Although I quite enjoyed British progressive metallers Aeon Zen’s last release ‘Self Portrait’, it did leave me feeling slightly underwhelmed being an EP that was a rehash of four tracks from their debut album ‘A Mind’s Portrait’ rather than something brand new and shiny. I also have a confession to make that, in my review of the EP I stated that I had never really delved deep into the music of the band. I also stated that I was going to rectify that error but, if we’re keeping the confessions up, I have to admit to a second successive failure in that department.
Luckily August 2014 has changed that in its entirety. Why? I hear you ask, well, firstly I saw Aeon Zen perform live at The Resonance Rock Festival whilst waiting for Anglagard to perform on the main stage (more of that in my in depth article soon) and, secondly, I was first in the queue for the promo of their fourth, full length release ‘Ephemera’. Going on the couple of tracks I saw live, I was hoping for something special from this release. Would this be the case? Time to find out but first, as usual, a little catching up with the press release!
Formed in 2008, this talented quintet has placed constant transformation at the centre of their collective being and the results so far have been outstanding. Releasing their debut album, ‘A Mind’s Portrait’, in 2009 to great acclaim among the progressive and metal underground, it was quickly followed by 2010’s ‘The Face of The Unknown’. Continuing from strength to strength, Aeon Zen brought their own brand of creative, complex, melodic progressive metal to fans all over the world, along with their highly energised live shows, most significantly in 2011, when Devin Townsend tapped Aeon Zen as main support for the Devin Townsend Project’s 12-nation European tour that year.
2013 saw the release of the band’s third album, ‘Enigma’. A departure from previous records, this concept album displayed a band continuing to grow and mature musically whilst building a solid and increasing fanbase. Late 2013 saw the release of their ‘Self-Portrait EP’, 4 tracks re-imagining the band’s début album to represent the bands musical and stylistic progression.
Aeon Zen are Rich Hinks (vocals, bass, guitars and keyboards), Andi Kravljaca (vocals), Steve Burton (drums) and new members Alistair Bell (Guitars) and Tom Green (Keyboards). Produced, mixed, and mastered by Rich, the new album debuts the band’s new line-up, EPHEMERA picks up, musically and thematically, where third album ‘Enigma’ left off. Continuing on with the story, ‘EPHEMERA’ closes the narrative loop with the all-encompassing tale of a world reborn.
The first track on the album is The Entity, a title full of foreboding, darkness and mystery and the song doesn’t disappoint with a muted intro that builds into a shredded riff that rips right through you. The drums are powerful and distinct and the keyboards and guitar grind away with vigour. The vocals are compelling and dynamic and delivered with more than a modicum of menace, if you like your progressive metal with lashings of malevolent danger then you’ve hit the jackpot here. Short, sharp coruscating guitar licks and burning solos fire from left, right and centre and you are left feeling like you’ve been in the middle of a maelstrom of aural violence, auspicious beginnings indeed! So, will the rest of the album follow up on that compelling opening? Soul Machine hoves into view with a riff that hits you right in the solar plexus and knocks you right on your back, it continues with an impressive guitar intro blasting the cobwebs and anything else away. The vocals deliver a massive punch especially on the catchy chorus where a growling harmonic works surprisingly well. There is even a touch of symphonic rock about this track before it takes a step back into a lulled interlude. Not for long though as we are even treated to some thrash metal villainy as the music monsters your soul, as if you are being run over by a fire breathing Minotaur. The viciously delicious guitar solo is a piece of mad genius, crazed and chaotic.
There is no pause for breath or rest as the fiendish intro to Life? begins. A repeated bass line leads into a theatrical vocal delivery that screams Freddie Mercury and Queen at you, well Queen on bad acid anyway! This is inventive and really quite brilliant with an up tempo pomp rock feel. I have a funny feeling the whole band really enjoyed recording this track and wouldn’t be surprised if it became a live staple. The convoluted guitar runs and insanity infused vocals lead you on a merry chase around your own mind. It is like a ride on a carousel from a parallel world where everything is slightly out of tune and off kilter, creepy and alarming but strangely enjoyable at the same time, a piece of psychotic genius transposed into music as it calmly fades into the distance with a funky bass beat and keyboards. More malignant musical mayhem follows as Unite begins with a really sinister and menacing keyboard riff that cuts you deep, all distorted and piercing. The vocal is delivered urgently keeping you on edge and tremulous. This track is almost industrial in its composition, a huge wall of sound that batters you into submission at times yet is countered by occasional melodic interludes. I get a feeling of music forged in a foundry of heavy metal vibes to give a technical edge to proceedings, at times quite brutal but, especially towards the end, there is an innate clarity to the sound.
A short interlude of less than a minute, Penumbra seems to be a bridge between tracks and has more than hints of the Twilight Zone theme to it before it leeches into The Order of the Blind. This track seems to be time for everyone to take a breather, it is more like a ballad come anthem yet it still has a complexity and weight to it. Vocals drip emotion and the music follows suit, it lacks the darkness of the previous tracks but not the depth as the vocals blossom and deliver an amazing ending to the song, all melodic metal as it builds in tempo and brooks no argument as we are led straight into Remembrance which starts almost like a straight up thrash metal track. Crunching riffs that could break granite asunder abound, a huge wall of sound eminating from the drums and bass and the vocal is delivered in true cookie monster style. Perhaps the heaviest song on the whole album, there is a serious intensity to it that carries all before it. The guitar solos are simple but vividly violent and, when it comes to a close, you are left shaken and wondering if you have just walked through the eye of a musical tornado.
Rebuild the Ruins begins ominous and full of foreboding, the keyboard heavy intro leaving you on the edge of your seat before a strident riff takes up the call. The impassioned vocals add to the feeling of apprehension as the song powers away into the distance. Savage guitar licks deliver occasional fusillades of intensity and the addition of a growling vocal just adds to the feeling of apprehension. It is a continuous aural cannonade that hits you hard and holds you in place before it segues into the final track The Space You Wanted. A more heartfelt and less heavy song, it has a feel of a melodic metal track. Don’t get me wrong, we have a riff but the superb vocal is allowed to be the focus of the track. It is the ever impressive guitar that leads out the track though, piercing and burning bright as this thunderous album comes to a close.
Happily shell-shocked is how I would describe myself after listening to ‘Ephemera’, there is a decided intensity that burns bright throughout this release. The technical ability of the musicians is second to none and the vocals impress highly. It seems like ‘Self Portrait’ was only the small tip of a very large iceberg if what I have heard is anything to go by. Progressive Metal with an added dose of dark and dangerous, I would very much like another helping please!