The melodic brand of progressive metal was once my go-to style of music a few years ago. While I haven’t become oblivious to the obvious technical brilliance that many of these bands put into their music, it’s often difficult to argue that they are really ‘progressing’ things along. With that in mind, it was not a surprise to hear the unquestionable presence of Dream Theater in Southern Cross’ music. The energy and quality of arrangement is strong enough to overlook the arguably lack of originality however; you may very well have heard this sound before, but it’s executed with skill and passion. Progressive metal may be a crowded style of music, but Southern Cross’ “From Tragedy” is a firm reminder that there are still great albums coming out, even if it may still be a little too comfortable for challenge- seeking listeners.
“From Tragedy” is my first full-length experience with Southern Cross, although my history with particular songs of the band were amicable. In essence, Southern Cross felt to me like a band taking the ‘melodic-yet-proggy-and-technical’ mission of Dream Theater, and supplementing it with an added power metal edge. “From Tragedy” maintains this vision, although there is a noted improvement performance wise from their previous album, “Down Below”. The production is crisp and no longer permits the overindulgent double-kick that rode on previous work. To fresh newcomers, it’s enough to say that the band are framed within a tight studio production, and considering the precision required in their brand of music, it’s a really great compliment they pay themselves.
The guitar is the lifeblood of “From Tragedy”. Paired off between Olivier Perrier-Maurel and vocalist David Lizotte, the guitars are graced with a thick yet elegant sense of distortion. Lead riffs and rhythms are often fused together, making the song writing feel remarkably fluid for such technical music. The bass guitar and keyboards take more of an auxiliary role. Tipping a hat to Dream Theater, many of the guitar leads are matched with keyboards. This is particularly evident on the fiery highlight “Tightrope”, a prog metal tour-de-force that instantly had me digging what Southern Cross were doing. Keyboardist Antoine Guertin also takes helm of the drum kit, and delivers an impressive performance that meets the guitars both at their most subtle and most furious. Southern Cross also succeed on a vocal level, which is often that weak link in prog metal bands. David Lizotte’s voice is warm, first reminding me of Novembre vocalist Carmelo Orlando’s gloomy tenor. Harmonies provided by the rest of the band help give a welcome touch of beauty to their technical chops.
Although I find myself enjoying Southern Cross’ third album a lot more than I first thought I would, I cannot shake the feeling that they hold themselves back under the guise of prog metal formula. The vocals feel less acrobatic than many of the so-called ‘Dream Theater clones’ I have heard, but given that “From Tragedy” is full of tricks pulled directly from some of the genre’s greats, I feel it discredits them. As it stands, Southern Cross’ powerful mix of melody and passionate complexity is excellent, and certainly deserves the time to grow on a listener. It may not reinvent the wheel (nor invent the jetpack) but “From Tragedy” ranks among the best prog metal albums I’ve thus heard this year.