Album Reviews

Artizan – The Furthest Reaches

The Floridian power metal band Artizan made me first take note of them back in August of 2011 when they were performing on the “Uniting the Powers of Metal” tour, and their catchy melodies, powerful drums, shredding riffs, and impressive vocals caught my attention.  Back then, they were supporting their debut album, Curse of the Artizan, and now they have released their third full album already, entitled The Furthest Reaches.  This science-fiction concept album is a rock opera that keeps expanding Artizan’s repertoire.  Not only is their discography and approach expanding, so is the band.  Now a quintet, Artizan’s personnel includes founder Ty Tammeus on drums, Tom Braden on vocals, Shamus McConney on rhythm guitar, Jonathan Jennings on bass, and newest band member Bill Staley on rhythm and lead guitar.  Additionally, Artizan is revisited by Matt Barlow (former Iced Earth, Ashes of Ares) and Sabrina Cruz (Seven Kingdoms) on vocals and narration.  The Furthest Reaches is a sci-fi metal concept album about the end of the world and the saving (in their own way) of mankind through otherworldly beings, which are realized through 10 tracks that go beyond just music to help bring the story to life.The first track, Coming of Age, is actually a dramatic scene that sets the stage for the premise of the album.  It begins with a mother (voiced by Sabrina Cruz) listening to the news, which states there was a moment of silence in remembrance of the fires of 2035, which happened 10 years earlier, the attack of which “decimated the civilization of man.”  After doing the dinner dishes, the mother reads her son (voiced by Seattle Mongelo) a bedtime story, and he requests The Furthest Reaches to be read to him despite her caution of its being too scary at his young age.  He assures her he is ready, so as she digs into the story, the second track begins the tale.  Summon the Gods starts off right away with a driving drum, bass, and guitar introduction with punctuated rhythms setting up the energy of the song before the vocals enter with the first two subsequent verses that communicate the genesis of the planetary crisis and imminent destruction if there is no intervention.  After the bridge, the main lengthier chorus, and a short channel, the instrumental interlude begins with a nice dueling guitar section with harmonies and paralleling basslines, accented nicely by the drums.  A reprise of the earlier melodies come back in a revised medley that combines the bridge and chorus vocal lines and play on the lyrics that bring the song to an end in a straightforwardly presented three and a half minute opening musical track.

Hopeful Eyes is the third track that communicates the hope that mankind places in help from beyond in their time of crisis.  As the Earth appears to be in its last throes, humankind decides to send an SOS into space, hoping that there might be someone out there than can come save Earth’s civilization.  A song with a galloping drive to it, with a kind of a classic feel to it starting with the dual guitar introduction.  The song focuses on the choruses that are rich in harmonies vocally as well as during the instrumental interlude in the guitar solo lines that connect the choruses and the subsequent verses/channels that in the interesting song structure play out the song with slight variations that reinforce the narrative.

The title track, The Furthest Reaches, is the longest on the album at about nine and a half minutes.  This song begins differently with an ominous and somber string introduction that the guitars enter one by one toward the end of the segment before the first verse.  This song has a slower, measured tempo, which fits the tone of the music (think something reminiscent of Queensrÿche‘s Another Rainy Night) with an orchestral flair to it.  After the third verse, the pace picks up segueing in to the first chorus that maintains for the following chorus variations, slowing down for a segue into a beautiful interlude about 4:45.  This shifts into acoustic guitars only with a kind of Spanish flair in the melody, with the eventual addition of a clearly featured vocal delivery and later arrival of more strings to flesh out this classically-influenced halftime in the song.  After about a minute and a half of this, the metal side begins to slowly re-emerge and picks up pace faster than the track has been to this point and features another instrumental interlude with electric guitar solos and double kick drums that push the tempo forward almost completely instrumentally until the end.  A short chorus reprise reappears in the last portion of the song, which finalizes the storyline that is now centered around the Great Pyramids of Egypt being the location to summon the otherworldly “Keepers” to arrive back on Earth to assist in her time of crisis.

The Cleansing is the fifth track that continues the storyline, which illustrates that the “Keepers” do indeed come to Earth, but help in a way unexpected.  Seeing how devastated the Earth is by the poor stewardship of humankind, their solution is to set the Earth afire to cleanse it of the imbalance and “disease” of the poor caretakers of humanity.  This song features Matt Barlow as the Keepers with a very convincing and menacing vocal performance.  Musically, it begins with a deep pulsating beat with an acoustic guitar intro, as the electric guitar riff and rhythm soon enter with maniacal laughing in the background before the spoken words of the Keepers kick off the song.  The melodic verse and chorus follow this ominous warning, and then the voice of the Keepers returns to render their destructive verdict on the human race.  The plaintive revised chorus resumes afterwards as it winds down back into the pulsating beat again that segues directly into the next song,  Wardens of the New World.  With a softly played guitar and vocal introduction, the introduction takes a turn with a lead guitar line and acoustic guitar accompaniment. After the first verse is sung by Braden, Sabrina Cruz appears, representing Mother Earth in this song, singing the next two strains before Braden returns singing the bridge and chorus.  Halfway through this longer, seven-minute song, the music drops from a more staccato beat to a softer, more emotive segue with some ethereal keys and guitar, and Cruz reappears in a new building verse that builds vocally and musically back into a driving 4/4 instrumental tempo, as she reintroduces the chorus as sung from the perspective of Mother Earth.  Braden joins her in a duet, singing the chorus in the first person, while Cruz interjects with the same lyrics in second person in a nice juxtaposition.  This song continues the concept from the perspective of the Earth’s renewal after the fire, and the survivors left are in charge of the new Earth and have to decide how they will care for the world this time around, hoping to protect the Earth so they are not revisited by the Keepers again.

