There are moments in your life that will forever stand out, when something happens for the first time or, perhaps, an incident that ends up leading you down a certain path. You know what I mean, the chance meeting that ends up with your life following a different course or achieving a different outcome. I can remember the chance happenings and occurrences that led to my career path, the way my relationships have panned out (not brilliantly so far, let me tell you) and, when it comes to music, the moment my musical taste veered strongly into the path of progressive rock and progressive metal. It was in October 1992 and I was sat in my friend’s apartment when the first dulcet notes of Dream Theater’s Pull Me Under came flying out of his music system, their previous release, When Dream and Day Unite soon followed and I’ve been hooked ever since. It was, to my ears, such an amazing sound, technically proficient yet moving at the same time, I loved the mix of guitar, bass, keyboards and spectacular drumming all wrapped up with a great vocal. To my mind, you cannot beat classic progressive metal and, to this day, it is still my favourite music genre. When I first heard Prison of Light by Tritonus I was transported back in time 11 years with a huge grin on my face, I will elaborate soon but, first, another history lesson.
The band was founded in 1990, by guitarist Carl August Tidemann, following in the wave of progressive bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater. After several line-ups, and name changes, Tritonus released their demotape “Shadowland” in 1994, and received great reviews. In 1995 they were part of the sampler “A Gathering of 8 Norwegian Prog Metal Bands”, released by the label FaceFront. The album also featured great bands like Manitou and Spiral Architecht. All of them were part of a progressive “movement”, and the momentum was used in varying degrees by the bands. Tritonus, on their part, used most of the late 90’s to write the songs for their debut album. The recordings started in year 2000 and were finalised in 2006 but, due to different circumstances, a proper release of the album has never been done, until now. It is sure about time, instead of updating it, sonically, for an up to date sound, they chose to leave it as it was originally recorded, capturing the music, and the band, from the early 2000’s.The album sounds alive and organic and, being recorded in the early years of the digital revolution, the sound is more or less analogue. There has not been any extensive editing, or processing either. In that regard, it will stand out from a lot of contemporary albums. The line-up for 2013, as well as Carl August Tidemann, includes Rolf Kristensen (vocals), Ole Devold (drums) and Thor-Axel Eriksen (guitars). The album also features contributions from Lasse Finbraten (keyboards), Oystein Moe (bass), Mathis Dikkanen (bass) and Erik Devold (additional guitars).
The high hat, cymbals and racheting riff that form the intro to title track Prison of Light bring an immediate grin to my face, this is classic progressive metal and is a true homage to the early years of Dream Theater and other great prog metal bands. When the keyboards stroll into the picture and Kristensen’s vocals chime in they’ve got me, hook, line and sinker. There is a real sense of When Dream and Day Unite to the sound, there is no hiding behind overblown production values, everyone is earning their corn here. The song has a compartmental feel to it like different chapters in a book, a nice keyboard run here, cracking guitar solo there and the quality rhythm section keeping it all in excellent check. Kriestensen’s voice is pure early James La Brie and fantastic for it. Second track Demons starts with a lighter note, keyboards overlaying a staccato drum and guitar, the vocal moving smoothly up and down the scale throughout. This track has a great section in the middle with the guitar almost taking over to tell the story, keyboards adding fire in the background. Remedy has a slow, heavier intro with a pulsing riff and coruscating keyboards. The vocal has a more commanding edge especially in the potent and catchy chorus. I tell you what, I’m still grinning from ear to ear, this is why I love progressive metal. The song has its own series of twists and turns, never following a straight line and keeping you guessing, epitomised by a cool face off between guitar and keyboards. This really great song is finished off by another rendition of that fine chorus as it fades out. A smooth keyboard and staccato riff from the impressive guitars lead us into Blindfolded, the song then runs with a sparkling, catchy riff before we are treated to some more of the impressive vocals. A faster paced track than those previous, without the reliance on modern production techniques there is a raw edge to the song that gives it a classic edge. I think the solo that comes next is just pure 80’s prog, shame there are not too many of them around nowadays, the brilliant jazzy section that follows is just a gem, these guys can write great songs and play them even better. Crunching guitar rides roughshod through the next section, counterbalanced by some playful keyboards, more progressive than metal, I love it.
The Mission carries on in similar vein, delightful keyboards, clean cut riffing and a solid vocal the ingredients in another nice piece of progressive metal, perhaps a little too similar to what has gone before, nothing wrong with that, maybe we have been spoilt so far. Another great solo lifts what is, maybe, the weakest song on the album. An insistent keyboard and growling riff get things moving in the right direction again, 10,000 Years comes barrelling onto the scene with a really epic guitar sound, very impressive, the whole song has a darker feel to it than before and,for me it works really well. A really nice guitar solo, some rather excellent vocals and the best use of the keyboards so far all contribute to the polished feel of this track. A mini progressive metal epic is the only way to describe The Quantum and the Lotus, the laid back drums and cymbals, stylish keyboards and smooth bass leading in an easy going guitar. The progressive nature of the album and the songs mean it’s not long before a different tack is taken with a more urgent edge to the guitar note, more rugged and severe, the whole song moving up a gear for a short while. Everything is brought back down a notch, delightfully tinkling piano and luscious guitar holding sway as a light and dancing vocal joins the mix. This track has a serious Images and Words vibe to it, brought bang up to date. As the song moves through the light and dark of the musical world it is almost like four seasons in one day, there is not enough music of this calibre around in this day and age. Kristensen, once again, produces a fine vocal performance, key to this gem of an album. Did I say back to the early 90’s? It’s back to the 60’s with To Travel without Motion, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds anyone? The intro is a piece of pure psychedelia and brilliant with it. Have these guys been smoking something they shouldn’t? If so, let them carry on. The final track on the album is just a delight, Kristensen is given free rein and makes optimum use of it, in fact, the whole band seem to be really enjoying playing this song. An uplifting chorus just shouts at you to sing along, who am I to say no? It is a fitting, lively and jubilant ending to a wonderful blast from the past.
Prison of Light is brilliant, a Back to the Future for the music world if you like. It brings all sorts of great memories back into my mind from a time when I had first discovered progressive metal, the musicianship is excellent and the vocals are superb. I never stopped smiling throughout, Tritonus should be understandably proud of ,and championed for, their decision to release it as the original recording as I, for one, feel that it is part of its undeniable charm. Let’s put it this way, if there was only one copy of this album left on the planet, I would fight you to the death for it.