There’s no denying that Rise, the debut album from international collective Reign of the Architect, is a hugely ambitious project. It is amongst the most complex records I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in recent months, and definitely the most elaborate and extravagant work I’ve had to review for Lady Obscure Music Magazine.
First off, the scale of musicianship on offer is already on another level: although at the heart of the band is guitarist Yuval Kramer, three vocalists feature on Rise, along with keyboards, drums and bass. Above and beyond this are a whole host of distinguished guest musicians, including Mike LePond (Symphony X), and Jeff Scott Soto of Journey fame.
However, this excess of scale is not simply down to traditional prog self-indulgence. (Indeed, nothing in this album is that simple). As laid out in the press-release, the fifteen tracks making up this concept album are separated into three acts, together only part one of a two-part project detailing ‘an allegory of the powers that rage inside the human soul’ and a tale of ‘love, destruction and survival’. Told you this was ambitious.
It is hardly surprising therefore that such conceptual complexity is reflected in the overall sound of the record; in fact, this feels more like a rock opera than just a mere album. The cinematic sound of Rise is immediately captured with the opening track, Set, a fully symphonic credits-style introduction. As we might expect, the mood contained within Rise ebbs and flows, twists and turns, and this is first suggested by the transition into track two, Different Heart: Set, a solid intro, leads us perfectly into what would be the first proper moment of high energy. This would be far too simple, however. Instead, Different Heart opens as a muted piano-driven waltz.
It is perhaps inevitable that the biggest criticism of the album is not its ambition; indeed, I have no problem with this in itself, if it pays off, as it does increasingly throughout the record. No, the biggest fault in Rise lies in the balance between the idea of relaying the concept through moments of story-telling, and through moments in which the music really shines through.
A good example is in the opening tracks: on the first few listens, the immediate track to catch my ear was Hymn to Loneliness. Although starting slightly sluggishly, the ballad soon blows away the cobwebs of the previous two tracks, leading to a great chorus and solo finale. From this point Rise doesn’t really look back, building and building.
It may either be slightly unfair or the greatest compliment that I can give the band that I was regularly reminded of Dream Theater’s style of concept album writing, especially their 1999 Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. At its best, this comparison can be heard in the explosive climax to Secrets in the Hallway, one of my stand-out tracks (see also the solo closing As the Old Turns to Sorrow). At its worst, Reign of the Architect also tend toward the slightly kitsch and overweening, especially on their more balladic tracks. This is most strongly felt on One Single Sour Grape, a tortured ballad with heart-on-sleeve vocal delivery; not necessarily a bad thing, but such over-the-top emotion is bound to discourage some listeners. (I can definitely image it being a turn-off for me if I were in the wrong mood. Fortunately this mood after about fifteen listens through has not lessened).
Indeed, as the album progresses the vocal delivery becomes more uncompromising, and such is the style of Reign and their ambition that you’ll either love it or hate it: there isn’t much room for half measures here.
Mostly however the increasing momentum and emotion of Rise is one of its major strengths and this is in part due to its three-act basis, as each act is progressively shorter and more intense.
As a result, despite its length and depth the album never fully overstays its welcome. Certainly there are moments were the plot forces itself onto the music, rendering the music a little slow and sluggish. That said, this is a record that ebbs and builds to a beautiful climax, if you have the time to put in the effort. I for one have not heard a more impressive symphonic prog record this year.
Although not as over-indulgent in their technicality as many other symphonic prog acts today, the sheer ambition and demand of Reign of the Architect’s project may not be for you. Nonetheless, Rise is a record which deserves a listen, especially from those who enjoy their metal on an epic scale. I myself look forward to the second part of this saga.
PS – I can’t finish the review without a brief mention of the stunning cover art, delivered by Eliran Kantor. Look at it! Beautiful, no?