Heed the Warning is a short narrative interlude in the story, as read again by the boy’s mother (Sabrina Cruz), that talks about the survivors given another chance to bring balance and harmony again to the Earth, but if not, there would be a chance of a supernova happening, disrupting the whole solar system.  This segues naturally into the next, aptly-named track, Supernova, a song that communicates the very real possibility of a supernova in the precarious situation that Earth is now in.  This track begins with a modest guitar and quite drum-driven introduction, building into the first verse that picks up with soaring vocals and rhythmic guitar riffs.  There is an industrial sound effects pause before the remainder of the verse and bridge before entering the catchy chorus in a half-time feel after which an intriguing instrumental interlude begins, containing a variety of musical inclusions, such as a bit of a shredding guitar solo, tom-focused drumming, and spacey-guitar manipulations.  After this, a channel verse begins with some nice triplet arpeggiation on the guitars that balance with the other driving 4/4 beat going on in the rest of the song vocally and instrumentally.  A second, slightly modified chorus carries the song out, which ends with the same mechanistic sounds heard earlier in the first verse, bringing it closure.

At 15 seconds, Starchild is by far the shortest track on the album, and is one last brief scene of the interaction between the mother and son about following one’s dreams, as the child’s father had done.  This introduces the final track on the album, Into the Sun, begins with a chugging, classic metal introduction.  A song about following one’s dreams into the final frontier, it is an energetic closer.   The chorus has a strong push on the solid 4/4 beat, but then suspends with more push on the 2 and 4 beats, and this pattern alternates throughout the song for an interesting shift that represents the variety of styles that seem to be represented in this track.  The last chorus repeats until it fades out with a solo guitar playing melancholic arpeggiated chords (with a bit of synth underneath), which seems to sum up the tone of the album quite nicely.

Of note, the special edition album also includes a bonus track of their cover of Come Sail Away, which is a very solid, updated, and heavier version of the classic Styx song that suits Artizan’s style – and in this case, theme – nicely.  In addition, they subtly and cleverly knitted the musical themes from The Cleansing with new lyrics before segueing back into the last verse of the original song.  Another mention to make in terms of the standard issue CD and the special edition version is the differences in artwork as well.  Again, they enlisted outstanding album artists for The Furthest Reaches, with Marc Sasso creating the standard album cover artwork and Eliran Kantor creating the Limited Edition CD, both talented in their own right but with quite different artistic and stylistic approaches (aside from the obvious difference in image content).

Even though they fall into the melodic or even progressive power metal genre, there is a lot of straightforward heavy metal that influences Artizan’s style that at times gives them a more classic, traditional undertone to their sound.  Being a concept album, there are times when Queensrÿche, especially Operation: Mindcrime, comes to mind, but Artizan remains too straightforward to be considered solely progressive metal despite their rock opera approach.  Artizan again puts out a very solid release, and they continue with their thematic approach with another cohesive concept album.  The consistency between albums carried through by longtime and founding members Tammeus, Braden, Jennings, and McConney is commendable, and the addition of new guitarist Staley adds an additional layer to the band that bolsters them even further.  Tammeus‘ solid drumming and writing of the songs (especially lyrically) are both very foundational to the very music and nature of the album itself.  Joined by Jennings on bass, the both make a tight rhythm section that definitely keep the songs moving along with precision.  McConney and Staley have made a great guitar duo and play with and off each other well, and put forth a culmination of styles to keep the music interesting and varied.  One thing that has always stood out to me as a highlight of Artizan’s sound is Braden‘s crystal-clear tenor that delivers the soaring vocal melodies effortlessly, and his diction cannot be undervalued in a day when it can be quite difficult to understand the words to a band’s music.  I was also very pleased to hear the lovely vocal guest performances by Sabrina Cruz, in her dual mother roles (to the child, and as the Mother Earth), and the quite intimidating delivery by Matt Barlow as he voiced the Keepers.  This album is one that would appeal to many who enjoy power, traditional, or progressive metal, especially for those who like concept albums or science fiction.  Artizan has forged ahead and continues to build upon their previous efforts, not being satisfied to rest on their laurels as they try to outdo themselves from the time before, and definitely deserve a listen to their most recent offering.

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