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Andeavor - 1999/2009 - "Once Upon Time"

(71:32, PMM)


****

TRACK LIST:
           
1.  Deja Vu 4:47
2.  Spotlight 6:32
3.  Heaven's Gate 6:17
4.  One More Day 5:54
5.  Jigsaw 6:16 
6.  Crimson Tears 5:01
7.  Face Paint 7:35
8.  The Long Walk 4:33
9.  Anybody's Guess 5:24
10. False Profit 3:57
11. House of Rags 8:55 
12. Migraine 6:21

LINEUP:

Douglas Peck – vocals; bass; additional keyboards 
Steven Starvaggi – drums; backing vocals
Steve Matusik – el. & ac. guitars 
Chris Rodler – keyboards 

Prolusion. Hailing from Erie, Pennsylvania (USA), ANDEAVOR got originally together in 1994 under the name of Andromeda, a band formed by guitarist Steve Matusik and bassist/vocalist Douglas Peck. Drummer Steven Starvaggi and keyboardist Chris Rodler joined later, with Rodler (founder of PMM music) offering his home studio facilities for the band to start recording their debut album in 1998. “Once Upon Time” was released in the spring of 1999, after which Rodler left the band to concentrate on his activity as a producer, and then reissued in 2009, to coincide with the release of the band’s second album, “The Darkest Tear”.

Analysis. Released on the same year as Dream Theater’s “Scenes from a Memory”, at a time when classic progressive metal had already emerged as a phenomenon to be reckoned with, “Once Upon Time” (without the ‘a’ generally present in this phrase) is one of those debut albums that present a well-meaning band with, unfortunately, not a whole lot of original ideas. Like countless other bands of the same persuasion, the imprint of Mike Portnoy’s crew is also very evident in most of the compositions included on this album. To be perfectly honest, unlike some other acts that I have reviewed in the past year or so, Andeavor cannot be called mere Dream Theater clones, since a number of other influences can be detected while listening to “Once Upon Time”. Their approach to composition favours relatively concise songs rather than extended epics, which makes them more akin to bands like Queensryche or even Iron Maiden. The lushness of the keyboards is also suggestive of vintage pomp rock acts such as Styx and later Kansas – a detail that makes the album potentially appealing to those listeners who like their prog to have a bit of an edge, but are put off by the excesses of extreme metal. Though “Once Upon Time” is derivative rather than innovative, it can be a pleasing listen if you are into this sort of musical offer. It does, however, have a major problem: Doug Peck’s vocals (featured in every one of the 12 tracks) can be hard to take, and make the listening experience somewhat tiresome as a whole. While his high-pitched tones naturally follow in the footsteps of such influential singers as Geoff Tate, James LaBrie and Steve Walsh, but lack the range and power needed to tackle the most vocally demanding moments of the band’s material. This is especially evident on tracks such as Spotlight, the ballad Anybody’s Guess, and album closer Migraine, all of which would have required a voice capable of smoothness as well as confidence. As things stand, Peck’s performance turns out to be often grating, something rather problematic when you have an album as strongly vocals-based as this one. This is a pity, because some of the instrumental passages are quite worthwhile, especially those spiced with some intriguing Middle-Eastern touches such as Crimson Tears and the aforementioned Migraine, whose dramatic, intensely Gothic quality would have worked perfectly as an instrumental. Unfortunately, by the time you reach the end of the album, your ears might already be weary of hearing Peck strain to reach the higher notes. Not surprisingly in this day and age, “Once Upon Time” is also much too long. Running at over 70 minutes, there is inevitably quite a bit of padding involved, such as the somewhat cheesy ballad mentioned in the previous paragraph. Luckily, the 10-year gap between this album and Andeavor’s latest effort has brought maturity to the band and consequently some dramatic improvements in their overall sound.

Conclusion. Fans of classic progressive metal, as well as completists of the genre, may very well be interested in “Once Upon Time”, in spite of its largely derivative nature and weak vocals. On the other hand, there are moments on the album that point out at the potential for growth evidenced by Andeavor’s sophomore effort, “The Darkest Tear”.



