The Land Down Under has produced its fair share of talented musicians, especially in the progressive metal realm, and Aussie band Teramaze is no exception. Having an interesting and varied history, they had their first go in the mid-late 1990’s with their albums Doxology (1995) and Tears to Dust (1998). These albums had a different sound and more spiritual approach than their later iteration, which founding and only continuing member Dean Wells considers the real start of Teramaze, beginning with their relatively fast-paced releases of Anhedonia (2012), Esoteric Symbolism (2014), and now (technically) their 5th full-length studio album, Her Halo (2015). Even though writing for the album started even before Esoteric Symbolism was released in April 2014, Her Halo saw a shift in the lineup not long after its release. Abrupt as it seemed, they wasted no time in finding new bandmates so that the material being written could soon be recorded for the next album. The Deans continue the Teramaze membership, with Dean Wells on guitars and Dean Kennedy (Damnations Day) on drums. Added is new bassist Luis Eguren fulfilling the low-end duties and new vocalist Nathan Peachey, who took over the spot after the departure of Brett Rerekura, whose voice was known on the previous 2 albums. Joining them providing keyboards in the studio is Dave Holley. Moving forward on this progressive train that is Teramaze, they take on an ambitious new album that pushes the talents of all the members to the max.
There are only eight tracks on the album, but don’t let the number fool you: the quality far outweighs the quantity when those eight songs provide nearly an hour of new music. And the best example is the first track out of the gate, clocking in as the longest song on the album at nearly 13 minutes in length. Nothing is spared on their epic opening track, An Ordinary Dream (Enla Momento). It begins quietly and ominously with what sounds like wind and a faint melody and voices, joined by a lightly downward chromatic scale run on what sounds like a vibraphone, giving it almost an eerie carnival feel, maybe an attempt to drift one to sleep, but is ended by the single tolling of a bell. Then the musical introduction begins with just an acoustic guitar, joined by piano expounding on arpeggiated chords together. Then after a minute of this relatively delicate introduction, there are no holds barred as the whole band comes in with a powerful throat-punch of the abrupt changeover of instrumentation to carry forward the opening riff. The intensity drops as the first verse begins, which is more rhythm driven with a bass lead as Peachey‘s vocals are heard for the first time on this new album. The verse segues into the short first A chorus with nicely layered harmonies and fuller instrumentation before it cycles again through another verse and A chorus. It picks up speed into a transitional channel with double kick drum and energetic guitar work that leads into a brief instrumental interlude with the first featured guitar solo. Soon comes the re-entry of the main chorus, leading into a second instrumental interlude with a lot of scale-running solos in the guitar, which gears down to a more chugging riff with some syncopation. This section continues for about a minute, and then drops to keyboards only for a more classical/pseudo-operatic section that is wrought with emotion. Here we hear the lovely lower range of Peachey‘s voice, as well as his emotional delivery with both the melodies and harmonies, as it drops down to piano only playing over a soundclip from an interview from a couple, Danny and Annie, which features part of Danny’s profession of love for his wife after being diagnosed with a terminal illness after 27 years of marriage, and who died the day the interview was aired. (see: https://youtu.be/WNfvuJr9164 at 3:35…be sure to have tissues handy) At the end of the clip, the keyboards continue with the string synth while Wells plays easily the most touching and emotional guitar solo on the whole album for a good minute and twenty seconds. As the solo ends, the other instruments reintegrate while the guitar shifts back into the chugging syncopated riff from before, accented by the drums, which accelerate the pace to the much more upbeat and energetic B chorus that drops to a more laid-back and suspended rhythm into the A chorus again. Another shredding, scale-ridden segue begins for a third instrumental interlude with a new side melody to help carry the song out to its ending with a gong crash. In keeping with the emotional theme of the song, it ends with a wistful piano solo, excellently executed again by Holley, and a final vocal cogently communicated by Peachey that ends the incomparable opening track.
