|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Jon Martin|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Rite Of Passage|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 60:39|
There are some things you can predict about a progressive metal album. That it will draw upon the tradition of progressive rock is a given: Emphasizing experimental (if not less than conventional) compositional structures characterized by complex themes and intricate time signatures (with musical interludes that bridge separate sections together). A corresponding priority placed on lengthy songwriting in which extended pieces can exceed twenty-minutes or more. Equally important is a high degree of musicianship, which manifests itself in protracted instrumental passages that find group improvisation holding sway. Borrowing facets from other genres such as classical music, jazz fusion, folk and symphonic rock is also the norm.
That it reflects the influence of heavy metal is taken as a read, too. Often considered a progressive rock sub genre, progressive metal reinforces many of the aforementioned qualities and combines them with the all around more aggressive and riff driven nature of metal music- or at the very least the distorted guitars and faster rhythms that go hand in hand. Throw in frequent use of keyboards (at least in comparison to some forms of metal) with a high-pitched vocalist and the picture is complete. In other words, those defining progressive metal as “combining the sophisticated grandeur of progressive rock with the power and heaviness of heavy metal” have the right idea.
The commercial success of foundational acts such as Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensrche helped pave the way for a myriad of other progressive metal bands that came out of the woodwork and developed their own signature sound. Detroit, Michigan based Rite Of Passage is one such group. Founded in 2010 by guitarist Kurt Spranger, Rite Of Passage rounded out its remaining line up over an eight-month period with some of the best Detroit area musicians, including vocalist Bill Quigley, keyboardist Justin Valente, bassist Jon Martin and drummer Rob Barton.
What sets Rite Of Passage apart is how its independently released 2014 debut Angels & Demons stays equally true to both the ‘progressive’ and ‘metal’ side of things. If you are like me, you have encountered bands that label themselves ‘progressive’ but when you go beneath the surface are not progressive as advertised. Songs of said bands might follow a typical verse-chorus-verse format or simply be lengthier in comparison to some but otherwise are not that progressive to begin with. Not so with Rite Of Passage, who compose lengthy material - Angels & Demons features just eight songs but over 60 minutes of music - but are not afraid to imbue it with both that ‘sophisticated grandeur’ and ‘power and heaviness’ in question.
Opening Angels & Demons track “Breaking Through The Walls” follows suite, flowing its length to ethereal touches but rooted on a bedrock of muscular guitars at the same time. The upshot is a laid back (if not ominous) setting that has sublime written all over it. Consider how, for instance, piano leads the way through the grand instrumental moments. The song also introduces vocalist Bill Quigley, who brings a lower register and mid-ranged delivery dressed in rich and impassioned flavorings. Credit Rite Of Passage in this capacity for not going the all too common high-pitched vocalist route.
“Dream Horizon” highlights a European metal flair (sort of like Absolon). The song opens its first minute to an atmospheric blending of distant guitars and sweeping keyboards only to break out as weighty guitars kick in to fortify its uplifting verses. Impetus, nonetheless, descends to a near crawl for a placid refrain in which guitars drift in and out of the mix. Instrumentally, the song allows Kurt Spranger to showcase his flashy soloing abilities. A second instrumental excursion closing the song out even reflects a jazz fusion touch.
A ticking clock joined hauntingly by keyboards and trenchant guitars begins “Before Midnight”, a track on the decidedly heavier side of things. Tumultuous is the feel as the song plows ahead, with perfectly placed eerie keyboards leading the way as an almost doom-ish tincture is obtained, particularly for the coercive refrain. Grand piano returns to underline the instrumental passage in which Spranger continues to shine. A joining of the power of Jacobs Dream with the darker character to Suspyre is the feel at hand.
Also taking a heavier slant is “Change & Transition”. The song starts to piano and a breathing bass line (the work of Jon Martin cannot be understated), sustaining the slowly moving proclivities only to pick up tempo as guitars step forward for its imposing remaining distance as melancholic moments trade off with those approaching the mirthful. The multiple instrumental sections reveal the groups versatility: Able to exhibit its musicianship in a concise package but not overdue it in the progress (as can happen to some within the progressive genre).
Narration from Genesis Chapter One interwoven with acoustic guitar introduces the albums title track (a medieval flair comes to the forefront in the process). A corresponding dramatic milieu can be found in “Angels & Demons”, reflected from how moving forward it includes a histrionic trade off between Quigley and backing vocals repeating the songs title and final minute featuring the original radio broadcast of the Apollo lunar landings. Momentous? Yes, but also exhibiting a creative if not experimental feel.
