Album Reviews

Vicinity- Awakening

This week I was asked to review the new release from Norwegian progressive metallers Vicinity and, prone to a bit of prog-metal as I am, I readily agreed. It did get me thinking though, why is it that there appears to be a plethora of metal bands (be it heavy, death, black or any other variation) hightailing it out of the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway, Sweden and Finland?  Take, for instance, Opeth, In Flames, Nightwish, Hammerfall, Pain of Salvation and Children of Bodom, just to name a few. Your intrepid correspondent, once again, dedicated his precious time (well, some of it anyway) to researching and investigating this phenomenon and came up with a few theories.

Some would say the darker and colder climate lends itself to, what could be considered, a darker style of music. A tendency for religion to a be lot more serious in these countries can lead to rebellion against them and, let’s face it, the majority of metal has always been a bane of religion hasn’t it? Also, compared to the U.S.A there seems to be lower levels of censorship and, especially in Scandinavian regions, a distinct lack of promotion of the more mainstream, popular music. A lack of an urban music scene would, also, seem to lead to the popularity of metal. Maybe the heroes and gods of Norse mythology and the tales associated with them have led to a strong base for metal in these countries and…… ,  maybe we are just over-analysing it and should just enjoy the music. Yes, I’ll go with that last one.

Anyway, I digress, let’s talk about Vicinity. Vicinity is a progressive metal band from Trondheim in Norway and consists of Alex Lykke (vocals), Kim-Marius H. Olsen (guitars), Frode Lillevold (drums) and Pierre Nicolai Schmidt-Melbye (bass) who replaced original co-founder Kristian Nergard when he left in 2009. To date they have released an E.P., Diffusion of Innovation, in 2007 and 2013 sees the release of their first full length offering, Awakening. The band is very pleased with the outcome stating that album consists of fairly long songs made up of odd-metered time signatures, speedy riffs and lots of melody having spent a lot more time in the studio than ever before and, it has really paid off.

To release a new progressive metal album around the same time as one of the genres legendary powerhouses, Dream Theater, and, new entrants into the masters of the genre, Haken, could be said to be a little ambitious but only time will tell. On to the review.

Awakening kicks off big style with the first single from the album, Mass Delusion, we are immediately hit with a killer riff straight from the heart of heavy metal, almost a cross between heavy metal legends Europe and Him, fast paced, classy and seriously catchy. When the vocals chime in they are very powerful, a proper metal voice adding to the heavy metal vibe. There are sorts of pointers to metal of the past, delightful, squealing, guitar runs and swirling keyboards in the background of that ever present, classy, vocal. A cool guitar break, backed by some serious drumming offers a nice contrast, evolving into a nicely worked solo and a nice, slightly distorted, guitar outro. Opportunities Lost is the longest track of the album and sees the band move into a more definitive progressive metal style. Another superior riff, backed by keyboards and drums gives a great lead-in to the track before a cool bass riff leads in a darker, brooding vocal. A crunching riff takes over backed by pounding drums and really great metal vocal.  The song ebbs and flows, a really strong track. Some great guitar playing, stylish riffs and tight solos, this is elegant progressive metal, ticking all the boxes of what we expect, the music is tightly constructed and the vocals strong. All the great prog epics have distinct sections that fit together seamlessly and this track is no different, more of that sumptuous guitar blending delightfully with a great vocal section. You feel as if these guys are seasoned veterans of the genre. A delightful, slow paced introduction consisting of strumming guitar, gentle keyboards and soul searching vocals herald Across the River, this continues through the early part of the song before the guitar takes on a harder edge, still slow paced though. A nice, mournful solo shifts in intensity, peaking high, powerful drumming ever present. The song is a great prog metal ballad, soaring guitar and vocals lending a melancholy edge to the increasing tempo before it all comes to a prompt ending.

Walk All The Way has an acoustic opening with pared back vocals before the blue touch paper is lit and racing keyboards paired with a great running riff fling us into the meat of the track. This is another longer track that screams prog metal at you at the beginning. We are met by some crunching guitar before an upbeat vocal joins the throng. Then the song dips in and out of some serious power metal vibes, especially the chorus, a seriously clever counter-point to the rest of the song. The technical ability of the musicians is on show and in your face, guitar twankery, epic drums, serious keyboards and quality bass all present and correct, we even get a small portion of growly vocals thrown in for good measure.  In the middle of the song we go off on a heavier vibe, bombastic riffing and darker edged vocals together with that monster drumming before a fantastic guitar riff reminiscent of Spiders from Mars and a really cool solo. Again you get those contrasting musical sections that blend together perfectly as the song takes another 90 degree turn into power metal territory and we get a re-run of that great chorus and guitar run. It all comes to a close with some more guitar brilliance and a nicely harmonised vocal section. A complex intro with an edge, riffing guitar, swirling keyboards and pounding drums is the signature of The Time for Change before a nice acoustic section is followed by low key, mellow vocals that rise up from below and then soar higher, a compact guitar following it as it moves up the scales. More of an anthem than a ballad backed by some suitably serious guitar playing wizardy, the middle section of the track has an urgent riff under laying the vocals before a superior guitar solo leads out the rest of the song  amid a re-run of the chorus.  The end of what has been a seriously impressive journey into the land of progressive metal is reached as we listen to the opening of title track, Awakening, a staccato edged  guitar backed by some quality keyboards provides a brilliant start, the vocals kick in as powerful as ever and a top notch slice of progressive metal is unleashed upon us. This track has a more epic feel to it with an urgent vibe to the music, some suitably killer riffs are unleashed, pulsating and pounding as the track marches on. The tempo changes slightly as a nice interlude is picked up by the great vocals once more, I am a confirmed fan of Alex Lykke’s voice, that’s for sure. Off we go again, another tempo change heralded by some more classy guitar, this time a laid back, staccato riff that runs in tandem with a harder edged vocal. The way the longer tracks blend the different sections perfectly is in evidence again, quick changes in tempo and profundity, quality guitar solos allowed to, almost, have a life of their own, this track has it all. As the track and the album come to an end the tempo is slowed right down with some more that distinctive guitar and keyboard sound that builds us up to an anticipated, full on, ending, the pace lifting again, the vocals soaring high once more, fantastic guitar matching it perfectly, this musical extravaganza bows out gracefully.

I have a small inkling that we could be listening to a band that could, if not should, turn out to be a big hit. The way the songs just flow perfectly, the brilliant musicianship and that fantastic voice all deserve success on a major scale. Vicinity stands comparison with any of the new bands out there and would not be awed by the greats. For a first full length album, Awakening is really rather good. I suggest you go out and buy it….now.

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