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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Space Odyssey

The Astral Episode

Review by Gary Hill

There is a lot to be said for expectations. Somehow I had heard that this project by Richard Andersson (of Royal Hunt fame) was a more progressive rock oriented endeavor than that band. Frankly as good as Royal Hunt's latest - and in fact their whole catalog is, that had me intrigued. When I found that Patrik Johansson (of Astral Doors) was involved, there was another big point in favor of this disc. Add in the production of Jonas Reingold, and I was sure this disc was going to a groundbreaking masterpiece in bringing metal qualities to full on prog rock. Well, I wish I hadn't had such high expectations. The truth is, this album is good, but it just doesn't live up to what I thought it would be. While there are more prog elements than on Royal Hunt, some songs are more pure metal (and rather generic at that) than that band. Johansson, is obviously spot on. If you haven't heard this guy yet, pick up Astral Doors' latest - he is a dead ringer for Dio.

Amazingly, there are not many points where this feels a lot like Royal Hunt. There are DT like segments, some Hawkwind like space at times, and even keys that call to mind Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Geoff Downes. You will find a lot of neo-classical work here, but also a lot of fairly uninspired metal. This one qualifies as progressive rock, but only barely. I came very close to putting it into the metal category.

Frankly the music here can be brilliant, but it also has a tendency to be noodly and over indulgent. Some of the tracks seem to be way too stereotypical to have a lot of planning and thought go into them. The disc does manage to rock, but some songs work an awful lot better than others. This is the second album under the banner of Space Odyssey. I'd like to hear what they do next, but I won't have my sights set quite so high next time.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Through Dreams And Reality
A keyboard intro almost like Wakeman meets Emerson starts this. The band then launch into a heavy Dream Theater like segment. Lightning fast riffing takes it from there, then merges with the DTish sounds. Keys come over top, then they shift to a short staccato pattern. This gives way to a straightforward metallic segment that heralds the first vocals. As the verse resolves out a very melodic segment takes it. Then the lightning fast metallic fury moves it to the next verse. Later waves of keys are run over more frantic jamming. Then a new staccato pattern moves the cut into DT territory. Next more super-fast jamming takes it in this extended instrumental segment that serves as the outro to the cut.

Astral Episode
Mellow, but creepy keyboard tones begin this one. After a time of growing these a new dramatic, still rather sedate, but energized mode takes over. They gradually build this with neo-classical overtones. It gets heavier as it carries on. They jump off into a fast paced riff before turning it more metallic for the vocals to come in. They turn it then to a lightning fast prog rock progression. Then another dance into the realm of frantic metallic fury with prog overtones takes the track. This instrumental break eventually gives way to the next verse/chorus 1-2 punch. This eventually moves out into another extended jam, this one based on dramatic neo-classical elements. At about 7-minutes it moves to just guitar and drums and gets a little noodly. The keys take a solo after this point, and while by themselves less self indulgent, it's getting a little old by this point. Fortunately, though, after this they drop back into another verse, then a chorus that fades to end the piece.
Lord Of The Winds
Keys feeling a bit like Geoff Downes' work in Asia start this and guitar joins in to carry it forward. This becomes a hard-edged stomper until lit drops back to just percussion and vocals for the verse. They jump it back up as they move on. This one becomes pretty straightforward metal from this point. It isn't bad, just a little too generic for the prog elements to show up at all. They turn it to a fast paced metallic stomp later with a killer keyboard texture laid over top. Then a keyboard dominated segment lead s it into a guitar solo that takes it back to the song proper. That mode takes it to its conclusion.
Dazzle The Devil
Another frantic full on metal cut, for the most part, this does include some very tasty guitar work and a more prog-oriented guitar dominated extended break that gets rather neo-classical. As they come out of this it feels a lot like Royal Hunt - it's surprising more of the album doesn't. The band really smokes and the latter half here, but it gets rather noodly on the crescendo to the false ending. After this point, keys take it then a dramatic instrumental segment of keys and guitar (the most prog oriented on this song) forms the extended outro.
Back To The Dark
This one is almost all metal and by now the formula for that style on this disc is wearing a bit thin. It has a cool more melodic jam and a tasty '70's rock sounding guitar solo afterwards, but this one is too much of the same thing over and over ad infinitum. It also gets a bit too noodly.

Presence Of Mind
Now this is more like it. Fast paced neo-classical jamming makes up this instrumental. This one has a lot of changes and gets quite dramatic. It even goes into something that feels like "Flight of the Bumblebees" at one point. A cool dramatic staccato keyboard dominated break is a nice touch. This leads into a segment that feels like Dream Theater meets Joe Satriani. It drops back to a mellow segment that is pretty much all neo-prog after that point, then jumps back up to the neo-classical to carry on. A nice staccato pattern ends it.
Reversation
This time the metal comes in with lots of drama, power and prog overtones. They work through a somewhat DT meets Royal Hunt like intro in this fashion. It shifts to more pure metallic elements for the verse. A frantically paced chorus, again feeling like Royal Hunt moves this on. Neo-classical jamming takes it from there to the next verse. The cut repeats the process from that point, but after the chorus a staccato movement, part DT/part Malmsteen takes over with neo-classical fury all over it. This covers a lot of musical territory before another staccato pattern ends starts it.
The Seventh Star Fantasy
Spacey keys begin this and then a very fusion meets space prog mode takes it 'til a cool keyboard line takes over. As vocals sort of thrust in like chanting by a choir, feeling a bit like the soundtrack to the Omen move it through a very cool segment. Then metal fury, with a very tasty riff takes over from there, but only for a short time. A mellow segment that feels a bit Celtic and all prog serves as the backdrop for a vocal duel. The metal takes the cut in full after that point, moving it onward 'til another of those mellow interludes comes in and the cycle is repeated. The Omen-like section returns after this, then keys take it until the metal stomps back in. This one is quirky, but also incredibly dynamic and unique. It is a killer, and by far the strongest track on the album. What a way to pull it together at the end!

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