|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Dean Wells|
|Record Label: Nightmare||Country Of Origin: Australia|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Teramaze|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 95%|
|Running Time: 78:21|
When someone mentions Australia, normally the first thoughts that comes to mind include kangaroos and koala bears, Crocodile Dundee, the Outback, boomerangs and last but not least, ‘putting another shrimp on the barbie’. The regions rich tradition in the metal and hard rock genres, of course, lends many to also mention AC/DC and Mortification in addition to lesser known (albeit no less able) acts such as Virgin Black and Teramaze. Native to Melbourne, Teramaze got off to a strong start with the technical metal meets speed metal and thrash of its 1995 debut Doxology and melodic metal and hard rock of its sophomore effort Tears To Dust from 1998. Returning with the modern sounds of the Not The Criminal EP in 2001, the group went on extended hiatus - the 2008 digital only compilation Anthology notwithstanding - prior to regrouping for its Nightmare Records 2012 third full length effort Anhedonia in which it mixed aspects of progressive metal with the heavier and melodic based leanings of its first two releases. Teramaze maintains the momentum with its fourth full-length album in Esoteric Symbolism (also Nightmare) that finds it treading similar musical waters but with the heavier penchant for the progressive.
That progressiveness manifests itself in how the Esoteric Symbolism material comes across that much more manifold in comparison to its Anhedonia counterparts. Not that Anhedonia was in any way ‘basic’ or ‘underlying’ - I referred to it as ‘sophisticated’ in the 90% Angelic Warlord review for good reason - but on Esoteric Symbolism Teramaze takes the complexity of its songwriting to the next level. One of the deciding factors is the length to the individual Esoteric Symbolism songs, with five in the seven to eight minute range, while Anhedonia includes just one seven-minute piece (also reinforcing that at 78 minutes Esoteric Symbolism is the longer release by roughly 25 minutes). The best way to describe the album accordingly might be ‘meticulous’ instead, particularly in light of how richly textured and woven with detail its material is- keeping in mind this is an observation and in no way suggests Anhedonia to be the musically inferior work (if anything both albums are neck and neck in this regard).
It does not get much more progressive than opening tracks “All Seeing Eye” and “Line Of Symmetry”, which I consider one ten-minute song. Former comes across in the form of an instrumental as cinematic overtures and classical keyboards give way to up-tempo riffing and intricate drumming (it deserves mention the airtight work of timekeeper Dean Kennedy). Latter moves its first two minutes calmly to rich acoustic guitar and profound bass only to maneuver a maze of time signatures its remaining five: Trenchant guitars kick in and establish a keyed up effect only to have initiative drop out for occasional passages in which a gentler touch is revisited. All the while, a profound melody stands out.
In similar fashion, “Order Out Of Chaos” (another seven minutes) also reinforces a melodic foundation, with refined harmony vocals and succinct guitars aligning with an elevated chorus to create an accessible milieu. The occasional extreme vocal in the backdrop contrasts with the scintillating scene. “Darkest Days Of Symphony” (also seven minutes) proves every bit engaging, initially moving its first stilly done minutes in atmospheric fashion but gains tempo as assailing guitars take over and power the way through the emphatic verses. Initiative tapers to a crawl for nothing less a near mesmerizing refrain.
“In Vitro” (albums lengthiest at eight minutes) maintains the convoluted songwriting, as musical twists and turns that navigate jazzy passages upheld by grand piano and classical tinctures and others taking an assertive heading in backed by an indomitable rhythm section. It also deserves mention the generous instrumental portion in which guitarist Dean Wells displays his radiant soloing. “Esoteric Symbolism” (last of the seven minute pieces) rates with the albums moodiest, as swarthy moments of a moving (if not halcyon) nature trade off with those that reflect a stauncher and sterner demeanor. Instrumental section reflects a fusion-ish aspect.
Teramaze proves on Esoteric Symbolism that you can create progressive music that is both elaborate and extended but includes the needed melody not to lose the listener at the same time. If anything, Esoteric Symbolism hearkens back to Tears To Dust in this capacity, although treading much different musical waters. Consider also that when placed side by side, Anhedonia comes across as the all around more resolute release in reflecting many of those heavier qualities to Doxology (at least that is what my ears are hearing). It deserves mention that vocalist Brett Rerekura evens things out in taking the smoother approach as opposed to his performance on Anhedonia (or Doxology for that matter), which found him adding the greater backbone and lower register angst to his delivery.
