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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Spheric Universe Experience

Anima

Review by Gary Hill

I remember an old pun that said, “the problem with music today is too much sax and violins.” Well, you won’t find either of those here. What you will find is a metallic form of progressive rock that draws a lot of comparisons to Dream Theater. Why did I mention that pun, then? Because the problem with this album is too much metal. When you get your head pounded over and over again it doesn’t matter how great the instrumental work or the evocative vocals are. Your brain becomes numb and it all starts to blend in together. They do seem to sense this and break it up for short periods, but the recovery period is not long enough to really work. It’s a shame, too because these guys are really talented and the music is well composed and powerful. It just all starts to sound the same after a while.

Track by Track Review
Sceptic
Keys kick this off in nice fashion, then a super crunchy, metallic structure takes over. They drop it back to a distant take of this sound (like a performance that is literally “called in,” then come back up moving it into the song proper, a frantic crunch fest that has “Dream Theater” written all over it. It moves out into a more epic metal approach for the chorus. A series of changes and alterations makes up the rest of this. At times they move into more prog like motifs. At other points they power it out into nearly pure metal. Keyboards and guitar both get smoking solos (with the keys seeming to quote “Flight of the Bumblebee” at one point). They move it out into a beautifully powerful piano dominated ballad movement later. The final mode is more metallic prog with its eyes on DT. This is one heck of a thrill ride.
Being
Keyboards with a spoken recitation creates the motif for this short cut. After a while in this style they power it out into a smoking neo-classically tinged jam that’s quite crunchy and powerful. It’s kind of like Rush’ “La Villa Strangiato” with neo-classically tinged Eurometal and some pure classical music thrown into the mix. They turn it darker to an almost gothic metal sound as they carry on. This segues straight into the next number.
The Inner Quest
In what is becoming a familiar pattern, keys are the first thing heard here. They power it out with metallic fury as a time and this is slightly off timed, crunchy rocker that again makes on think of Dream Theater. The smoking instrumental break that takes it later is killer. So, is the verse that follows with piano pounding out over the top of the vocals. This screams out later in a powerhouse jam that does an almost perfect job of integrating progressive rock instrumentals into an almost pure heavy metal backdrop. They return to the main song structure for a time before turning out to the killer outro.
Neptune's Revenge
Rather than start this with keys we get the sounds of a storm and waves pounding a shore. A man shouts in the background it a language I don’t know. The band finally screams out in more metallic prog fury. This thing is another scorching slab of music with keys creating some powerful music over the metallic backdrop. This one works quite well, but the formula is getting a bit old by now.
Stormy Dome
They must have sensed that it was ripe for a change. Here we get a short keyboard dominated instrumental that is both pretty and sedate. It never rises anywhere near metallic and piano eventually ends it.
World of Madness
The piano that leads this off makes me think of something from Going For the One era Yes. Of course, that vision doesn’t remain long, though. When the metallic fury pounds in it begins to look like we’re back into DT territory again. They move it out instead into something more like Rush. Then a more melodic pattern takes over for a time before we shift out into a hard-edged fusion segment. More metallic sounds take over for the entrance of the vocals. When the singing does return so do the Dream Theater shadows. The instrumental break, though, brings in more of those Rush elements. After this section, they launch back out into the verse chorus structure and it’s more in a Euro-metal motif. DT returns after this for another instrumental break. The vocal arrangement here is cool. A twisted instrumental section is also a nice touch as it the spoken female vocal clip that come in over a later portion of that segment.
End of Trauma
Starting with more keyboard-oriented music, this powers up into another jam that’s a bit less metallic. They blast it into some of the most purely metallic music on the CD to move it on. In contrast, though, they also shift out into some killer melodic prog dominated by the keyboards. It drops back an open, rather fusion-like sound for a time. Then the metal returns for the vocals. Waves of keys over the top go quite a ways towards tempering this. A drop to a keyboard based ballad structure is good, but a little too little a little too late. They turn this out into some of the most metal music of the disc, but then work out into more fusion, followed by a short ELP-like break. This gives way to a drop way down to just bass and drums. Keys and distorted, distant vocals enter before they pound back out into more of their trademark sound. Another fusion like jam takes it later for great effect. It’s really too bad that this musical format has come so close to out-wearing its welcome by this point because this is the best track on the disc. You just can’t tell because when taken as a whole it sounds like more of the same butt whipping you’ve been getting for a while.
Heal My Pain
They lead this off with sound effects and spoken voices. After this introduction, though, we’re back into another stomping metal meets prog adventure. That’s the last thing we need by this point as the numbness is really sinking in by now. It’s more of the same, and not all that exceptional. Taken by itself this song is just OK. Taken within the context of the disc it was hard not to press “stop” by now.
Questions
Thank God, we get something different here. This is a pretty, if dark, ballad that has a lot of emotion and mystery infused within its confines. The change that this presents is very welcome, but it’s not a long enough reprieve. They do weave some wonderful melodies and passion into this arrangement. It becomes quite classical in its approach and never moves into anything near metal territory.
The Key
At over ten minutes in length this epic is the longest cut on show here. Keyboards also start off this one in a mellow fashion. A whispered voice recites something that I think is in French. They layers of keys flit about and weave their trails melody across this arrangement. They work through several changes within this pattern and we get nearly to the two-minute mark before the pounding metal approaches return. While the respite we got has us rather prepared, our tolerance is still quite low. They do work in a melodic prog, dramatic segment before pounding out into the verse section. As this carries on the vocal arrangement and powerful instrumental layers make it another highlight of the disc. It’s just too bad the listener is too numb to really grasp that fact. We get some more changes and rearrangements within the course of the track, but despite how good this track is (a cool drop to old time movie music followed by a neo-classical jam is a great addition) the overall lack of variety in the album had me begging for it to end by this point.
Black Materia
The final cut for the disc is another instrumental. It leads off in sedate patterns before shifting out into more metallic territory. They break up the monotony on this one with sections of fusion thrown into the mix. We even get a more pure jazz keyboard solo. This thing is full of fast paced angular changes and incredible musicianship. It’s a strong ending piece that would have been better served with a more diverse album to precede it. This thing has exactly the type of variety (in the length of one song) that would have made this disc a classic if it had been applied throughout. In fact this has so many changes that it’s sometimes hard to keep up.
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