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TRACK LIST: 1. Deus Ex Machina 3:29 2. Metronomicon 4:58 3. Fuego Barbarico 4:48 4. Metis 5:58 5. Quintus 4:12 6. Deep Waters 6:04 7. Digital Dust 5:12 8. Youth 4:39 9. End of the Path 6:28 LINEUP: Benjamin Schwenen – guitar, guitar synth; programming Sebastian Hoffman – 5- and 6-string bass Thorsten Harnitz – drums With: Cristian Felipe Carvacho – percussion (3) Joerg Sandner – piano, synthesizer (7) Florentin Chiran – violin (9) Mihail Anton – violin (9) Winnie Kuebart – viola (9) Ariane Spiegel – cello (9)
Prolusion. COUNTER-WORLD EXPERIENCE are a trio based in Hannover, Germany, where they got together in 2001. Since their inception, they have released four albums of a consistently high level. The title “Metronomicon” is a pun that combines the word ‘metronome’ (whose sound can be heard at the end of the album) with the name of HP Lovecraft’s legendary grimoire, the Necronomicon (hence the book shown on the cover).
Analysis. With the release of their fourth album, Counter-World Experience have built a solid following among the ranks of those who like their prog-metal to be actually progressive, melding different, even disparate influences in order to produce a unique whole, instead of rehashing the work of the seminal bands of the genre (Dream Theater being the most obvious object of emulation). Generally placed under the ‘technical-extreme prog metal’ banner, they rather belong to that restricted elite of genuinely innovative bands spearheaded by Cynic, and including the likes of Gordian Knot, Exivious and Canvas Solaris. As is the case with the above-mentioned bands, Counter-World Experience’s sound is founded on the pounding riffs and majestic crescendo structures introduced by bands like Metallica in the mid-Eighties. All of these outfits privilege the aspect of contamination involving genres that are generally seen as polar opposites of metal. Not surprisingly, Counter-World Experience’s albums, including “Metronomicon”, display the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach that is typical of the more creative fringes of the progressive metal spectrum. Such an approach, however, requires sound judgment and a certain lightness of hand, since the danger of producing a bloated, directionless mess is always lurking around the corner. Thankfully, Counter-World Experience know when to put on the brakes, even if the album might be seen as an acquired taste. Instrumental bands, especially those embracing such complexity of approach, are often seen as appealing mainly to an elite of practising musicians or technique buffs. The evident metal foundation is likely to put off some listeners, while their eclecticism might be considered pretentious by others. On the other hand, they manage to concentrate a lot of content in their compositions, avoiding the repetition of the same themes and modes that can be noticed in albums of different bent. Indeed, each of the tracks on “Metronomicon” possesses its own individuality. There is no denying the genuinely progressive approach of the band, and their attempt to inject some soul into a kind of music that, more often than not, can come across as cold and clinical. In spite of the individual members’ impressive technical chops, the display of pyrotechnics is kept to a minimum; even more important, the album’s running time is limited to a manageable 45 minutes. Unlike their ‘traditional’ prog.-metal counterparts, bands like Counter-World Experience seem to realize that their highly idiosyncratic musical output is best enjoyed in smaller quantities. Opener Deus Ex Machina immediately offers a textbook example of the band’s uber-eclectic approach, blending fast and furious riffage in the best thrash metal tradition with ethereal female chanting, spacey keyboards and brighter-toned guitar chords. With the title-track we enter jazz-metal territory, with subtle shifts in tempo and some brilliant drumming patterns underpinning a guitar-synth solo. However, the third track brings what is possibly the album’s piece de resistance – a breathtakingly brilliant collision between supremely melodic flamenco stylings and heavy metal riffs, aptly titled Fuego Barbarico, which also sees the participation of a guest percussionist adding some more Latin spice to the mix. From here onwards, the experimental quotient of the compositions gradually increases, with the metal component occasionally taking a back seat. While the combination of the band’s trademark metal-fusion style with electronic trance in Youth is possibly the least successful episode of the album (in spite of some angular, King Crimson-like moments), Deep Waters conveys the evocative nature of its title through stately-paced drumming, a nicely rounded bass line and gently chiming guitar, which gets sharper-toned towards the end. Digital Dust fuses yet more styles, with classical echoes in the piano parts, jazzy synths and interesting guitar work, heavy and atmospheric in turns. Album closer End of the Path sums up the band’s approach in slightly over 6 minutes, juxtaposing crushingly heavy guitar riffs and machine-gun double-bass-drumming with a full string quartet playing in very dignified style; the subtle, ethnic-flavoured guitar solo in the track’s first half is also quite tasty. While “Metronomicon” is undeniably a very strong disc, it falls somewhat short of perfection – and, therefore, the coveted top rating. For one thing, I believe that the kind of relentless double-bass drumming often showcased on the album (which seems to be a constant of many prog-metal records) partly undermines the subtlety and sophistication of the compositions. As a consequence, the sound of the bass can be perceived on most occasions as little more than an indistinct rumble, no matter how proficient the bassist may be. These, however, are minor quibbles – on “Metronomicon” the positive features definitely outnumber any negative ones, and the album can safely be counted among the best releases of 2009.
Conclusion. “Metronomicon” will surely be a treat for lovers of hard-edged, challenging music and daring stylistic juxtapositions. On the other hand, it may well be shunned by those who object to anything metal-related - which would deprive them of the opportunity to hear an authentically progressive offering. Not as inaccessible as the output of bands like Meshuggah, “Metronomicon” is not a perfect album, but a mightily interesting one – provided you have a broad enough outlook, and are not looking for soothing melodies.
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