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(73:00, Thundering/Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Close to Me 5:24 2. Lost Mind 4:43 3. Searing Ecstasy 5:44 4. Of Loving Disease 5:52 5. My Kingdom 5:14 6. So Be It 5:27 7. Emptiness Below 5:51 8. Dreamlike Sympathy 5:38 9. Secret Place 6:23 10. Fallen Bloodlight 6:19 11. Waste of Times 4:54 12. Last Remembrance 11:27 LINEUP: Philippe Mirailles – vocals; guitars, bass; keyboards Laurent Haas – drums; screaming
Prolusion. DISTRESS is a contemporary prog-metal outfit from France. Here is the reissue of their “Close to Heaven” CD, which was originally released in 2001. It’s made up of twelve tracks, all of which contain vocals with lyrics in English.
Analysis. The most striking thing about this album is the frequent use of three different vocal styles, with a black metal screaming mixed with raw, aggressive, yet still traditional heavy metal vocals, and also with clean, pronouncedly melodic singing: an approach that was first used by Iced Earth on their – sole – masterpiece “Burnt Offerings”. (It’s multi-instrumentalist Philippe Mirailles who provides both the latter kinds of vocals here, whereas the former is courtesy of drummer Laurent Haas.) However, while much of the album can be seen as a three-character dark metal opera from a certain perspective, I would define its primary style as predominantly classic guitar Prog-Metal with elements of both black metal and rock opera, on its instrumental level more similar to Fates Warning’s “The Spectre Within” than to the aforesaid outing. Six of the tracks, Close to Me, Lost Mind, Searing Ecstasy, Dreamlike Sympathy, Fallen Bloodlight and Last Remembrance, are creations of practically the same compositionally-stylistic approach, fully suiting both of the above idioms. Besides the characteristic, Iced Earth-inspired singing, there is in all cases an abundance of complex, early/classic Fates Warning-style riffs here, complete with amazing time changes. The pace is up-tempo-to-fast, though on a few occasions, there are also soft interludes before the mayhem/an odyssey in the band’s primary style once again begins/continues. Another similarity to the Fates Warning album is the use of soft-sounding instrumental preludes before the pieces. Most of those are brief interplays between two guitars (one of which is played by fingering), while those on the last named one are a really original interaction between pianos and drums, the composition using a classical music postlude for piano as its finale. Technical finesse is the queen of that track – the only one in the set that has some real extreme-metal arrangements. Of Loving Disease, My Kingdom and So Be It, while still heavy, consist predominantly of more restrained, moderately-paced arrangements. Focused on a dialog between two lighter entities on their vocal angle, all of them are free of screaming, as also are each of the remaining three tracks, Emptiness Below, Secret Place and Waste of Times. The first of these begins and develops as a rock ballad, but the rest of it is done in the album’s primary style. The latter two pieces are progressive Doom Metal in style, not far removed from Celtic Frost circa “To Megatherium”. Keyboards are used scarcely, only on three of the tracks, in all cases playing a supporting role, exclusively.
Conclusion. While a creation of only two musicians, “Close to Heaven” sounds like being performed by a full-fledged prog-metal quintet, as the men properly use the studio possibilities and are good players in themselves. However, the sound quality of the album is below par. Another element that may take some getting used to here is the vocals. Being accented, they are certainly not what give the guys their unique sound. Otherwise this is very decent musical material.
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