I am a huge progressive rock fan and sometimes this can blinker me to various other great musical releases that are out there. Thankfully, being in the fold at Lady Obscure Music Magazine, I am often pulled out of my prog related reverie and given some brain scalding, extremely heavy and powerful music to review.
Recently I have reviewed several releases that lead you more into a contemplative mood than an ass kicking, guitar shredding and brain melting one. Waiting for me at the end of my decidedly progressive rock journey are a few considerably heavier, more metal orientated ones. This is not to say there isn’t a cogitative intelligence at play, just that lots of thunderous drums, heavy guitars and menacing vocals are the mainstay.
First in the queue is the latest release from U.S. progressive metal act Cea Serin. There is more behind ‘The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and Decay’ though than just being a new record. This album has been ten years in the making, following up on the band’s debut release in 2004, ‘….where memories combine….’ and was originally intended as a stop gap between that first release and the ‘official’ follow up ‘The World Outside’.
The band consists of original founder Jay Lamm (bass, vocals, keyboards, guitar), Keith Warman (guitar, vocals) and Rory Faciane (drums, percussion).
Jay sets the scene:
“The initial purpose of this release was to be a stop-gap between our debut album ‘…where memories combine…’ and the follow-up album ‘The World Outside’. I wanted to bridge the gap between the albums because the two were going to be slightly different. I wanted this album to show the listeners where we came from and where we are going.
The band started in 1997 and in that time leading up to our debut album we released a couple of demo tapes and an mp3 EP called Chiaroscuro. People still ask me if that early material is still available. The truth is that one of the songs from that time period, “Into The Vivid Cherishing,” made it on to ‘…where memories combine…’ while the other material, I thought, was too different for what we were currently doing.
But now we can revisit two of those songs from that era with better recording quality and a real drummer instead of the drum machine that was originally used. So we have Holy Mother and The Illumination Mask to represent where the band started, a cover song that has always inspired me (Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Ice’) and two recent songs that will take us into where we are at present time, The Victim Cult and What Falls Away.
I hope you enjoy this and we’ll be seeing you again in ‘The World Outside’.”
Holy Mother dates back to the bands original demo EPs in 1999. It is a song about a person who undergoes a deep religious experience and personal affirmation brought about by the use of mind altering substances. Heading off with a fast and furious shredded riff that grabs your attention straight away, the hell-for-leather drums provide a focal point around which everything resonates. The melodic run up to the vocal is clever and the growling vocal adds a touch of serious menace to the song. Lamm seems to have a vocal range akin to Bruce Dickinson, hitting the higher notes on the chorus with aplomb. Always aggressive, the intelligent mixing of the extreme and melodic vocal styles adds an inner sophistication. There is no subtle introduction to Cea Serin here, just smooth timing changes, a lush keyboard note and impressive dynamics to pull you into the maelstrom of metal, add in a coruscating guitar note that burns hot, yet dances serenely across your aural receptors with grace, and you’re caught, hook, line and sinker. Originally on the first demo EP in 1997, The Illumination Mask has been a live staple for years. The song was brought about by Jay’s effort to understand himself better and casting off any mask or persona to really see the person underneath. Another extremely powerful track that, this time, begins with a laid back intro using a voice over to set the scene. The riff that follows is pure speed metal, dextrous and intricate but hard, heavy and attention grabbing. It literally blows you away before more of that aggressive vocal hoves into view, laying waste to all around. The foot is never far from the accelerator on this track, any pauses for breath are soon despatched with a cynical force as the drums and crushing guitar dominate proceedings. Despite all that, there are times when this song is seriously catchy, clever and astute writing coming to the fore. A couple of superb fiery solos that transcend all else are further highlights on what is rapidly becoming a rather impressive record.
As if to deliver a definitive break between the early tracks and the new ones, Ice takes a complete break from the chugging, heavy prog that went before. A beautiful cover of the Sarah McLachlan track, there is a wraithlike quality to the gentle, ethereal intro and the softly played piano note. Lamm shows that he truly does have a notably wide vocal range with his soaring delivery and the whole song delivers a feeling of calm and gracefulness. The percussion is suitably soft and mellow and Warman’s acoustic guitar solo is a thing of divine elegance.
The Victim Cult is the first of the two new tracks and shows a definite evolution from the earlier songs. The song deals with the castigation of the creators by the people sitting back in languor. The introduction is a powerful, complex but inviting riff that showcases the band’s technical ability. Intricate rhythms and elaborate guitar runs abound, the vocals have a clean edge to them, even on the growling sections and there is a polish evident in every facet of the composition. Technically profound, this music can stand comparison with the bastions of the genre, once again the guitar solo is majestic and adds a further layer of metal class to the music. The epic last song on the album, What Falls Away, is a deep and meaningful story about a girl’s suicide and the people left behind, wrapped up in a defining moment, an ever revolving piece of time, infatuated by the things in life that fall away and oblivious to what remains to stay. A sombre piano leads in the track, almost like a funeral dirge, portentous and melancholy with a string like synthesiser holding sway in the background. You are kept in a form of stasis as this grief filled lament continues. As a gentle percussive note intrudes, the vocals begin, low and sorrowful. This track takes advantage of the vocal talents of Brooke Mayfield to add a tender contrast to Lamm’s deeper note. The anticipation is increased before a forlorn riff kicks in and lifts the tempo, if not the mood. Some blazing lead guitar work, along with a pulsating riff, adds a mournful, regretful feel to the song as it opens up into a series of complex and convoluted time changes and soaring vocal harmonies. The ever present clash of vocal styles as that more extreme delivery is juxtaposed with the melodic is central to the feeling of remorse and repentance. When the acoustic guitar is introduced to bring everything down a notch it is an inventive touch but it is only a short interlude before that chugging riff intrudes again and this prog-metal monster carries on in its deeply impressive vein. I take my hat off to the band for delivering such a tour-de-force of compelling, forceful and polished music, this track will stay on my playlist for the foreseeable future.
As a so called ‘stop gap’ this album is a monumental success. The more progressive leanings introduced in the new material show the direction the band are heading in and, to this reviewer, it is most definitely the correct one. A classic in the making, what comes next should be highly anticipated by all.