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(42.33, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Bienvenida 4:46 2. Me Hablan los Culos 3:50 3. Suerte 4:05 4. Hipocondria Razonable 5:02 5. Luz 4:18 6. Gruas 4:35 7. Reina de la Casa 4:36 8. Mudo 5:23 9. Tierra 7:02 LINEUP: Cesar Diez – guitars; lead vocals Roberto Perez – bass; vocals David De La Plaza – guitars Jacobo Mendez – drums With: Choma Herrero – lead guitar (4, 6)
Prolusion. EL HOMBRE ASTRAL are a quartet hailing from Valladolid, in the Castilla-Leon region of Spain. They were founded by guitarist/vocalist Cesar Diez, formerly with folk band Rao Trio (where he played bass). “Tierra”, their second album (following their 2007 debut “Involucion”), was released towards the end of 2009 by the Parallele subdivision of Musea Records.
Analysis. While Spain is renowned for its symphonic and folk-inspired progressive rock acts, it is not the first country that comes to one’s mind when mentioning progressive metal. With the possible exception of instrumental outfit Continuo Renacer (who hail from the Basque region), most of the bands who engage in this popular subgenre are rather obscure, and known only within the bounds of their own country. El Hombre Astral are no exception, since their debut album is practically unknown outside Spain, so that “Tierra” is believed by many to be their actual recording debut. Like Baron Rojo, one of the few Spanish bands to achieve some measure of international fame in the Eighties, El Hombre Astral choose to sing in their native language. In spite of what some fellow reviewers may think about it, I applaud their choice – I’d rather listen to somebody singing in Spanish (or Chinese for that matter) than in heavily accented, grammatically-challenged English as far too many bands and artists do, with often hilarious results. The myth that some languages may not be ‘suited’ to rock music needs to be seriously debunked – it is just a matter of getting used to it, and de-conditioning our minds from the idea that English is the only sanctioned language whenever rock is in question. From a musical point of view, El Hombre Astral sound far more melodic and accessible than many have come to expect from a progressive metal outfit. There is very little trace (if any) of the instrumental and vocal pyrotechnics featured on albums by the likes of Dream Theater, Symphony X and their ilk. As a matter of fact, with a very restrained running time (42 minutes) and the longest track clocking in at only 7 minutes, this is a clearly song-based effort, with the progressive element confined within the limits of a conventional song structure. Mainman Cesar Diez possesses a clean, well-modulated voice that is suited to the high melodic content of the band’s compositions, while distinctly lower and less grating than the high tenors so frequently encountered in prog metal. The overall impression one gets after even a single listen is of a catchy, accessible effort with quite a bit of commercial potential, though not always as challenging as one might wish. Though the influence of Cesar Diez’ former tenure as a member of a folk band is not as evident as might be expected, Spanish traditional music surfaces in at least one number, the atmospheric ballad Hipocondria Razonable, with echoes of flamenco in the guitar parts. The Latin flair for melody shines in Diez’ vocals (enhanced by the use of Spanish) and the many catchy choruses featured on the album – several of the songs, in fact, border on pop-rock, albeit with harder-edged touches and bluesy influences (as in the title-track, which is way too long for a rather standard number). The funnily-titled Me Hablan Los Culos (which in English translates as Arses Are Talking to Me), is by far the most interesting song - an oddly infectious piece with a jagged, staccato pace, blending the intensity of extreme metal (represented by machine-gun drumming and hardcore-style, shouting vocals in the chorus) with a more accessible style. Shame about those farting noises at the end, which introduce an unnecessary note of frat-boy humour. Reina De La Casa and Mudo also point to possible interesting developments in the band’s sound, the former combining ponderous, almost Black Sabbath-ian riffs and drumming with the usual melodic vocals, the latter offering quite a few tempo changes, subtle or otherwise, over only five minutes. As a whole, “Tierra” may disappoint those looking for those features of progressive metal that have made the genre so popular – the technical wizardry, extended solos, soaring vocals and elaborate concepts. Though more than adequately executed, and quite a pleasing listen overall, it shows a band that is still rather uncertain whether to follow a more mainstream approach, or adopt a more progressive one.
Conclusion. Though not really offering anything new, and sometimes a bit too eclectic for its own sake, “Tierra” is an adequate debut album for El Hombre Astral, occasionally hinting at something more promising. The progressive quotient may not be very high, but the Latin twist and melodic content make for a much more pleasing listen than your average Dream Theater clone band.
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