Aptly titled “Dark Necessity” ensues, as swarthy and melancholic a piece as you will find (Do I detect a faint hint of technical metal era Deliverance?). Quigley sings at his smoothest and emotive best, interweaving with a delectable joining of pivotal guitars and grave piano. Song takes an even further reverberant turn for the instrumental moments that find eerie voices, shred soloing and serene keyboards holding sway.
Lone ballad “Saying Goodbye” fits the dour setting at hand. Lighter guitar touches (in by no means a bad sense) impel things at the start, only to give way to tranquilly done passages that align with those taking the more forthright stance in which guitars return in full force. A prodigious melody rises to the surface along with a contemplative aura that co-lead vocalist Stefanie Dillard brings to the table. This is the least progressive of the albums material but good all the same.
Ten minute closer represents a return to some jazzy fusion elements for its instrumental first two minutes. Remaining eight power ahead as band makes its signature statement, upholding a clamorous mood as understated melodies and technical aptitude (note the intricate timekeeping of Rob Barton) combine for a triumphant focus with good coming out on top in the end. The extended instrumental run (by far the albums best) borders on breathtaking as potent lead guitar gives way to classical instrumentation. Theocracy could not do it better.
I have never been a fan of digi-paks, but Rite Of Passage set the standard in the area, with a professionally done 4-panel gatefold that includes easy to read lyrics and liner notes along with immaculately done front and back cover artwork. Production, on the other hand, could use some tightening. Yes, some thinness throughout but not to the point of distraction, keeping in mind things would improve with a touch of big budget polish. When factoring Angels & Demons is a self-financed independent release, I see this area reflecting an upgrade on any subsequent project from the group.
Do not mistake Rite Of Passage for a Christian band. That said Angels & Demons does have a theme of man’s conflict with good and evil and the struggle to save the earth- not to mention man’s search for peace, his hopes and dreams, and sacrifices he must make to survive. Angels & Demons reminds me of other good vs. evil concept albums such as Absolon’s Darkness Rising and Hedda’s The Storm from this standpoint.
As expected, there is a spiritual warfare basis to the material here, as can be found on the albums title track:
The enemy lines up before me
Seeking to bring forth my fall
Angels come forth to aid me
Giving me the strength I need
I move into the fray before me
To win this challenge is my resolve
Angelic forces and demon bane
Surround me where I am
Finding reason in what’s unexplained
Each one asks me to choose
The line between darkness and light
Blurs in the search for the truth
The choice in question comes into further light on “Change & Transition” -
Looking at life, this change and transition
Things before now seemed so much better
What brought me here to this position?
Leading me through this strange endeavor
Life has come now with a decision
Where to go now fills up my mind
How can I change when filled with derision?
To make amends is the path for this life
- and “Before Midnight”:
The world around me, swirls in brilliant light
Understanding what I need gives me second sight
The knowledge enters me, showing me the way
My trials are over now, I am free to say
That I am free this day
“Flash Of Clarity” finds good ultimately prevailing over evil in the end:
The darkness closes in around me
Threatening to pull me down
The pain of your loss is overwhelming
In engulfing agony I drown
The pain of this despondence takes me down
As path consigned with doom
But just as depression overtakes me
A radiant light pierces the gloom
Accuse me of being biased but progressive metal songs in the seven to eight minute range rank with my favorite forms of hard music; such is what we have in the Rite Of Passage full-length debut Angels & Demons. Credit the group in this regard for imbuing its material with just the right balance of progressive elements and guitar driven tendencies inherit to the metal genre. Some thinness to production notwithstanding, quality packaging and a mid-ranged vocal approach are added bonuses. Fans of progressive metal albums with a unifying theme lyrically would be well served to check Angels & Demons out.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Breaking Through The Walls” (7:14), “Dream Horizon” (6:35), “Before Midnight” (7:53), “Change & Transition” (8:58), “Angels & Demons” (7:21), “Dark Necessity” (7:35), “Saying Goodbye: (5:06), “Flashy Of Clarity” (9:53)
Bill Quigley - Lead Vocals & Keyboards
Kurt Spranger - Guitars
Justin Valente - Piano & Keyboards
Jon Martin - Bass
Rob Barton - Drums, Congas & Percussion
Stefanie Dillard - Lead Vocals