Slightly abbreviated though no less progressive are “Spawn”, with its divergences between reflective verses with lighter guitar tones and perseverant chorus that ascends with the best of them, and “Bodies Of Betrayal”, an adrenaline fueled barnburner with a driven mentality and heavy hitting riffs but that can also calm for reticent passages mirroring the milder tone. “Punishment By Design” hints of UK progressive masters Threshold with its brash guitar riffs and how Rerekura lowers his register with some gutsy flavorings not unlike those of the late Andy “Mac” McDermott. Outside that, the song is aggressive manifest with a victorious feel and non-stop exuberance.
Teramaze is also not afraid to explore musical territory outside the progressive framework. “Transhumanist” proves an unremitting speed metal romp with fixed double bass and lightning-like riffing. Fans of Doxology will embrace this one. “The Divulgence Act” gives rise to a European metal slant in playing up symphonic keyboards and somber aura bordering on the moody. A cinematic quality comes to the forefront in the process. Likewise, “Dust Of Martyrs” accents symphonic keyboards to create a palatial feel in delivering the heavier sound, with militant riffs and periodic courser backing vocals setting the pointed tone. The straight on power metal of “Parallels/Dual Reality” rounds things out, as a plundering mid-paced tone is set in soaring for crescendo like peaks and reaching down for indomitable lows (not to mention featuring the albums best stretch of bristling lead guitar).
Transparent production finds all instrumentation evenly standing out- polished but not to a fault; equally precise in allowing the groups energy to shine through. Cover art aligns with the at times melancholic and swarthy feel to the music at hand. Lone complaint, however, is the small font in the liner notes makes it difficult to read lyrics.
Teramaze transitioned from the openly Christian lyrics of Doxology and Tears To Dust to a positive metal approach for Anhedonia. Esoteric Symbolism follows suite, noting how the group (which thanks God in the liner notes) still makes the occasional statement of faith, as it does on “Dust Of Martyrs” - Thy will’s be done. Thy will’s begun. I have decided to put my trust in pure light. Save us from the reign. Bring us back the Son - and “Bodies Of Betrayal”: You only have to believe in. Something you cannot see. You ask me if I should stay here. What are you waiting for. You only have to believe in…
Lyrics otherwise reflect the at times moody and contemplative feel to the music at hand. This manifests itself on “Darkest Days Of Symphony - In the darkest days. And through the darkest night. Fear will harden the hearts of man. We’re into the darkest days. And into the brightest night we fall - and “The Divulgence Act: We consume the world today
And we’ll hide behind the rain. We fall beside what’s right. As we save the world tonight. We will walk behind the reign. As we celebrate denial. We will never fall again. “Punishment By Design” stands out in this capacity as well: Live it all in vain. To see you at the end. Like a road that’s built with scars. That you don’t understand. What are you waiting for now.
The strength to Esoteric Symbolism resides in how well it hold up despite its 78-minute length: I’m as big a ‘prog’ fan as anyone but often my patience wears thin from progressive bands that insist on filling an 80 minute CD to full capacity (regardless of quality). Not so with Esoteric Symbolism in that Teramaze strikes the perfect balance between melody and variety to keep things fresh with repeat listen. The main difference being how every one of its 78 minutes counts- you would think an album this length would have at least one skip button or occasional trite moment but the bands consistency shines through and leaves one impressed with how it came up with such a high volume of quality material. In the end, Esoteric Symbolism (in my opinion) is the best progressive release of 2014.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “All Seeing Eye” (3:34), “Line Of Symmetry” (6:59), “Transhumanist” (4:17), “Bodies Of Betrayal” (6:34), “Parallels/Dual Reality” (4:50), “Spawn” (5:10), “Punishment By Design” (5:29), “Dust Of Martyrs” (5:18), “The Divulgence Act” (6:07), “Esoteric Symbolism” (7:13), “Order Out Of Chaos” (7:17), “Darkest Days Of Symphony” (7:34), “In Vitro” (7:59)
Brett Rerekura - Lead Vocals
Dean Wells - Guitars, Bass & Keyboards
John Zambelis - Guitars
Dean Kennedy - Drums
Dave Holley - Strings, Piano & Keyboards