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(69:40, Progrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Voyage to Utopia 4:36 2. The Weight of the World 5:54 3. Inner Station 6:18 4. Sonic Sensations 4:19 5. The Road around Saturn 4:21 6. Garden of All Seasons 4:21 7. Dark Utopia 4:50 8. Vacation in Venus 4:26 9. Chaotic Order 4:09 10. Slow Motion World 5:08 11. Destructible Destruction 5:57 12. E-Motions 9:32 13. Broken 2:23 14. The Weight of the World Radio Edit 3:26 LINEUP: Hugo Flores guitars, bass; synthesizers; vocals Jessica Lehto lead vocals With David Ragsdale (ex-Kansas) violin (3, 10) Tadashi Goto (solo) keyboards (3, 10) Shawn Gordon keyboards (7, 8) Chris Brown guitars (8, 12) Zara vocals (3, 9) Antonella vocals (7) Gaby Koss vocals (12) Cheryl Childs vocals (3)
Prolusion. Portuguese composer and multi-instrumentalist Hugo Flores has experienced productive development as an artist in the last decade or so, starting with his Atlantis solo venture in 2001, then forming the band Sonic Pulsar, followed by Project Creation, and finally FACTORY OF DREAMS. "A Strange Utopia" is the second album to be issued under the latter moniker, which is first and foremost Floress collaboration with vocalist Jessica Lehto.
Analysis. A metal band sporting a female lead vocalist with operatic qualities is bound to be compared by this description alone to acts such as Nightwish. And in the case of Factory of Dreams that is a comparison that seems adequate, even if the compositions on this particular disc cover a somewhat broader range, with almost as many stylistic references to acts such as Ayreon and label-mates Jupiter Society. There's no doubt that the music to be found on "A Strange Utopia" comes across as a vehicle for Jessica Lehto's voice. Whenever there are lead vocals present, they soar high over the instrumental backdrop, her clean voice contrasting with the starker expressions of the instruments in the more elaborate parts of the compositions and taking up most of the space and all the attention in the mellower segments frequently inserted throughout. The word contrast is something of a keyword to describe this disc, especially regarding the compositional structure, with songs alternating between mellow, subdued atmospheres and grandiose, epic multi-layered textures passages. The former is revisited on occasion, if not with more of a cinematic-inspired calm soundscape as a neat effect used to offer a stark alternative to the massive sonic tapestries constructed. The instrumentation utilizes something of a black and white approach as well, with the guitars providing heavy, dark layers to the soundscapes, while synths and keyboards create light, symphonic backdrops as textures, pretty much opposing the dark and heavy elements. The grandiose epic constructions and the massive contrasts used to some extent cover up compositions comparatively more elaborate than what acts like Nightwish serve up, though. The attentive listener will discover quite a few subtle details beneath the massive dominating layers, and the compositions themselves more often than not offer changes of pace, intensity and dominant stylistic expression. When that is said, the music as such can hardly be described as challenging either. Melody and harmony are focused throughout; the contrasts are used to enhance those elements rather than to set up more sophisticated dissonant and disharmonic effects. It is a well made album though and it does provide fans of Gothic as well as symphonic metal an effort more elaborate and sophisticated than the average ventures within those fields. And while "A Strange Utopia" isn't a brilliant effort, it is a very well made one, and arguably the best effort courtesy of Hugo Flores to date.
Conclusion. If you have dreamt of coming across a band blending the styles explored by acts such as Nightwish and Ayreon, Factory of Dreams offers a fine example of just that on "A Strange Utopia". Grandiose progressive metal with strong symphonic tendencies is served here, with powerful operatic female vocals as a dominating feature throughout.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: April 15, 2010
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