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Continuum - 2009 - "Lifeless Ocean"

(56.50, Musea Records)


***+
                 
TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Universe of Spheric Perspective 4:29   
2.  Representation of the Inner Self 6:49   
3.  End of Life 7:05   
4.  Extinction of Mu 5:15   
5.  Faded Illusion 5:52   
6.  Lifeless Ocean 2:30   
7.  Theatre of War 6:09   
8.  Twisted Paths of Fatalism 4:05   
9.  Dark Sight 6:18 
10. Hell on Earth 8:08

LINEUP:

Aldebaran  ac., el. & bass guitars 
Clement Marse  vocals
Guillaume Morero  drums
Franck Dibari  keyboards

Prolusion. Hailing from southern France, CONTINUUM were formed in 2005 by drummer Guillaume Morero. Prior to that, most of the band members had already been active on the French metal scene with other outfits. Some of the tracks present on their debut album, Lifeless Ocean, had already been featured on their 2007 demo.

Analysis. Over the past 15 years, Dream Theater have had an impact on the progressive rock scene that almost equals that of the classic bands of the Seventies. The New York quintet may not be everyones cup of tea (and they certainly are not mine), but there is no denying their sweeping influence over hundreds of bands from very diverse parts of the globe. It would seem that every day albums are released by bands that pattern their sound on Dream Theaters showy, ultra-technical approach, made of soaring vocals, fast and flashy guitar work, grandiose keyboards and pounding drums. Unfortunately, as controversial as Dream Theaters style may be, the New Yorkers have almost single-handedly created a genre by successfully revamping and updating a formula laid out by the likes of Rush in the Seventies while their followers often have little else than technical chops to recommend them. Continuum fall into the latter category, as they are a bunch of talented musicians though with a not particularly effective singer whose approach to composition shows a surprising lack of individuality. There is not a single second on Lifeless Ocean that has not been heard before on countless other discs. Structurally speaking, every one of the tracks is predictable, and even what might be perceived as complexity (like the all too frequent shifts in time signature, often happening quite unexpectedly) is generally nothing more than patchiness. Like other bands of their ilk, Continuum seem not to subscribe to the simple concept that, in songwriting terms, less is very often more, and pile up way too many ingredients in their concoctions until the average listener becomes unable to taste anything, so to speak. With a sound dominated by leaden, repetitive riffs and relentless double-bass drumming, any subtleties are quite likely to be obliterated. However, as previously hinted, the worst offender can be found in the vocal department. Lead singer Clement Marse possesses a voice that would probably be adequate for a symphonic or neo-prog band, but that shows all its limitations in pitch and range on an album of this nature. Dream Theaters James LaBrie, for all that he is frequently the butt of severe criticism, can be genuinely commanding in his performance which is never the case with Marse. All too often he seems to strain under the weight of the lengthy parts he is required to deliver, and his somewhat nasal tones do not help not to mention the instances when he adopts a falsetto that is, frankly speaking, quite embarrassing. Another of the things I find extremely off-putting in records of this kind is the unrelenting atmosphere of doom and gloom in which Continuum (and their ilk) seem to wallow with undisguised glee. Though they do describe their music as dark progressive metal, it has very little to share with the sophisticated, Gothic-tinged melancholy of a band like Opeth (whom they cite as one of their main influences), recalling rather some sort of contrived, apocalyptic B-movie. Far from having the genuinely disturbing impact of Black Sabbaths early output, or the sinister quirkiness of vintage Blue Oyster Cult, their lyrics come across as ultimately cheesy and cartoonish (much in the way Dream Theaters often are). Thankfully, none of the ten tracks featured on the album exceeds 8 minutes, though they feel longer due to their overall ponderous structure. Most of them open in a deceptively subdued, melodic key, then develop into riff-heavy workouts underpinned by machine-gun double-bass drumming. The instrumental parts are balanced out by the vocal ones, which are generally weak and somewhat out of character with the music. Keyboards play as large a role as guitars, though mainly as a support for the other instruments; while the bass is to all intents and purposes inaudible (as on most of Dream Theaters recordings), drowned out by the relentless pounding of the drums. All these features are displayed, right from the very beginning, on the instrumental Universe of Spheric Perspective, where some melodic line can be perceived in spite of the crushing heaviness of the riffs and drumming. The other tracks, for all their manic time signature shifts, mostly follow the same template, and also share another not particularly positive feature: they all end abruptly, coming across as somewhat unfinished. Album closer Hell on Earth opens with electronic keyboard effects that may recall the soundtrack of some action movie, then packs in a number of twists and turns leading to a fake orchestral section, and ends without warning after a brief shredding session. Twisted Path of Fatalism plays instead the part of the token ballad effort, though the inexplicable (and unnecessary) falsetto vocals spoil the effect to a rather large extent. Traditional prog-metal must be very popular in France, especially in the southern regions of the country, since Continuum are the second or third band of this kind that has come to my attention as a reviewer in the past few months. At any rate, Lifeless Ocean comes across very much like its title more than competently executed, but ultimately empty of real significance. Where it should have been dense and menacing, it is just bombastic and repetitive an impression compounded by the weak, tired vocals. It is to be hoped that the band will find a more individual approach to music-making in the future, or they will remain just one of many other faceless entities in the world of progressive metal.

Conclusion. While an album such as Lifeless Ocean may be of interest to fans of Dream Theater-influenced progressive metal, I believe its appeal for most other prog fans will be quite limited, to say the least. Loud and brash rather than genuinely powerful, and mostly based on all the clich?s of the genre, it might have been partly rescued by outstanding vocals which, unfortunately, is not the case here. One for completists only.

RB=Raffaella Berry: February 27, 2010
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Musea Records
Continuum


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