To Love, A Tyrant begins with an ambient, ominous beginning with synths and sounds of a thunderstorm and footsteps increasingly approaching until the sound of a large door is being opened, which is the cue for the band to come in at full throttle with the opening riff. The first verse begins with some dialing back of the instruments that keep the chugging rhythm underneath the mid to high soaring vocals, and segue into a catchy bridge and short but driving chorus. These melodies are repeated into a second cycle of verse/bridge/chorus but this time is ended with a soaring vocal into the instrumental interlude with guitar solo, after which enters the bridge melodies again for a couple of rounds. This interestingly segues into the chorus melody played instrumentally with a keyboard solo rather than vocals, and then drops to just piano with syncopated guitar underneath to keep the tempo. As the song begins to take more shape, showing that it’s not taking the usual compositional path, there is an entry of new vocals with just the piano and guitar, and a slow addition of martial snare. After this follows a third instrumental break with guitar solo with syncopated rhythm underneath – particularly with some substantial thumping bass – that then gives way to another keyboard solo that hands it off into another guitar solo. After this extended instrumental section, a vocal channel with new melodies and nicely layered harmonies re-enters and loops back into the original chorus, which this time ends with a nice example of Peachey’s high range to signal its vocal finale. The remainder of the song plays out with the syncopated and hooky guitar melody and ending with the piano with a chorded finale.
Next up is the titular song, Her Halo, which begins with a strings introduction that are muted, sounding like they are being played from a old phonograph recording for a delicate beginning. Then, the band enters right in with vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, and bass for a full but laid back first verse, which immediately makes me thing of Misunderstood by Dream Theater with its key and chord progressions. However, after the first verse ends, the DT similarities end there, as a powerful chorus enters with electric guitar taking over for the acoustic and the drums entering for the full band sound. The chorus of this song is very catchy with lovely vocal melodies and harmonies along with a great walking guitar line underneath. A short instrumental bridge to the second verse follows the first chorus, and begins the first of a recurring melody played on the piano. It is a nice nod to An Ordinary Dream with the ending motif from the keyboards (see 10:50-11:10 and 12:13-12:30) resurfacing here as well as later in the guitar countermelody during the bridge at 2:35, carrying some continuity through the album, but giving it a different context so even though it seems familiar it feels like a different song altogether. After a second verse that is still laid back with the acoustic guitar making a reappearance, it is heavier than the first verse as the drums and light electric guitar remain. It again segues into a second chorus and into the aforementioned bridge that leads into a guitar-driven instrumental break. Building with increasing speed, with another vocal channel enters that segues into a soundbyte followed by second instrumental interlude and chorus, played out instrumentally with the last appearance of the recurring motif. This song has a moderate tempo, but is not without its share of flurried notes embedded within it. It is a great title track with melodic appeal that is easy to catch onto, though it communicates a sad theme of the visually happy performer not being all it seems behind the scenes. (see the music video for this track below)
Out of Subconscious is the first single from the album (see in the music video below), and starts off with a wall of sound, and continues with its syncopated rhythm underneath the vocal melody in the first verse. There is a suspension at the end of the verse where everything holds while some shredding scalework is soloed on the guitar before entering the chorus, like a cadenza being played in a fermata held by the rest of the band. This segue is unusual in most standard metal songs and gives this piece a definitively more progressive (even classical) feel. The chorus then enters after the solo guitar holdover with soaring vocals over continued syncopated band accompaniment. The rhythmic juxtapositions are an interesting combination throughout the song, especially with the 5/4 time signature that definitely gives it a different feel than using a more common meter. After the second verse and chorus, the song drops into the instrumental interlude that interestingly changes stylistically into a jazzier mode in 4/4, with a prominently featured bass solo with a vibraphone-like chordal accompaniment. However, this lasts only briefly before the triplet bass solo is paralleled by the guitar and the heavier elements return with that melody until it segues into more fancy fretwork in a guitar solo. A channel emerges from this solo with new vocal melodies with a continued driving force in the common time, and then drops to vocals and keys only for a brief reprieve in the song’s intensity. Resuming after this is the return of the chorus back in the original 5/4 time signature, ending this time with a final note that showcases Peachey‘s high vocal range before playing out the song with the instrumental resolution. This track is fairly heavy and driving, but it has its share of breaks in the composition that give it variety and interest along with the shifts in rhythm and time signature changes.
