|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Colin Leijenaar|
|Record Label: Inside Out||Country Of Origin: Varies|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website: Affector|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 100%|
|Running Time: 64:31|
International group Affector does the Dream Theater meets Symphony X meets Shadow Gallery meets fill-in-the-name-of-whatever-progressive-metal-band-you-want thing as well as anyone. The brainchild of German guitarist Daniel Fries, Affector can trace its beginnings to the early 2005 compositions put together by Fries subsequent to his departure from the progressive rock group Divinity. Fries initially intended for the group’s Inside Out spring of 2012 full length debut Harmagedon to be an instrumental album, but he felt inspired to turn it into a vocal release from the advice of a label showing interest in one of his demo recordings.
Inspired being the key word in that Harmagedon is a concept album based around the Biblical Apocalypse and End Times that, according to the groups press material, “fuses dark apocalyptic scenery with themes of hope and light”. In terms of specifics, Harmagedon consists mainly of Biblical text set to progressive music while taking a panoramic view of the subject tin addressing topics ranging from Isaiah 53, the Second Coming, the Antichrist, Battle of Armageddon and the New Jerusalem.
Musically, Harmagedon presents with some of the most technical and intricate material this reviewer has heard in some time. Fries, in other words, wears his progressive background on his sleeves in no uncertain terms! Complex arrangements abound, reflected in the back and forth from heavy to mellow time signatures on eight minute pieces “Salvation” and “Falling Away & The Rise Of The Beast”. Either way, the two uphold the albums emphasis on both the “rock” and “metal” aspects to the progressive.
Harmagedon delivers a couple epics as well. The albums title track and “The Rapture” each exceed ten minutes with their labyrinth-like twists and turns and instrumental jam based proclivity. Keeping in mind the project was initially slated as an instrumental release this, obviously, should not surprise. Affector actually reminds me Darkwater’s debut Calling The Earth To Witness in this capacity due to the manner in which the group takes every opportunity to explore its instrumental sound: when added up roughly half the running time to Harmagedon is instrumental.
Staying true to the theme are opening instrumental tracks “Overture Part 1: Introduction” and “Overture Part 2 Prologue”, with the former keyboard driven and latter carried by tight harmonies and explosive soloing. Either way it is the instrumental moments where Fries, whose influences include John Petrucci, Steve Morse, Michael Romeo, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Al DiMeola, Yngwie Malmsteen, shines. The guy is nothing less than world class, as can be found in the technical riffs, majestic harmonies and sublime soloing he bestows throughout.
Where Affector also reminds me of Calling The Earth To Witness is in its understated melodies. Yes, melody makes its presence felt but subtly in that several listens are required in order for it to fully grow on you. Needless to say, repeat play reveals Harmagedon to be well worth the time and effort!
Those interested in melody need look no further than “New Jerusalem” (a haunting semi-ballad that brings to mind Shadow Gallery with its accessible touches) and acoustic laced “Cry Song” (the albums softest and most laid back). It is on these two that vocalist Ted Leonard, whose Christian hard rock solo album Way Home was reviewed by Angelic Warlord in 2007, stands out with his soulful and even mid-ranged presence. Performance wise Leonard is quite impressive in fitting the mood of the music at hand, whether it is the emotion he bestows the refrain to “Salvation” or smoother and stately touches he imbues “Falling Away & Rise Of The Beast”.
Rounding out the Affector line-up - and this is there that “international” designation comes into play - are Dutch drummer Collin Leijenaar (Neal Morse) and American bassist Mike LePond (Symphony X). Guest keyboard appearances from Alex Argento, Neal Morse, Jordan Rudess and Derek Sherinian help keep the album a fresh listen in that each bring their unique spin to their individual tracks.
As far as the perfect score goes, please keep in mind that I am not trying to be “Monty Hall” here, at least when considering you will find only one other 100% grade in the Angelic Warlord archives (Kerry Livgren’s Seeds Of Change). So it is not like I am in the habit of handing out perfect scores like candy on Halloween. Regardless, I encourage you to pick up what amounts in Harmagedon one of the standout releases of the past decade- keeping in mind the Christian progressive metal scene has been somewhat skimpy the same time period: Yes, Timesword, Menahem and Revelation Project are all good but Affector takes things to the next level and then some!
Track By Track
The album gets underway to a pair of “Overture” instrumentals in “Part 1: Introduction” and “Part 2: Prologue”. The first is the calmer, running its short length (1:49) to cinematic orchestration and keyboards, and second more upbeat with a heavier rocking mentality allowing for forward guitars and impassioned soloing. Some melodic harmonies make their presence felt as well. Either way I am reminded of the instrumental pieces that frequent Shadow Gallery albums Tyranny and Room V.
The nine minute “Salvation” brings its share of variances. The song starts slowly to acoustic guitars that uphold gently flowing verses expounding upon Isaiah 53:
He was despised, and rejected by men;
A man of suffering, and acquainted with disease.
