it by default, as many of you may already know based on my past reviews. This one just didn’t sit right with me though; I know some people are going to be really upset with me for this low rating. In fact, I am surprised myself because this was one of those albums that when I listened to casually in the background I was pretty excited about it. Couple that with the fact that it has rave reviews, a fantastic music video, and has connections to Fabio Zufanti, this album screams out “winner!” But, the problem starts when I decided to sit down and spend some quality time with La Crudelta di Aprile, just me and the music, no distractions. In reality, I didn’t find it nearly as exciting as I had previously thought, despite the fact that it is an extremely well recorded and produced album.
“Dell’innocenza perduta” shows us right from the start what the album is more or less all about: 70’s style prog (particularly in the choice of instruments) blended with a sort of pop rock style songwriting, particularly in the vocal parts which in this case are backed by acoustic guitar/piano and stay in simple time. Throw in some organ soloing and galloping snare to kick up the pace towards the end and we get a solid opener. In comes “Atlantis,” starting off promising with some dark Mellotron/Moog/piano intro and delivering an almost gothic sound. Once the vocals came in though it kind of died, in my opinion as the vocal lines didn’t seem particularly interesting and I began to realize that Tarasconi’s voice, while not being bad, isn’t powerful enough or quirky enough to grab me. “Atlantis” isn’t without it’s strong moments though, as the harpsichord section in the middle gave me a huge grin and proved to be a highlight. “Catabasi” proved itself to be a good track with its huge cathedral organ intro and nice inclusion of string instruments and solid use of Mellotron in the instrumental section.
If you haven’t seen the music video yet, be sure to check out “Dove la luce e piu intensa,” as it shows how young and energetic these guys are as they run around the woods in gothic makeup and cool outfits. The intro immediately hints of GG, great melodies float around everywhere, and there’s quite a bit that reminds me of La Maschera di Cera, particularly after the first chorus when the Moog comes in. Speaking of which, you don’t want to miss the cameo by Mr. Fabio Zuffanti himself in this piece which I would say is the highlight of the album. From here we get “Ecate,” a song exhibiting a number of influences, obviously the 70’s prog, but there’s even a bit of reggae flavor on here in the syncopated guitars. Some of the transitions are a bit rough on this one, but there’s defintely some good moments. And that takes us to the final track, “Horror Vacui,” clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, I surprisingly don’t have much to say about this one other than if you listened to the rest of the album up to this point it’s pretty much a lot of the same: mid-tempo rock, sort of poppy with lots of classic 70’s sounding instrumental parts in between.
Despite everything looking good on the surface level, I’m not really sure that I’d consider this album successful, according to my very personal tastes. It had some really great moments, however, the band never really seemed to find that sweet spot where something got really impressive. If you’re looking for something that has those vintage sounds, loads of Mellotron, Hammond, and Moog, and aren’t really looking for something groundbreaking, you’ll probably love this record. For me though, it’s not an album I can really sit down with and be drawn in.
Art Deco –Syvaan Uneen
Syvaan Uneen, for me, turns out to be an album that seems to kind of float around musically between genres without firmly planting it’s feed. The weird thing is that it manages to do so while seeming coherent as a record. Touching on aspects of fusion, rock, pop, and prog, Art Deco maintains a distinctive sound due to their consistent use of the female lead singer and its main interest revolving around interesting chord changes rather than technical virtuosity. While most tracks stay pretty light, such as “Suurin Panoksin” with its head nodding groove and the largely piano driven “Kymmenen Kaskya,” other tracks like the lengthy “Valaistumattomat” take on a bit of a darker approach and incorporate a bit of crunchy guitar. Then there’s “Ikuiseen uneen,” a song that I really struggled to enjoy due to the pop element and overall 80’s tone (particularly in the power-snare). On the electric side we find tracks like “Pala Kerrallaan” which incorporates a mix of very danceable beats, syncopated guitar, and something in the vibe that strikes me as a blend of traditional and modern. While Syvaan Uneen was a decent album, I feel that it targets a pretty particular type of fan or perhaps a scene that I am less familiar with, the result being that it didn’t do much to me. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for something different, or if you come in from a background that’s a bit more indie oriented, you might want to check this out.