Album Reviews

Affector – Harmagedon

Affector is a progressive rock/metal band founded by German guitar player Daniel Fries and Dutch drummer Collin Leijenaar-Neal Morse/Dilemma. Bass player Mike LePond-Symphony X and vocalist Ted Leonard-Spock’s Beard/Enchant/Thought Chamber-both from the States joined them later when they started working on the debute CD Harmagedon. On this CD they are joined by four special guests on keyboards: Alex Argento, Neal Morse- Transatlantic/Flying Colors, Jordan Rudess-Dream Theater/Dixie Dregs, Derek Sherinian-PlanetX/Black Country Communion Also featured on the album is the Polish Orchestra Sinfonietta Consonus.

Wow did Daniel Fries put together an all star cast of who is who in the world of both Progressive Rock/Metal both in the Secular and the Christian Music world. Many know that Neal Morse, Ted Leonard have come out with their Christian faith over the past several years. Therefore when Daniel Fries recruited the talent he did for Affector as he was writing and recording Harmagedon, he made very wise decisions to appeal to both Progressive Rock/Metal and Christian Rock/Metal audiences. Faith based themes and concepts have certainly made their way into Progressive Rock/Metal over the past 15 years. One 2 pt- conceptual piece that comes to mind is Shadow Gallery with Tyranny in 1998 and its conclusion Room V- 2005. The other one is Eric Clayton’s masterpieces with Saviour Machine’s Legend Trilogy. Without any further delay let us explore this apocalyptic concept many in the Christian faith believe is manifesting itself today and thus the Book of Revelation is coming to past. To get this brief disclaimer out of the way I do have a Masters of Divinity through both the Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God Conventions. I will not just verify the lyrical message of this piece but to the people out their who do not practice the Christian faith I will be also analyzing the musical compositions track by track at the same time. Let us explore the brilliance that is Affector’s Harmagedon.

Overture Parts 1 and 2: Setting The Stage’

Overture: Pt-1- Introduction:
Polish Orchestra Sinfonietta Consonus do a brilliant job setting the table for this piece. The syncronicity at the beginning where the violins, stand up bass, and the clarinets all come together in a layered and lush harmony. It is so easy to listen to and moving at the same time that it invites you to the table for this feast. When I listen Overture: pt-1 it is like a movie soundtrack. I imagine opening credits rolling inside the theater of the mind. It is conducted perfectly where you have walked into this album with the ease.

The the invitation is even more opened to even the most critical and discriminating listener when the beautiful rhythm section of Affector Collin Leijenaar- ‘drums’ and Mike Lepond-‘bass’ gently and rhythmically continue to walk you in as the listener then around the :25 second mark Daniel Fries-‘guitars’ along with Leijenaar, LePond and Alex Argento explode with sonic ferocity and then the album really takes off building up such a melodic climax that you know this concept will be a composition of epic proportions, Then the band in harmony slows the tempo that gently walks the listener down inside the lyrical tracks that follow and by time Ted Leonard’s warm vocal appears in the next track Salvation you senses have been lowered and before you realize it, you are in the album where the true story and message begins. Affector are welcoming the listener with open arms.

Ted Leonard’s voice opens this one with a soft warm melody opening up with (Isaiah 53). What I appreciate the writing here is it is the actual scripture being melodically narrated by Ted instead of the typical commentary you usually see with a Christian or ‘Faith Based’ concept. At this point your critical defense is totally gone. With a instrumental melody of electrical acoustic guitar by Daniel Fries and keyboards by Alex Argento in harmony with Ted that welcome you to the album. However at the :35 second mark the sonic platoon arrives. The harmonious calvary of Daniel Fries on guitar and Alex Argento on Keyboards send in a furious sonic assault with the strings and that is not all. Then the heavy bombardment of the rhythm section of Collin on drums and Mike Lepond on bass create a very heavy progressive assault and bang Ted really lets it rip vocally. The vocals and instrumental are beginning to really come tightly together in perfect time, tone and pitch. At the same time they keep bring us back to the instrumental passage from ‘Overture:pt-2-Prologue’ thus tightening up the concept more and more. The same instrumental passage will become a ongoing theme throughout the rest of this journey while staying on the message of Christ in biblical prophecy

The Rapture:
According to Christian doctrine before the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus Christ, He will pull his own who believed in Him out of the world before any tribulation and rise of Anti-Christ rule. Christians call this ‘The Rapture’. In the opening sequence Daniel really lets it shred then the time signature changes up to a thunderous sound of fury inside the rhythmic portion. It seems the rhythmic section gets heavier as this concept progresses. ‘The Rapture’ is like what a praise and worship band would sound like in the realm of Progressive Rock/Metal. Daniel and Ted have a wonderful vocal chemistry as well on this track. Jordan Rudess really stands out with his unique and distinctive style with his Fingerboard and Continum much like we have been accustomed to hearing in his home band Dream Theater. Jordan’s solo’s remind me of more the solo work he did on Dream Theater’s Octavarium album. Towards the end Daniel has a beautiful echo effect to perfectly complement Ted Leonard’s main lead vocal. The concept continues to build on this one and you hear protions of the second Overture in the opening of this.