He was despised as one whom men hide their face;
And we didn’t respect Him
Surely He was borne our sickness, and our suffering
But He was pierced for our transgressions
He was crushed for our iniquities
The punishment that brought our peace was on Him
And by his wounds…
Impetus, however, can explode at a moments notice for a more forthright chorus that builds upon the theme:
…we are healed. All like sheep have gone astray..
Everyone has turned to his own way
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all
In between you will find powerful instrumental excursions running the gamut from temperate harmonies to ethereal keyboards moments to heavier passages carried by brazen soloing.
“The Rapture” proves another instrumentally heavy song. Over half its 14 minutes are instrumental, including the two minute introduction featuring a joining of screaming organ and pounding drums. Verses maintain the staunch mid-paced momentum as 1 Thessalonians 4 is the subject at hand:
For if we believe that Yeshua died and rose again
Even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Yeshua
For this we tell you by the Word of the Lord
That we who are alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord
Will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout
With the voice of the archangel, and the shofar of God
The brief but staunch chorus that follows is delivered with added muscle:
So we will be with the Lord forever
An instrumental portion carrying the song to its halfway point is driven by a joining of jam based proclivities, metal laced riffing and guitar harmonies backed by piano. Things briefly break for a worshipful passage -
Pray without ceasing
In everything give thanks
For this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua towards you
- before the instrumental emphasis returns for another three and a half minutes as Fries carries things forward with his scintillating lead guitar abilities. The creativity displayed here is overwhelming.
The joyful “Cry Song” serves to divide the albums first and second halves. The song brings a delicate flavor, as can be found in its touches of the serene and airy acoustic aspects. Lyrics match the comforting nature to the music:
He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes
Death will be no more;
Neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more
The first things have passed away
As suggested from its title, “Falling Away & Rise Of The Beast” covers a lot of territory, both musically and lyrically. The songs first two verses trace off, with the first taking a heavier stances as stalwart guitars uphold a message based around 2 Timothy 3:
But know this that in the last days, grievous times will come
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, unthankful,
Unholy, unforgiving, without self-control, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
Things decelerate to an acoustic guitar for the second with its emphasis on Matthew 24:
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars
See that you aren’t troubled, for all this must happen
But the end is not yet
For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom
And there will be famines, plagues and earthquakes in various places
Impetus slowly builds back to a heavier direction - including narration over Matthew 2:3 - prior to the song closing with several instrumental stretches in which Neal Morse and Derek Sherinian stretch in the keyboard solo department. The songs final verses sums things up best:
I am the Alef and the Tav
The First and the Last
The Beginning and the End
“Harmagedon”, the albums second epic at thirteen minutes, brings so many twists and turns it is next to impossible to go into adequate detail. First, you have frenetic passages - almost speed metal in capacity - that deal with Revelation 16 and 19:
I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon
And out of the mouth of the beast
And out of the mouth of the false prophet
Three unclean spirits, something like frogs
I saw the beast and the kings of the earth
And their armies, together to make war
Against Him who sat on the horse
And against His army
Things can also decelerate to a near standstill as stilly done guitars back worshipful moments reflecting upon Revelation 11:
I saw the heaven opened
And behold a white horse
And He who sat on it is called Faithful and True
In righteousness He judges and makes war
In between a majestically done chorus done chorus draws its lyrics from Revelation 15:
Behold, I come like a thief
Blessed is He who watches and keeps his clothes
So that He doesn’t walk naked and they see His shame
Plenty of instrumental moments raise there head as well, including an extension mid-song interlude featuring keyboard solos, tight harmonies and even a jazzy jam based stretch in addition to the final minutes playing up some over the top soloing.
Closing things is the melody driven “New Jerusalem”. The song brings a palatial feel, as can be found in sublime verses in which Revelation 21 is the subject at hand -
I saw a new heaven and earth:
For the first heaven and earth have passed away
And the sea is no more
I saw the holy city
New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven
- and a catchy chorus brightened by keyboards drawing upon the same passage:
Behold, I am making all things new
I am the Alef and the Tav
The Beginning and the End
I will give freely to him who is thirsty
From the spring of the water of life
No, this one might not be instrumentally heavy as many here but serves its role in summing things up with its apocalyptic aura (both musically and lyrically).
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track-listing: “Overture Part 1: Introduction” (1:49), Overture Part 2 Prologue” (5:35), “Salvation” (8:48), “The Rapture” (14:06), “Cry Song” (5:35), “Falling Away & Rise Of The Beast” (8:01), “Harmagedon” (13:00), “New Jerusalem” (7:35)
Ted Leonard - Vocals
Daniel Fries - Guitars
Mike LePond - Bass
Collin Leijenaar - Drums
Alex Argento, Jordan Rudess, Neal Morse & Derek Sherinian - Keyboards