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(47:13, 'Astral Travellers')
TRACK LIST: 1. Gather Around 9:18 2. Higher 7:05 3. Whole Damnation 7:57 4. As She Goes Down 10:42 5. Dance of Death 12:11 LINEUP: Gerben Van Oosterhout vocals Jochem Brok keyboards Tristan de Rijk drums Barry Veeke guitars Maarten Vermeulen bass
Prolusion. This is a more or less recently formed Dutch band, yet with a long history. ASTRAL TRAVELLERS itself has existed since 2005 as a direct continuation of the outfit Oker, which was formed by the same musicians in 2000 following a few line-up changes as a new chapter for the band Lower Lifeforms, which, in turn, was formed in 1997. Each of the previous incarnations of Astral Travellers has issued two albums, so while The Truth Beyond is the first album issued under their most recent moniker it is in fact the fifth album by this band-project.
Analysis. The musicians state on their homepage that the reason for the change of the band's name to Astral Travelers coincided with a shift in musical direction. Under the new moniker they wanted to craft music more directly inspired by the bands they like themselves, which includes artists as diverse as Metallica, Dream Theater and Genesis, as well as Porcupine Tree, which is hardly surprising given the variation in sound of other stated inspirations for this act. It is easy to hear that these guys are musicians rather well versed in their craft. While I'm no instrumental expert, my impression is that there's a high level of craftsmanship to all aspects of the musical delivery and performance, from start to finish, and that this disc is rather well produced too. I also get the impression that when it comes to songwriting skills and vocal performances this band is treading new ground and one more demanding than whatever musical territory they've been active in previously. Their chosen style for this most recent effort resides somewhere in between hard art rock and progressive metal, with quite a few symphonic and space-tinged embellishments. The guitars are the main instruments wandering acoustic or clean electric patterns for mellow sequences, harder and heavier riffs when entering art rock territories and mostly slow, yet melodic riff sequences when entering metal territories. Keys and synths flavor the soundscape, sometimes with floating, subtle textures, but also with symphonic-tinged themes as well as several instances in which, combined with the mellower guitar excursions, form spacey moods similar to what bands like Eloy and Pink Floyd crafted in the mid 70s. The compositions themselves are generally good, but with a few weaknesses. What does or doesn't work will in most cases be a highly subjective point of view of course, and according to mine the transitional phases don't always hit the mark and some passages get somewhat overly explored. Not that any of these are great issues in themselves; they are more like minor details separating the good from the very good and the very good from the superb. The vocal delivery is another subject though, and one which does leave a bit to desire. Gerben Van Oosterhout has a good and strong voice, but for some reason doesn't quite manage to utilize it to the best of its potential all the time. Especially in the metal segments on the album the voice comes across as strained, languishing in unfamiliar territories. Vocals are a matter of personal taste though, so others may not agree to my notions in this department. Personally I feel they are on the weak side.
Conclusion. This first offering from Astral Travellers documents a band skilled as instrumentalists and with a talent for the type of music they now have chosen to explore. They are not the finished article yet though, but there's plenty of interesting material on this effort, even if it does contain some weak spots here and there. Heavy art rock with metal edges is the name of the game here, spiced with a few select spacey and symphonic tinged elements. And as such ventures go, this one will most probably satisfy those who think this sounds like an interesting combination.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: December 13, 2009
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