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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Zero Hour

Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond

Review by Gary Hill

These guys have developed quite a following over the last few years, but I have to admit that this is my first chance to hear them. With as powerful a version of prog metal as they produce it’s no wonder they have attracted so many fans. These guys are really good! I hear a lot of Queensryche in the band, but that’s mostly in the vocals, but they also wander into more progressive rock arenas similar to Dream Theater. Fans of prog metal who haven’t checked them out should really give them a shot – Zero Hour rocks.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Face the Fear
This one starts off with a quick paced riff (it sounds like bass, but high up on the neck). The rest of the band enter with this same angular progression and we’re off on the journey. Some non-lyrical vocals soar rather quietly over the top at points on this extended introduction. As they kick into the song proper it feels a lot like Queensryche. After a verse they drop it to a very stripped down, prog metal ballad texture for more vocals with a dramatic, rather forlorn texture. From here the bass takes prominence moving the song ever so slightly upwards. After a time in this mode they eventually scream out in a frantic bit of metal ferocity. They move through a number of changes here, and eventually power out into a very tasty melodic metal journey. This is a strong cut and makes for a great opener. It is really a tribute to the strength of the track that it goes by without seeming like it’s anywhere near its nine-minute length. Bass eventually ends it in much the same way as it started it.
Falcon's Cry
They pound right in with this one showing no signs of letting up on the sonic onslaught. This one has a dark and meaty texture. I’d have to say that I like this one even more than that first cut. At around the two and a half minute mark they drop it back to a more mellow, balladish segment that carries the track for a while. Once again the bass performs the function of moving the track along by bringing in a contrapuntal sort of timing. The vocals here particularly remind me of Geoff Tate quite a bit. This one has a metallic prog rock texture to it at this point, perhaps feeling a bit like Dream Theater – still with a definite Queensryche edge, though. Eventually they power this back out to the more pure metal territory. Some of the sounds on this segment are purely awesome as layers play with and against one another to create a highly dramatic arrangement. They still manage to work in another of the more ballad-like movements here – this time eventually closing that way. At eight-minutes in length this one is shorter than the opener, but still a respectably long song.
Embrace
The sounds that start this instrumental are quite progressive rock (albeit a metallic prog) in nature. This short (2:24) cut is dramatic and powerful. While it is an instrumental there are some non-lyrical vocals soaring over the mix throughout much of it. It includes a couple breaks down to ballad territory. This is a nice break from the metallic fury of much of the previous two pieces. It’s also a great piece of music just on its own.
Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
The title track pounds in with a thrash sound that’s a startling contrast to the number that preceded it. This extended intro segment is the heaviest sound we’ve heard thus far. A staccato passage enters to serve as the backdrop for the vocals. Again Queensryche is all over this arrangement in terms of those vocals. They power it out into frantic abandon later. The image of Dream Theater merging with Queensryche again shows up at points in this dynamic composition. A false ending gives way to a weird sort of whispered vocals over odd musical tones segment. That part almost calls to mind Goth metal acts like Cradle of Filth a bit. Then they explode this out into a scorching jam that winds the cut through to its conclusion – after some inspired instrumental interplay (that might just cause your jaw to drop open), that is. The track ends abruptly.
Zero Hour
Another instrumental, this starts with odd little riff, then explodes out into frantic prog metal jamming. This is a fast paced scorcher that calls to mind Dream Theater quite a bit. They drop it back to the bass sounds that began this, but it’s got some contrapuntal textures built in this time around. They find time in less than two and a half minutes to pound back out with frantic metal abandon once more. They even manage to turn into a dissonant, off-tempoed Crimson like jam for the conclusion.
I Am Here
A strong contrast to the fury that preceded it, this comes in with a dramatic prog metal ballad texture that calls to mind Fates Warning quite a bit. They don’t really tinker with this formula much, instead just reworking the themes and adding layers of sound here and there. A spoken segment in the backdrop later brings in more of those Queensryche comparisons. This pretty song is a nice change of pace. I like this one a lot.
Evidence of the Unseen
Creepy sound effects start this, but the band quickly jump in with a scorchingly fast paced, slightly off-timed prog metal riff. This gets shifted around a lot in the course of the introduction, the group seeming to make short left turns down dead end alleys, but yet it all fits together somehow. This is definitely the most dynamic cut on the disc. It’s got all the changes and fast paced riffs that progressive rock fans expect from their music. And that’s just the first minute or so. Then they drop it back to more mellow territory for the Queensryche-like vocal delivery. After this, though, they pound it back out to the sound collage that came before once again. An alternating pattern of these two segments ensues. This one might take a little while to get a grasp on, but it’s also a definite contender for the masterwork of the disc. It’s full of changes and contrasting segments. The segment which draws the tune to its end is simply incredible with its multiple layers of mostly spoken or whispered vocals. This cut is a great slice of prog metal at it’s best and you can’t really pick a better song on which to end. This one is simply awesome!
 
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