The fifth track, For the Innocent, is also a powerful, energetic tune starting off with a engaging guitar riff to kick it off. The driving force drops a bit in the first verse led mostly by the bass, with light guitar, rim clicks, and cymbals, and builds up gradually through the B verse. It comes in full force again in the chorus with layered vocals and lively guitars and rhythm. It is a relatively brief chorus, with an instrumental bridge back to the return of the A and B verses. The second chorus appears again, but this time, it is approached a little different musically as it is longer than the first chorus and includes some with some nice tom work on the drums that gives it a deeper and suspended feel in the rhythm that doesn’t focus as much on the snare as in the first chorus. The introductory riff returns to play underneath a powerful channel that leads into the solo break with the driving bass and drums pushing forward the song with a lovely melodic guitar solo. The third chorus reprises again with the style of the second chorus again, ending definitively with stratospheric vocals as the song plays out with the return of the introductory and main guitar riff that is so prominently featured throughout the song. This piece is more straightforward with a consistent, driving tempo and continuity of the main riffs within the song, perhaps moreso than other tracks on this album. However, it is still a rocking song that has enough novelty in it to keep it interesting and compelling and I quite enjoy the grooves in the song held down both by the bass and drums in their different respects, as well as those exemplified in the guitar.
Trapeze, the sixth song on the album, is the only instrumental tune and incidentally is the shortest track, which is still not shabby at a solid 4:39. It starts off with a soundbyte of someone swinging on the trapeze as you hear the ropes creak under each swing, and then a crack as the trapeze evidently snaps and the trapeze artist screams as she falls to the ground with the gasp of the audience behind her. It then breaks into the musical opening with energetic drums and main guitar riff, underscored by Hammond organ. The song goes through several melodic strains, many of which sonically remind me of Tony Palacios’ (Guardian, solo) style, that are very catchy and enjoyable as they interplay back and forth with each other. Then, at the two minute mark, it winds down for a slower interlude of alternating bass and guitar solos, allowing both Eguren and Wells to show off their virtuosic skills. This transitions into a synth segue into a jazzy strain, but it soon gives way back to the original metal melodies. The upbeat and energetic riffs continue to rotate through again until the abrupt but appropriate end to such a song. Even though I love the vocals on rest of this album, I was very pleased with this well-balanced and catchy instrumental.
The seventh venture on this album, Broken starts off directly with vocals alone, with a light accompaniment that starts in after the first line, only with some acoustic guitar and muted kick/snare/hi-hat to give a little context to the song like a little jam session, and continues into strummed acoustic guitar with piano only in the first chorus with lovely harmonized vocals. The second verse picks up with the full drum kit, bass, electric guitar, and keyboards entering with an easy rhythm with a gradual build into a full chorus that is fleshed out nicely from the more acoustic version, and leads into an instrumental interlude that first showcases a flurry of 16th note runs in the guitar solo, and then changes to piano alone to carry on the new solo work. Soon after, a new guitar solo enters that plays a slower, slightly bluesy melody that helps to convey the weight of the song. After a brief pause, the instrumental continues with the main vocal theme from the chorus played on guitar, which easily sets up the reprise of the chorus. The song is carried out instrumentally with more variations on the theme in the outro, carrying on until an unexpected stop that signals the abrupt end to the song. This piece is could probably be considered the “ballad” of the album, but I really would hate to pigeonhole it that way. It is certainly slower and has lighter elements to it, but there are definitely other parts that are quite solid and stay pretty shreddy as far as a ballad goes. This song has many aspects of being a radio-friendly song with its relatively shorter length and accessible elements that many can relate to.
Delusions of Grandeur is the second longest song on the album at nearly ten minutes long, and like the lengthy epic opener the album began with, this song is a fitting bookend to close out the album. Starting off with a drum-led introduction, one of the main themes of the song is emphatically played on guitar as a powerful opening. It drops down to acoustic guitar and piano, with some addition of bass, however, going into the first verse, but builds by the second half of it and goes into the chorus with ascending the scale over some nice tom work for the drums, and as the vocals continue to soar, the guitar work continues to build with some complicated runs and rhythms undergirded by some precise double kick drum work and double time snare on every beat.
Soon after this is an instrumental interlude that exchanges leads between guitars and keys, and has a brief moment in the middle that is keys only with an ominous melody on what sounds similar to an old crank organ, which reminisces of the carnival sounds heard in the first song and the theme of the trapeze performer present throughout the album. The introduction motif from the beginning of the song re-enters, and the next cycle of verse and chorus continues into another instrumental feature that contains many of the same melodies heard before that lead into another chorus. There is a new section with very precisely played staccato rhythms with the drums and guitar in tandem, but these soon give way to a more laid back section and new guitar solo that lasts a good 2:25 minutes long, including some taunting laughs at the end (like in Metallica‘s Master of Puppets) toward the end. The revised chorus enters in after this extended instrumental section, and slows down the feel of the song to another soulful solo section with trailing vocals. It ends with the sounds of something going up in flames as sirens are heard faintly in the background, which seem to audibly illustrate the lyric, “I’m not gonna take this anymore/ It’s time to burn it to the ground.” This song, with several of the vocal deliveries and the rhythmic and melodic tendencies, really seems reminiscent of a Circus Maximus vibe. There is more lyrical repetition in the song, but the flow of the song still seems to work. There are variations and new motifs introduced at different places in the song that keep it from becoming too bogged down or repetitive, and is a powerful end to this musically dense album.