Cry Song:
The only original song written on the album independent of the scriptures of The Bible. It personally gave me the impression of a person lamenting that he or she were left behind to suffer the horrific events of Harmagedon. It is a semi ballet with heavy neo progressive elements. Neal Morse’s keyboards are soft and warm in a cinematic sense much like his works on Transatlantic with songs like We All Need Some Light and Bridge Acroos Forever. At about the 3:55 mark Daniel switches to a beautiful acoustical passage to keep you settled in. His acoustical guitar passage reminds me very much of Al DiMeola on his Elegant Gypsy album. Cry Song is like the First Act of a stage play coming to an end as we will see in the next track ‘Falling Away And The Rise Of The Beast’

Falling Away And The Rise Of The Beast:
It is like Act Two has started and it is a straight away assault with harmonious guitar shreds and Neal Morse’s keys in harmony with the rhythmic section taking off like a bolt of lightining. Once again the lyrical content is taken right from The Bible. Daniel Fries shreds to the 1:10 mark where the band returns to a soft warm melody sung by Ted Leonard. The second and third keyboard solo’s are done by Prog journeyman Derek Sherinian with his very distinctive synth sound. At about the 3:20 mark Daniel Fries goes into a spoken word style and plays of Ted Leonard’s singing which gives the concept a excellent change up from the sonic assault that has captured us throughout the album. Ted really begins to belt it out in many places here. The vocal layering with the spoken word is a double edged sword. It is a wonderful exchange that does not leave the listener bored with the up tempo heavier parts thus the listener begins to grasp the concept with better comprehension both musically and a lyrically. By this point we see clearly the direction where the rest of the story in the concept is heading.

First this one starts out with a great mini guitar solo. Then it gets really heavy and blistering with the riffs of a progressive frenzy of distortion. Killer double blast beats in the drums and the bass give this a impression of a full proto- thrashy type of intro much as Robert Fripp always excuted in King Crimson yet with a metallic sound. At about the 2:00 minute mark it slows down and picks up like a worship choir on both the musical composition and lyrical theme. Daniel does have a few times in this track where it gets a bit crunchy and thrashy. Jordan soon returns with his distinctive style that he employed on the Liquid Tension albums and his solo album Wheel Of Time. Harmagedon’s solo’s are a little longer. Towards the end there is a proggy and thrashy element before Ted once again hypnotizes us with his warm vocal to keep the listeners attention. On a lyrical front is turns into a Proggy Worship song where the members incorporate a symphonic element you would see in a choir. The symphonic element is so executed perfectly with a beautiful echo by Daniel Fries complementing Ted perfectly. Harmagedon ends with a total drop off before Mike Lepond shines with a brilliant opening sequence on the bass in the opening of ‘New Jerusalem.

New Jerusalem:
Mike Le Ponds bass line opens this one up. The bass line gives you a anticipatory feeling something big is about to happen. A huge build up to go into a melodic frenzy. The concept is winding down at this point. Musically and lyrically redemption is finally here. The entire band comes together rejoicing. New Jerusalem is the most melodic track on the album. Ted Leonard finishes this concept with one of his finest vocal performances in recent memory. Their journey is finally over, Just as they began the album, Polish Sinfoinetta Consonous Orchestra it with a beautiful outro of violins and stand up bass.

Overall I really enjoyed the fact that Affector created a well balanced album that will appeal to both a Progressive Rock/Metal and a Christian rock pallet. The music and the message are not overwhelming nor canceling one another out. The band are very tight. They can certainly build from here if they choose to. I personally hope they do this album in its entirety live even if it is a one off thing where they get it on audio and video. Finally I will say I appreciate the fact that they left it up to the listener to decide how they will interpret what they have heard and not force feed nor be too preachy to the audience therefore allowing the listening audience to walk away as they choose from ‘This Masterpiece’. Due to the well balanced composition musically and lyrically as a whole I am giving this a 5 stars.

Band Members:

Ted Leonard- Vocals- Enchant/Spocks Beard/Thought Chamber
Daniel Fries- Guitars-Founder of Affector
Mike LePond- Bass- SymphonyX/Epysode 2 2013
Collin Leijenaar -Drums and Percussion- Neal Morse Band/Dilemma

Special Guest Musicians:

Alex Argento-Keybvords
Jordan Rudess-Dream Theater- Keyboards
Derek Sherinian-Black Country Communion/Planet X/ex-Dream Theater-Keyboards
Neal Morse-‘ex Spocks Beard’ Transatlantic/Flying Colors-Keyboards

Very Special Appearance by:
Polish Orchestra Sinfonietta Consonus

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