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(53:50, MALS Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Spark of Life 2:08 2. The Moon 5:46 3. Clock Face 8:16 4. Enchantress 5:51 5. To Win 8:58 6. Melancholy 2:17 7. A Sand Grain 5:56 8. Phoenix 4:46 9. Light of the Lonely Eyes 6:12 10. Transformation 3:39 LINEUP: Alexander Kulak – guitars, bass; keyboards; vocals Vladimir Demakov – drums, percussion Vladislav Chala – bass Yann Zhenchak – lead vocals With: Vladimir Kulak - keyboards (1, 2, 4, 7) Sergey Osipov – flute (4, 8) Alexey Baev – vocals (5, 9) Valeria Shavina – vocals (2)
Prolusion. The Russian band AZAZELLO was formed in early 1995 as a side project for the members of thrash metal act Morg. They have four full-fledged official releases to date, the most recent of these being "Seventh Heaven" from 2004. "Transformation" marks the fifth chapter in their history as recording artists, and was released by the Russian label MALS Records in the fall of 2011. Existing fans might also note that this is the first production featuring what appears to be a brand new line-up.
Analysis. It is intriguing to listen closely to a band and try to put words to the music they create, especially if the artist in question has a keen sense of implementing the unexpected. Whether subtle and minute or drastic and dramatic, bands that have the imagination to add such features to their compositions will most often draw a bit more attention to themselves, at least by those who enjoy listening to music with attention and concentration. The initial numbers on this latest effort by Azazello don't really explore material of this kind, however. A cinematic and careful opening creation with symphonic backing added to the second half, while excellently constructed and performed, doesn't reveal any details beyond what one might expect. And while the elongated sequence of sampled sounds that kicks off The Moon isn't of an expected variety, it isn't really that interesting either. The song itself fares a tad better however, with intense lead vocals on top of grimy, gritty guitar riffs contrasted by a fragile chorus passage sporting gentler female lead vocals, a wandering acoustic guitar and careful symphonic backing. The following piece Clock Face is more of a remarkable creation, but on this occasion due to the sheer intensity of the guitars and lead vocals more than anything else. The instrumental sequence does sport some intricate instrumental and structural developments, I might add, but the song itself is a standout effort due to energy, strong emotional associations and a great deal of intensity more than anything else. But from this point and onwards Azazello demonstrates that they have a bit more to them as a progressive metal band as is exemplified by careful, folk-inspired ballads with strong atmospheres and excellent performances in the shape of Enchantress, title track Transformation and in particular sixth track Melancholy. There are plenty of intricate compositional and instrumental features on the semi-epic To Win, including what sound like horn blasts (presumably digital in nature), and some nifty folk-inspired details liberally flavoring the proceedings. And while A Sand Grain initially appears to be more of an archetypal progressive metal excursion with subtle alterations in pace and intensity, the recurring acoustic guitar, violin and guitar solo theme explored in the second half of this piece adds a few levels of interest to this creation. What really makes this a very good creation for me is that the entire CD, from the opening notes to the fading echoes of the final ones, is very excellently assembled and performed. The minor details and features utilized are only as good as the band that employs them, and it's obvious that the band as well as their various guest participants are quality instrumentalists and that the band itself is a tight unit. Most impressive for me is lead vocalist Yann Zhenchak, however. He is not a permanent member of this band from what I understand, but his vocal skills fit their chosen style and expression just about perfectly. A good quality singer is a major asset to any band, and Zhenchak's performance on this disc documents this almost to perfection.
Conclusion. While Azazello as a band might not be purebred innovators of their chosen genre, their skill in utilizing gritty intensity on one hand and subtle stylistic details on the other make this album well worth experiencing. Fans of Dream Theater and Symphony X will most likely be the key audience for this production, and I presume many of those will find this CD to be a nice addition to their music collection.
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