|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Ulterium||Country Of Origin: Varies|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
It’s easy to understand the appeal of progressive rock. It’s a creative, distinct, complex genre that is capable of making an artistic statement in a number of areas - lengthy songwriting, unconventional compositional structures and extensive instrumental proclivity - while drawing upon just about every hard music form imaginable. That said, progressive rock also isn’t for everyone, for those very same reasons: it’s a genre exclusive to lengthy songwriting, unconventional compositional structures and extensive instrumental proclivity that demands - not wants - your undivided attention. When not wowing you with its technical intricacies, outside the box inventiveness and twists and turns of an unexpected nature, progressive rock can also bog down in unwanted detail and unnecessarily protracted songwriting that leaves accessibility ultimately falling by the wayside.
I remain as much a progressive music fan as anyone, particularly in light of how many of my favorite artists include Veni Domine, Kerry Livgren (not just Kansas but also his work in AD & Proto-Kaw), Neal Morse (solo albums & various bands & side projects), Shadow Gallery, Affector and Theocracy. All the previously noted (positive) idiosyncrasies associated with the genre I embrace wholeheartedly, and I do not mind when a progressive act takes every opportunity to stretch its creative boundaries. Where I draw the line, however, is with progressive songwriting that results in each song on an album being of epic length (i.e. minimum ten minutes) or longer. Most progressive artists do a good job mixing songs of normal (4 to 6 minutes) length with their more protracted counterparts, although there are the notable few that fail to bring the same level of variety and can test the listeners patience accordingly.
To which category does all-star progressive metal band Waken Eyes belong? Fortunately, it is the former that applies in that much of the material on the Waken Eyes fall of 2015 Ulterium Records full length debut Exodus falls within tasteful six to eight minute territory, with the longest the awesome 19 minute epic at the end and shortest a couple four minute instrumentals. It is such variance that helps make Waken Eyes a refreshing listen in that the group proves progressive - said lengthy songwriting, unconventional compositional structures and extensive instrumental proclivity make their presence felt - but not to a fault or point of alienating the listener.
Waken Eyes can trace its origin to the early 2013 demo material of founding member and guitarist/keyboards Tom Frelek, who had developed inspiration to form a progressive metal band characterized by ‘catchy melodies, challenging instrumental parts and epic cinematic movements’. Once his demo work was complete, Frelek proceeded to round out the Waken Eyes line up with vocalist Henrik Båth (Darkwater), bassist Mike Lepond (Symphony X) and drummer Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani) and turned it into a ‘super group’ in the process.
Exodus opens to “Cognition”, a multifarious instrumental that moves its lighter first half to a pensive joining of keyboards and piano prior to a crescendo of adamant rhythm guitars cutting in and carrying things to their resolute close. Second instrumental (and albums seventh track) “Still Life” proves overall more laid back, exquisitely drifting its length to a bluesy amalgamating of silky lead guitar and composed acoustic guitar. I appreciate how Waken Eyes turned the two into full-length instrumentals as opposed to going the shorter interlude route that many within the power/progressive segments are in the habit of doing.
Of the six-minute material, “Deafening Thoughts” comes across dark and ominous with its trenchant guitars (that periodically impel to the front of the mix) and symphonic keyboard (which lend a classical quality). Rounding things out is the fusion based instrumental section. “Back To Life” almost reflects a semi-ballad touch as ethereal guitars gently carry the wistful verses, while stauncher rhythm guitars buttress the momentous refrain. Interesting how narration from Martin Luther King, Jr. intersperses throughout. Inherit to the two are the melodically tinged vocals of Båth, who aligns perfectly with the progressive environs at hand with his smoothly flowing and heartfelt expression. His vast experience with Darkwater and Harmony proves crucial here.
“Cornerstone Away” is my favorite of the seven-minute tracks. The song highlights a classic rock flair from its joining of acoustic and understated rhythm guitar with albums most profound melody. Some fantastic instrumental moments stand out, including the searing lead guitar based middle section and guitar feedback driven final two minutes. “Palisades” reflects some symphonic power metal nuances, establishing a mercurial tempo that finds gritty guitars approaching the classical and atmospheric keyboards contesting. Minnemann stands out with his spot on timekeeping abilities.
Exodus features a trio of tracks in the eight-minute range. “Aberration’ proves perfectly majestic with its stunning guitar harmonies, light and melodic in places, but also smooth and jazzy and even bluesy at times. Piano and orchestration lend further texturing. “Arise” sets the heavier, darker and faster tone, forward and pointed in its disposition with its precocious guitar sound and hints of piano that magnify the discord at hand. Symphony X cannot help but come to mind. “Across The Horizon” maintains the heaviness but in the more mid-paced package. The song proves slow and staunch in giving rise to full on emotion but can also calm for slower moments in which it drifts in ethereal fashion. Inherit to the three are instrumental moments of tasteful length in which Frelek highlights his varies soloing abilities (bluesy, neo-classical, shred, etc).
Albums nineteen minute title track is epic as it gets. Those into other compositions of similar length such as “Mirror Of Souls” by Theocracy (off the album of the same name from 2008) and Veni Domine’s “The Chronicle Of The Seven Seals” (from the 1992 debut Fall Babylon Fall) will feel right at home here.
As with many epics, significant portions (roughly 12 minutes) of “Exodus” are instrumental, with an equal division between gentle and tranquil moments upheld by atmospheric keyboards (which almost reflect a New-Age touch) and others taking the more forthright heading (featuring some of the albums heavier moments not to mention keyed up lead guitar). Remaining seven minutes also divide between quieter portions, stilly done to laid back acoustic and keyboard accompaniments, and those in which riled guitars hold sway, energetic and times raucous but generous in melody at the same time. Rounding things out is more narration from several well-known historical figures (Roosevelt, Kennedy, etc).
While not conceptually based, Exodus does have a theme about being fearless in the face of the struggles of everyday life. In other words, the album focuses on how people, emotions, media and governments can enforce fear upon you to make you think a certain way or to more or less control you. Hence, how Exodus is for those who struggle to stand up for themselves and can’t let their voices be heard. While sounding dark at times, the message bases itself upon hope at the end of the tunnel.
I find it encouraging on Exodus to hear a group get the progressive metal meets rock thing done right. Yes, the album is progressive but also not to a fault from how Waken Eyes takes opportunity to exhibit its intricate licks and chops but does not lose the listener in the process. Ultimately, I like to think of Waken Eyes as accessible progressive metal in this capacity in that a listen to Exodus does not wear you out. All the ingredients are at hand accordingly in the form of spot on vocals, ample musicianship required of the genre, the complementary musical variations and intelligent lyrics. Progressive music fans have a must buy on their hands in the full-length debut of Waken Eyes.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Cognition” (4:23), “Aberration” (8:24), “Deafening Thoughts” (6:50), “Back To Life” (6:08), “Palisades” (7:25), “Cornerstone Away” (7:09), “Still Life” (4:43), “Arise” (8:00), “Across The Horizon” (8:06), “Exodus” (19:33)
Henrik Båth - Lead Vocals
Tom Frelek - Guitars, Keyboards & Orchestration
Mike Lepond - Bass
Marco Minnemann - Drum