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Alkymia - 2008 - "The Other Side"

(62.07, Brennus Music)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  The Gate Of Dreams 4.40
2.  Fatal Attraction 6.02
3.  Martyr Child 5.34
4.  Hot Winter Cold Summer 4.29
5.  Diva's Requiem 5.07
6.  Forgotten People 8.08 
7.  The Other Side-I 6.29
8.  The Other Side-II 4.21
9.  The Other Side-III 4.54
10. Kashmir 6.47
11. Elixir (b/t) 6.55


Pierre Placines - vocals 
Pierre Boscardin – guitar 
Thierry Ousty – keyboards 
Jean Davoisne – drums 
Jim Sourb?s – bass 

Prolusion. Hailing from the Pyrenees region in south-western France, ALKIMIA was formed in 2004. “The Other Side”, their debut album, was recorded after the death of their lead singer, Jerome Semmartin (subsequently replaced by Pierre Placines), and released in May 2007.

Analysis. Love them or loathe them, it cannot be denied that Dream Theater has left an indelible mark on the world of progressive rock. Over the years, the New York blend of influences from vintage prog bands and classic heavy metal (borrowing quite a few of early Rush’s mannerisms in the process) has resulted in a brand of music that, while not completely original or genuinely ground-breaking, has given rise to a whole new genre. Nowadays, even if ‘traditional’ progressive metal is considered with a jaded eye by the fans of the more cutting-edge incarnations of the genre (who have understandably become bored with the endless series of cookie-cutter imitators of Dream Theater and their ilk), it does still have a keen following in most corners of the world, as clearly proved by French outfit Alkimya’s debut album. Right from their line-up – a five-piece fronted by singer Pierre Placines – Alkimya come across as a dead ringer for the New York band. They also seem to have a penchant for covering classic rock songs: in this particular case, Led Zeppelin’s enormously influential Kashmir. However, the biggest similarity of all lies in Placines’ vocals, which sound so much like James LaBrie’s that the two singers could be easily swapped without anyone really noticing. His high-pitched tenor (at times sounding somewhat strained, but otherwise quite effective) dominates most of the songs, which are more vocal-oriented than the average output of many prog-metal bands. Interestingly, there are no instrumental tracks on “The Other Side” – the album is about songs rather than lengthy flights of instrumental prowess, and none of the tracks runs over 8 minutes. At slightly over an hour in length, the album itself is considerably shorter than one has come to expect from the average prog-metal release. Unlike other bands, Alkimya seem to model themselves on early Dream Theater (with Kevin Moore on keyboards) rather than on the latter incarnations of the band. This lineup is still favoured by many because of Moore’s definitely stronger songwriting skills and ear for melody – and, indeed, the melodic component appears to be quite strong in Alkimya’s sound. Some of the songs evidence a rather unlikely pairing of influences: Pink Floyd meets Dream Theater, of all things, where the frantic, ultra-fast shredding patterned on John Petrucci and his ilk is replaced by slow, emotional, clean-sounding soloing reminiscent of David Gilmour’s style. The three-part title-track is a good example of this, especially the third part; while the first half of the second part starts out in a similar way to Dream Theater’s acoustic, piano-led ballads such as Wait for Sleep or Space-Dye Vest. The three pieces are connected by an overall melancholy, even gloomy mood, possibly reflecting the state of mind of the band after Sammartin’s death. Conversely, all the expected elements of classic Prog-Metal make their appearance in the first two tracks of the album. The Gate of Dreams opens with the sounds of a police car chase, then sweeping keyboards and the genre’s trademark riffing take centre stage. This song and the following, Fatal Attraction, are both propelled along by Jean Davoisne’s powerful drumming. The latter is a very dramatic effort, with a sort of dialogue in the middle, plenty of tempo changes, and an acrobatic guitar solo; while Diva’s Requiem is a wistful, mid-paced ballad very much in the vein of Dream Theater’s similar efforts. The two tracks that have been strategically placed at the close of the album stand out in their own peculiar way. The Kashmir cover is a largely unimpressive rendition of Led Zeppelin’s epic, with the heavy riffage drowning out the original song’s distinctive Middle Eastern flavour, and a totally misplaced, spacey keyboard bridge – on the whole, it reminded me of the second half of Dream Theater’s album “A Change of Seasons” (especially their take on Deep Purple’s song Perfect Strangers). On the other hand, Elixir, recorded by the band with Jrrome Sammartin before his untimely passing, is a somewhat more original effort than the other songs on the album. Sung in French rather than in English, it also features a strong Black Sabbath influence, though it turns into a more conventional prog-metal workout in its second half. It is, in any case, a poignant tribute to a man whose life was cut way too short.

Conclusion. While fans of Dream Theater and ‘classic’ progressive metal might well find “The Other Side” an interesting proposition, the album is too derivative to appeal to those who are looking for genuinely progressive qualities in their music. Though Alkimya is a group of clearly talented musicians, who deserve kudos for having carried on in spite of the loss of their original singer, I cannot help but hope in the future they will stop relying too heavily on the influence of other, higher-profile bands, and find a more personal style of their own.

RB=Raffaella Berry: October 2, 2009
The Rating Room

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