Album Reviews

Aeon Zen – Self Portrait

What to do next when you’ve finished and released your latest album? Put your feet up and accept the acclaim? Tour relentlessly in promotion of the album? Or re-work 4 tracks from your debut album to produce something entirely different and release as an EP? Well, British progressive metallers Aeon Zen followed the third option (they may have ticked option one or two as well but, that doesn’t work with this review so we’ll ignore them!) and, re-worked, re-arranged and re-recorded 4 songs from their debut album ‘A Mind’s Portrait’, released in 2009.

Entitled ‘Self Portrait’, this EP is their fourth official release and follows the debut album (as mentioned), ‘The Face of the Unknown’ released in 2010 and, the band’s critically acclaimed third album, Enigma released last year. Technically re-recordings, these songs are very different and showcase the growth and progression that has made Aeon Zen a rising name in the progressive metal genre.

This digital EP marks the first release with vocals performed by Andi Kravljaca and founder Rich Hinks (who also provides guitar, bass, keyboards and alto sax), the band is completed by Matt Shepherd (guitar) and Steve Burton (drums).

Now, being a so called music aficionado, you would have thought I’d know all about Aeon Zen but, I have a confession to make, apart from the odd track, I have never heard a full album so, this is something of a new listen for me and, I always love hearing new music. Would ‘Self Portrait’ get me delving into Aeon Zen‘s back catalogue or, would it justify my earlier faux pas of never listening intently to their music?

First track on the EP, Psych! (got to love an exclamation mark in a song title) is two minutes of classy noise with a harsh intro and staccato riff that grates against the bone but, is melodic in an off kilter sort of way. The techno style keyboards underpin an ambient vocal delivery that, combined with the grating riff, gives a smorgasbord of technical sound, for a two minute track it is pretty impressive.

Portrait carries on in that frenetic, hectic mode with a coruscating guitar and edgy drum beat, the low down, gruff vocals work well and I’m getting a techno-dance metal feel going on, all distorted beats and a guitar and bass that don’t like uniformity and straight lines. This is progressive metal on the edge, not your typical fare but edgy and dynamic and works as a shorter track.

If you feel you need a break after the slightly deranged and small scale psychotics of the first two tracks then Rain delivers something mellower and calmer, the piano led intro and hushed vocal is almost ethereal in comparison. A light strummed guitar adds additional peace and quiet, akin to the calming influence of morphine. When the thunderous riff kicks in it does so with a sombreness that is in keeping with the feel of the song so far and, then departs to leave the composed music that preceded it to carry on. Plenty of progressive metal bands can deliver this type of song so it takes an added something to lift it above the norm, Aeon Zen seem to have that ability, the addition of the alto sax at the end of the track is a kind of mad genius and combines with a fluent guitar solo to finish the track on an uplifting note.

The final track on the EP is Demise and, after the tranquil proceedings of the previous track it wakes you up with a vengeance, a crashing, harsh riff from the depths of the earth thunders into view and the guitar carries on slicing through your psyche, like a knife through butter. The drums batter you into submission until you feel you can take no more (but, you’re a masochist so, of course you can!). There are some real muse like moments where the vocals take on an operatic feel and some moments where we get into growling death metal vocals and, in my opinion, the clash of styles really works. This is the most complete progressive metal track on the album and the harsh, thrusting guitar note combines with an almost techno style keyboard in places to produce a really unique sound. It can appear to be an odd mish-mash of styles to be thrown together in a song but, there is an intelligence involved in making it all work, it is very astute and rewards the listener on multiple playbacks, like re-watching a movie that, on first view, appears to have a bit too much going on at once. Towards the end of the track, it tends to venture into more recognisable territory with powerful vocals, soaring choruses and intricate guitar work but, you always remember what has preceded it, very clever song construction.

When you are left wishing there were more tracks on an EP, you know the band have produced something capable. I am going to plunder Aeon Zen’s back catalogue because, if it’s anything like this, it is going to be excellent. This is a band with an extremely bright future and I am convinced we will be hearing a lot more of them and that, in my opinion, can only be a good thing.

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