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Aphelion - 2008 - "Franticode"

(46:01, Lizard Records)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Hercoloubus 6:35
2.  Hybris 5:42
3.  Dreaming in Franticode 7:33
4.  Orbit Out 7:45
5.  Clouds over Tharsis 6:08
6.  Mercurial Sand 6:34
7.  Primordial Crossbreeding 5:53


Alessandro Bertoni – keyboards
Matteo Gasparin – guitars
Enrico Pintonello – drums
Sebastiano Pozzobon – bass

Prolusion. The recording under review is “Franticode”, the first official release by Italy’s APHELION (a Lizard Records output). It’s none other than Derek Sherinian of Dream Theater, Planet X and solo fame who was behind the audio mixer when the album was at the corresponding stage of its formation.

Analysis. It turned out to be that the hero of this occasion has a lot in common with Ksiz’s “Sandcrowler” which I examined previously. Generally speaking, there are quite a few sentences in that review which are potentially suitable for using in this one, but instead of copying those from there and pasting them here :-), I will only allow myself to make some comparisons between the outings. Unlike those on “Sandcrowler”, all the compositions here are fairly long, all having a jazz-fusion feel to them (no matter that it isn’t too strong in some cases), but what’s more significant, “Franticode” has a natural sound throughout, without any sampling, programming, etc devices deployed. This is stylistically a pretty uniform album, overall representing classic symphonic progressive Doom-Metal which, yet, has a strong jazz-fusion component in addition: imagine something halfway between “Extinct Instinct” or “Psychedelicatessen” by Threshold (without vocals, of course) and probably anything else by Planet X and you won’t miss, at least as regards the idea I’ve put in the first half of the sentence. Six of the seven tracks here, Dreaming in Franticode, Hercoloubus, Hybris, Clouds over Tharsis, Mercurial Sand and Primordial Crossbreeding, possess a lot of the genre’s archetypal virtues, such as interesting chord progressions, frequently changing directions, complicated stop-to-play movements, and so on, which give in total both quite intricate and intriguing arrangements. The sound is overall dense and heavy, with lots of composed as well as quasi-improvised guitar and keyboard leads (which I have from the outset expected from any recording that Mr. Sherinian has a hand in). On the first two of these pieces there are also quite a few gentler moments, those standing out for some very tasteful, always jazz-flavored, piano passages and the sophisticated work of the rhythm section. It is not only because of the absence of segments with non-heavy, distinctly fusionesque, arrangements on the other three that those remind me more often of Threshold than of Planet X, but also due to the fact that these young musicians aren’t as technically virtuosic players as those in the last-named band. No, there is not even a hint of criticism in that remark: the Italians are masterful enough to please probably anybody who’s into this sort of music, and personally I don’t get much pleasure hearing those who show off their capability of playing ten notes per second without paying due attention to composition and arrangement, otherwise I would be a fan of the ‘guitar-hero’ style. Properly located right in the disc’s core, Orbit Out is the sole track here that is basically slow throughout which, though, is the only feature that distinguishes it from the rest of the material, and since what serves as a basis for the entire creation is here at times counterbalanced by non-heavy jazz-fusion moves, the piece possesses almost the same degree of refinement as the first two of the above-described compositions do.

Conclusion. Perhaps because I’m still impressed by the similarity between this effort and the previously explored one, I can’t find anything better than “Eliminating the border between symphonic and jazz-evoking musical constructions by means of modern progressive Doom Metal” as a kind of motto for “Franticode”. This is a really strong debut outing and its creators are definitely a band to watch in the future: recommended!

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: May 8, 2009
The Rating Room

Aphelion - 2008 - "Franticode"


Analysis. Two years have passed since this CD was issued, and like all good quality albums it sounds like it might as well have been issued yesterday. That is one of the charms of most progressive music: whether an album is two years old or ten years old doesn't really matter. As long as it has been well produced it either will have a timeless or contemporary sound to it, and with a recent release like the one currently under review, unsurprisingly, this is very much the case. No doubt more than a little credit for that particular aspect of this production should go to Derek Sherinian, who is credited with the mixing on this occasion. And with that name dropping out of the way, many will probably surmise that we're dealing with a case of sophisticated, quirky progressive metal here – which is indeed the case. It's an instrumental effort by a band that does know its Dream Theater as well as its fusion, resulting in an album where the bass is the main provider of the most distinct jazz-inspired moments, with the keyboards catering to most of the additional facets from that musical universe, but with the odd plunge from the drums and guitars into that territory as well. Mostly it's about progressive metal though; apart from the four-stringed instrument, sophisticated and elaborate metal themes are explored, constantly shifting and evolving in a manner recognizable by fusion aficionados, where themes are revisited and are revised along the way. Swirling guitar soloing and majestic keyboard textures underscored by steady rhythms and riffs are as much constant features as is shredding, but there's also room for atmospheric soloing by strings and tangents and even the odd respite in the shape of mellow and sparsely instrumented passages. Following the first three pieces on this disc, which more or less easily can be described as a good blend of fusion and progressive metal, the last four creations add an additional dimension to the expression explored by this band, and that is keyboard textures of a more space-tinged variety. This additional aspect is a nifty addition to this style of music, and especially the passages containing space-inspired keys as well as the more distinctly jazz-tinged bass guitar are amongst the most inspired moments of this venture as far as I'm concerned. I do think the album as such showcases a highly talented band rather than a fully developed and evolved one though, and while the performance comes across as very good and the mix and production enter the realm of true brilliance, the compositions themselves don't quite manage to convince me of being at the same level just yet. There's no denying the talent here though, and dedicated fans of this stylistic expression will probably hold this effort in even higher esteem than yours truly.

Conclusion. All in all, this is a solid effort from a highly talented act, which should make a strong impact among fans of instrumental progressive metal. And if you're generally fond of artists merging instrumental prog-metal with fusion, and in particular if you have a soft spot for projects involving Derek Sherinian, "Franticode" is an album that you most likely will desire to add to your collection even if Derek is only responsible for the mix this time.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: July 13, 2010
The Rating Room

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