- Album Reviews

Ivanhoe – Systematrix

Progressive metal is a genre that in the contemporary musical scene is hard to find in its true, essential form. There are bands out there who are trying hard to build an identity as a progressive metal band, but their influences and some other things let them be a progressive metal band with other elements infused. I, for one, am a huge progressive metal fan and, like me, others who are true to this genre, have the ears to instantly recognize and appreciate if they hear something from true progressive metal family. The band in consideration with me today is Ivanhoe and we will be breaking down their album Systematrix for you guys so that you could have an easy time finding out what to expect before you go on and listen to them.

Ivanhoe are a band from Germany and they have been around for a while… Their first release, Visions and Reality solidly proven them as members of the progressive metal family in 1992. All of the work by the band clearly mark them as a talented bunch who strive to deliver in the best of their abilities with technique and feel. People who have been listening to them compare them to bands such as Queensryche, Angra and Elegy but not as copies of these accomplished bands because every band has influences and then they add personal touch and flavour to what they produce. The lineup consists of Mischa Mang on the vocals, creating a unique atmosphere with his vocals that you will continue to admire. Rest of the members are Chuck Shuler on the guitar, Giovanni Soulas on the bass, Richie Seibel on the keyboards and Mathias Biehl on the drums.

IVANHOE recently signed with Massacre Records and the band entered The Red Room Studios in February/March 2012 with producer Andy Horn (LANFEAR, EDENBRIDGE, VOICES OF DESTINY) to record the follow-up to 2008’s “Lifeline”. The new album “Systematrix”, was released on May 24 and is the album I will be reviewing. So without delay let’s move on to the breakdown.

The first track Systematrix starts with a Pantera feel to it and by this I mean as if Dimebag was playing somewhere in its recording. The vocals by Mischa Mang I find very impressive and he makes his skills evident from the first track. When he starts singing you instantly can get a sense of his abilities and the promises the album holds vocally. The guitar work for the first track is the usual progressive metal stuff but there is that special element that stands out in a positive way and it’s the bass notes by Giovanni Soulas throughout the track, for which I will assume the mixing is responsible. The track for me is not something that will instantly catch you but it will make you want to have a look at the coming tracks.

The second track Human Letargo has an orchestral start and very quickly gets into a metal feel, not very progressive but more of a heavy metal vibe. I was drawn to Mang’s harmonic he just did at the start in a very high octave and well, I must say, I am a fan. This guy is really talented; especially for people who focus on vocalists in a band, this is your man. The song structure is a little better than the first track with guitars following trained metal riffs and drumming patterns in an experienced manner but still lacking that wow moment that’ll make you jump out of your chair. And just when I about to move on, I hear the last 40 seconds. One word: Serene, and super peaceful piano notes by Richie Seibel made me go away for a while. Beautifully done, totally unexpected and totally what I wanted.

The third track Tin Cans Liberty takes you to the 90s with a grungy and post grungy feeling, something you can relate to stuff by Alice in Chains, but quickly returns to its true genre of metal. Still in this track I am fully appreciative of the vocals by Mischa Mang – actually, they are the highlight of every track. A transition riff by Chuck Shuler is catchy and sweet sounding but I am still waiting for that one solo that’ll take me to progressive metal wonderland… We are on the third track and my wait continues. The bass lines are well organized and expertly played throughout the track and if you have the ear for proper bass, you will, like me, admire it.

Following along, War of The Centuries is a bad-ass track, that one aggressive track you would want to listen when destroying your boss’ car in anger of not being promoted to that position you wanted. The arrangement is a lot better for this track to be a diehard progressive metal track, with an alternate picking part by Chuck Schuler, some good drum intervals, and bass as usual being top notch. The track will end with a double bass dose you all would be waiting by the time you have reached this point in the album.

Then comes Mad House which, unlike the name implies, starts like a ballad, totally held back, slow and mellow. Mischa Mang will throw the sand of vocal talent in your ears yet again with beautiful and powerful vocals, and a themed track with muffled vocal parts along the way. I would like to again and again mention the extreme talent this vocalist has and you will vouch for that too throughout this track as he will out that screaming “air raid” vocal notes.

Learning Path is the type of track I was anticipating throughout and finally it is here! The progressive metal gems we all adore and bow to, this track is one of those. A cross between Dream Theater, Megadeth and Iron Maiden in terms of musical arrangements, the solo by Chuck Shuler here has some notes being played deep from a desert in Cairo. Near the end of this track you’ll feel as if you are entering a different listening mode, maybe a full on progressive metal mode, totally pure and no involvement of any other element.

Second half of the album starts totally at a different pace with Walldancer. The album sort of feels to be shifting gears now and improving track by track, and it feels as if the band was trying to touch every element of the metal genre and now finally settling down. This track is also a true progressive metal track with performances by all the band members in their own zones. With a lot of of ups and downs, this will make your list of go-to tracks.

Now, the next three songs are parts of a whole with the first part called The Symbiotic Predator- Seduction and you’ll instantly fall in love because your mind will now make you forget the rest of the album and totally give that ear to you to get ready for what’s coming. A very solid musical arrangement with all the instruments and the musicians working in harmony will make you anticipate for every second of the ongoing music. And just like that with a spontaneous break we go into the second part called The Symbiotic PredatorResolution… Richie Siebel will put in some mellow notes with a cello  playing in the background accompanied by well-arranged violin notes and the track will calm things down for the listener with right amount of metal still lingering around. My word for this is: Balanced, balanced down to the core and I am still wondering about the first half of the album not delivering and this being totally the band’s rebirth in terms of musical glory and finally like me you guys will appreciate what you are hearing. Enter the third part, The Symbiotic Predator –Late Recognition, vocals make a come back and if I would make a comparison to what I am hearing, it is something that Dream Theater would do if they were making a song like this. Very fine musical arrangements in the form of guitar/bass/drum parts will ensue and make your listening experience even better. The pace of this track is progressive/heavy metal but you will be compelled to head bang here and there because well, that’s what we do when we hear something great. From time to time, backing vocals reminiscent of Mike Portnoy with a different spice of their own will make their appearances.

The second last track of the album is Brokers Lingua Nera , starting with just the oh so perfect heavy metal guitar riff that you could move your head to and I was struck by similarity of this track to something done by Andromeda. Overall feel of this track is that marching feeling you hear in most of the heavy metal and progressive metal tracks with you yet again appreciating the pace the album has all of a sudden achieved.

The last track Symbols of Time follows a theme for me, as if the ending credits are being played for this album, but also quickly displaying each and every musician’s talent. For me this is the only track that has a right place to be in an album, the last track i.e. it finishes off the album in the right way, doing justice to what you have been listening. Yet again you will not cease to admire the vocalist this band has and the potential of each and every musician.

To summarize everything, the band Ivanhoe is extremely talented and has potential, but the album is lacking here and there… If I’m being honest, once you hear the whole album you will feel the same thing I felt:  “it is good, but something is missing”. The talented vocalist is delivering throughout the album and you must be wondering why I am constantly mentioning the vocalist. Well the reason for this is that every album has an element that shines through and it can be the band as a whole but in my opinion the vocalist stood apart followed by the bassist and the rest of the band. The album has the potential to grow on you, but this will not be the case for most of the listeners I fear. The first half of the album just tries to suck you in but it succeeds to do so after the second half – that is the line, I feel, where the music really starts to make good sense. But then again this is my opinion and I might be wrong but have a listen for yourself and see if my breakdown matches yours.

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