Teramaze has gone through some changes since the last album, in particular being newly signed to the Mascot record label and this time having the album mastered by the top-notch skills of Jacob Hansen that bring it a sonical clarity that he is known for. All of the instrumentation is well-balanced, and all parts can be heard at any given time, without the drowning out of any particular instrument or vocal. They also weathered a 50% changeover in the band personnel on this album, but where that can be crippling to some bands, I think the new membership lineup has turned out to be a boon for Teramaze. As an album, Her Halo covers a number of topics throughout the songs, often dealing with relationships (being unwelcome, being abandoned, betrayed, or used, managing fame or publicity vs. reality behind the scenes).
I think this album is a watershed creation in their discography. Over the last few years in particular, the evolution of Teramaze has been exponential, shifting from a darker melodic thrash type of sound that seemed more rhythmically and technically-oriented to a more finessed, progressive sound with more melodic soundscapes for the ears to feast upon. This in part seems to be brought about by a shift in general in the musical composition. However, having the inclusion of a proper, experienced prog bassist with Eguren and the youthful but mature vocals of Peachey having now joined together with the melodic and technical genius of Wells and the firm rhythmic foundation from Kennedy have collectively launched Teramaze’s sound by leaps and bounds and really makes them serious contenders in the progressive metal community. In addition, I recognized that Holley‘s contributions with the songwriting as well as playing keys on this album also made a significant difference in the sound and sophistication to the album. Whereas the last album seemed to have a lot of similarities between tracks and in style across the whole album, Her Halo seems to possess a much wider variety of sound with songs that are easy to identify from each other, each track having its own personality and melodic theme. Most of the melodic instrumental themes were carried by Wells‘ guitar and Holley‘s keys, and as the key songwriters, that connection makes an important difference. Wells has a strong melodic sense and his riffs and solos are well-placed and exceptionally executed with smooth lines whether they are flying through scale runs or strumming a simple melody. Even though he is technically sound, his solos in particular carry a lot of emotion behind them that are crucial to making the song communicate the message. Likewise, this album made me realize that the appearance of Holley‘s well-finessed keyboards on this album really added some depth musically and emotionally to the pieces that brought about a greater impact for each track. Kennedy continues to hold down a very solid fort of rhythm, and his solid metronome behind the kit is vital to the group, kicking things up a notch with fast and precise drumming, or setting the mood for something slower and pensive equally well. One of the lineup changes – or actually additions – to the group is the inclusion of bassist Eguren. Prior to this album (in general), Wells has also fulfilled the bass duties on the albums and done a fine job doing so. However, Eguren is an experienced progressive metal bassist whose chops really show on this album and are a lovely addition to the songs. His bass is easily recognized in the mix and he’s also given times to shine with melodic bass solos or driving the main beat of a portion of a song, which was very nice to hear his skills being highlighted and not relegated to holding down the fort only with the roots. Also, after the departure of Rerekura on vocals, Peachey‘s arrival on the scene in some ways feels like a breath of fresh air to the group. His voice gives the band a brand new sound, and his contributions to the lyrics and vocal lines give Teramaze a new vibe. His stylings are similar to Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) or Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) with his high tenor, but he is certainly no copycat and definitely has his own sound and timbre.
I have to say, especially after having reviewed Esoteric Symbolism, that Her Halo somehow seems light years ahead, which I think is in part due to several of the changes that have happened since the last album. Everything that happened to make this album was a recipe for success that will make it hard to top. However, I feel that the band is always up to the challenge, and after a first album together with this lineup, I think it can only solidify to create more music in the future that is high quality and will be in high demand. I had high hopes for this album, and I was not only not disappointed, but I was also highly impressed with the outcome. This will be one of my top albums of the year and I could heartily recommend it to be a must-buy for progressive metal fans. Teramaze has hit a home run with this one, and I’m looking forward to what the future will hold for this group.
See the album teaser here on YouTube:
Watch the music video from their title single, “Her Halo:”
See the music video for their single, “Out of Subconscious:”