Andeavor - 2009 - "The Darkest Tear"

(45:26, PMM)


*****

TRACK LIST:
           
1.  Under My Breath 5:44
2.  Far Behind 5:21
3.  Curse This Storm 5:36
4.  Chasing The Sun 6:02
5.  Vague 4:56
6.  Insomnia 5:42
7.  Tomorrow 6:30
8.  Not Alone 5:35

LINEUP:

Doug Peck – lead & backing vocals; bass
Steven Starvaggi – drums; b/v
Steve Matusik – guitars 

Analysis. “The Darkest Tear” is the second album by Pennsylvania-based band ANDEAVOR, released after a ten-year hiatus, and produced by former keyboardist (and founder of PMM Music) Chris Rodler. The ten years elapsed between “Once Upon Time” and the release of “The Darkest Tear” have undoubtedly brought dramatic changes to Andeavor’s sound. Though their foundation remains the song-focused brand of progressive metal best embodied in the Eighties by the likes of Queensryche and Fates Warning – as well as by Dream Theater’s early output – the band have definitely tried to smooth the rough edges evidenced in their debut, in order to come up with a more personal take on this prolific subgenre. For their return to recording after such a long hiatus, Andeavor have streamlined their approach. The loss of the keyboards, far from proving a drawback, has been an advantage to the band, eliminating some of the excessive pompousness that occasionally marred their debut. Moreover, the stripped-down trio format allows the band to concentrate on the instrumental part of their compositions as much as on the vocals, injecting that individual touch which was lacking in their debut effort. Most importantly, Doug Peck has vastly improved as a vocalist, and – while his singing style may still put off those who are not fond of the genre’s typical high tenors – his voice now sounds much more in control, capable of tackling the band’s material without the frequent signs of wear and tear shown on “Once Upon Time”. A good example of his maturation as a singer would be the melodic, Middle Eastern-tinged Far Behind, where Peck also gets the opportunity to flaunt his chops as a bassist. As in their previous effort, Andeavor concentrate on songs rather than mere displays of technicality, even though all the band members are all more than adequate musicians. The absence of the domineering keyboards allows the individual instruments to be heard clearly, which is especially a bonus as far as the rhythm section is concerned. Steven Starvaggi’s drumming, while powerful, is not as overwhelming as seems to be the rule in the genre; while the guitar parts never descend into shredding, being at the service of the songs rather than the other way round. For a ‘traditional’ prog metal album, “The Darkest Tear” is remarkably short, with all the tracks between 4 and 6 minutes – only Tomorrow clocking in at 6 and a half minutes. Such a format does not allow for extended soloing, but rather for a fair balance between vocal and instrumental parts. While the Dream Theater influence is still quite evident – especially in Peck’s vocal style and the trademark shifts between melodic and aggressive passages – the band manage to attain a modicum of originality, which is mainly expressed in the essential structure of the album, a collection of songs without the self-indulgence of elaborate concepts or epics. Conversely, it might be said that none of the songs are memorable enough, which is at least partly true. As a matter of fact, it would not be easy for me to point out any particular highlights, though I can safely state that the first half of the album impressed me more than the second – where things started to drag a bit. In spite of the above misgivings, “The Darkest Tear” is a solid effort that, while it might not rock your world, will at least offer you 45 minutes of music of a reasonably high standard. It is to be hoped that Andeavor will pursue this path, instead of relapsing into the derivative pattern displayed on their debut album.

Conclusion. A much more accomplished effort than the band’s debut album, “The Darkest Tear” will appeal to fans of traditional progressive metal in the mould of early Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensryche. Though not exactly breaking any new ground, this is a well-crafted album that may help Andeavor to find their own place on the rather crowded prog metal scene.

RB=Raffaella Berry: July 30, 2010
The Rating Room


Related Links:

PMM Music
Andeavor


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