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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Astral Travellers

The Truth Beyond

Review by Tim Jones

Complicated song structures, 10-minute songs, weird time changes--yep - definitely prog.  Previously known by the name "Oker", Astral Travellers is a progressive rock/metal band from the Netherlands.  This is excellent music, and definitely under-rated.  Unfortunately, like most independent outfits, production quality is at times not what it should be; this is a minor problem here, and the band more than makes up for it in other ways.  Gerben van Oosterhout, the vocalist, shows he can tackle just about any style of vocals worth hearing.  He has no problem changing his voice from very high to incredibly clear to pure metal.  This is the first time I've heard him sing, yet he's already one of my favorite vocalists.  He is joined by Jochem Brok on keys, Tristan de Rijk on drums, Barry Veeke on guitars, and Maarten Vermeulen on bass.  The band's performed in bars and clubs, as well as at larger venues and festivals.  Hints of everything from Green Carnation to King Crimson, and from Opeth to Savatage, permeate the album.  The disc is only five songs and yet clocks in at over 47 minutes long.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Gather Around
The first song starts slow and atmospheric.  The tenor vocals seem classically trained.  There are no hints of metal until two minutes in, when guitars and bass erupt.  Van Oosterhout gets guttural at times, but always manages to stay on top of the underlying current of dark metal.  The song then shifts back to atmospheric, with guitars, keys, and vocals.  There's a riveting urgency with the keyboards, and then to the guitars, with calm vocals on top.  An instrumental section takes the music back to metal.
Higher
This starts off reminiscent of Opeth's lighter stuff.  Vocals play above the guitars and drums, and then some quirky heavy stuff joins.  The vocals at times seem disconnected from the music.  Brief keyboards come in, just as disconnected.  Heavy guitar transitions seamlessly into the next track.
Whole Damnation
Starting right where the previous track left off, this one shifts from heavy guitars to focusing on the vocals, with a simple keyboard in the background.  There are Savatage-like moments here, with pretty, dark keyboards interrupted by crashing guitars.  Van Oosterhout at times sounds like a woman--his voice has an excellent range.  Veeke takes control of the song with his clear electric guitar for a bit, playing like he's in an 80's hair band.
As She Goes Down
There are clear, precise vocals, and the music has a soft Opeth feel.  It's moody, with a hint of hope.  There are lots of keyboards.  Veeke has fun distorting his guitar.  The vocals turn to angry metal.  A complex instrumental plays on four or five minutes into the song, slows down suddenly and turns into an easy, acoustic deal.  We get another instrumental bit, reminiscent of King Crimson craziness.  Still keeping the craziness, the sound switches to heavy and intense.
Dance of Death
Drawn out synthesizer sounds open this track up.  There are light keyboards, then the guitar comes lightly in, with a nice catchy riff.  We get clear, beautiful vocals.  The song builds in intensity, the guitars distort, and four minutes in the it turns to metal.  An orchestral mood takes over parts of this song, which closes with Van Oosterhout repeating "ye oh," and then it shifts to just keys.  It's a fantastic close to a great album.
 
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