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Majestic - 2008 - "Descension"

(70:18, MALS Records)


****
                 

TRACK LIST:                                 

1.  Message From the Past 2:58
2.  Descension I	6:57
3.  Close My Eyes 7:47	
4.  Tides 3:41
5.  Break Free 5:43
6.  Descension II 5:44
7.  Hear Me 5:50
8.  Broken 5:24
9.  At the Edge 7:43
10. The Longing 9:15
11. Descension III 7:43	
12. Last Dance 4:31

SOLO PILOT:

Jeff Hamel – guitars; keyboards; drums; vocals

Prolusion. MAJESTIC is a one-man band from Minneapolis, USA. Jeff Hamel, former lead guitarist in prog metal outfit Osmium, started this project as a means to channel his progressive-influenced writings, and the album was recorded and self-released in 2007. The Russian label MALS subsequently signed him, and reissued the album in 2008.

Analysis. Although not convincing overall, there's really just one very weak facet to this release. Indeed, there are a lot of good ideas and skilled work on this album, and quite a few listeners will probably see his release as a rather interesting one, unless they share my opinion on one particular aspect. The compositions are generally good, strong sound influences from 70's Genesis and Pink Floyd permeate the tunes, some sounding like one or the other while others mix those influences in a quite intriguing manner. Some metal influences traceable in sound to Dream Theater are added on a couple of tunes, and there's also one song, Descension III, containing a segment quite similar to OSI's second album in style. There are two songs on the album that really don't impress in any manner though – the space-rock-evolving-to-synth-tinged-metal-and-ending-up-as-a-love-ballad-song Broken, and the rather cheesy ballad Last Dance ending the album. Apart from these exceptions, the songs are generally pleasing in most aspects. Keyboards, often multilayered, are a dominating feature throughout, with an emphasis on creating atmospheric moods. From gentle, lush and mellow atmospheres to grandiose and majestic soundscapes, there aren't many passages without the presence of this instrument. Most times it's used to add floating, symphonic-tinged layers to the compositions; at times a piano will underline the mellower and more fragile passages, while the heavier pompous moods often will have an organ added to create depth and added texture. In several passages throughout, more spacey moods will be explored as well and, as noted, a more electronic terrain is visited in Descension III. As Hamel is a guitarist by trade, his main instrument obviously has a dominating role in his solo compositions too. He shows great versatility in its use, more so than can be expected from a musician with a past history in a prog metal band, I think. Point in particular – there are not many passages of shredding to be found, and the few included are tastefully incorporated into the songs. Instead, melodic, acoustic guitar licks and atmospheric soloing are the main features of the guitar work here, the second of these with a tendency to explore psychedelic landscapes. Some metal influenced segments are included, some with drawn out chords underscoring the keyboard layers and others with carefully executed riff patterns with the same task in the overall soundscape. In fact, the guitar work and the keyboard explorations blend very well on this album, and even if the structures of the songs aren't overly complex, the instrumental parts are compelling and appealing. The bass guitar is used to good effect on most tunes too, although its overall role is a subdued one; there are only a few examples of a driving bass line that really enriches these particular segments. The drums are more basic, and instrument wise probably the weakest of all on the album. But generally the patterns are adequate and fulfill the role of the rhythm provider, although rarely adding anything to the tunes. Overall there are a lot of good tendencies on this release, and I would probably have enjoyed listening to it quite a lot if it hadn't been for the vocals. Hamel may have a vocal talent, but it doesn't seem that way in these songs. His voice has some similarities to Bryan Adams in style, but sadly without the power. This results in vocals that come across as weak, lifeless and strained; and much too often out of tune as well. Listeners that aren't sensitive to vocal performance may not notice this, but for me this aspect of the songs really grates – to the extent that I can't see myself listening to this album again anytime soon.

Conclusion. If vocal performance is of minor importance to you, and you think symphonic rock blending influences from Genesis and Pink Floyd sounds like a good idea, this is an album to check out – especially if you don't mind some metal touches thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, if you feel that good vocals are an essential part of a song, there's a good chance that this album won't be found appealing.

OMB: September 25, 2008
The Rating Room


Majestic - 2008 - "Descension"

****

Analysis. One-man bands can often be hit-and-miss, and this album is no exception. In my view, very few people are equally proficient at everything, and sooner or later some weakness will show. In this particular case, the weakness mainly concerns two departments: the vocals and the rhythm section. Though Jeff Hamel is undoubtedly a very accomplished guitarist, and a more than decent hand at keyboards, his drumming sounds rather flat and uninspired throughout, and the bass practically inaudible (with a couple of notable exceptions) – a frequent problem with both symphonic and ‘classic’ prog metal bands. Moreover, the vocals are a real sore point here, and I would not hesitate to call them detrimental. “Descension” would have worked very well as an instrumental album, or at least a partly instrumental one, but the choice of having vocals on every single track was very ill-advised on Hamel’s part, seen his obvious limitations in the vocal department. Though he is clearly an experienced musician, his voice is flat, devoid of expression, and sometimes sounds just right out of tune. While listening to the album, I found myself enjoying some of the instrumental passages, but then those vocals came in, and spoiled the whole experience. From a musical point of view, “Descension” comes across as a blend of classic symphonic prog in the Genesis mould and Dream Theater-style prog-metal, with some Pink Floyd thrown in for good measure, and a hint of Porcupine Tree. Composition-wise, it is not always successful – especially the longer tracks feel somewhat patchy and directionless, though at times showing not inconsiderable promise. As is to be expected, the guitar parts are by far the strongest feature on the album, and Hamel should be commended for avoiding pointless shredding (a temptation many guitarists fall into, especially on solo projects). His songs may be built around his often lengthy solos, but this is not a negative thing – Hamel’s playing is fluid and melodic, even when he shifts into a more metallic gear. Unfortunately, very few of the songs on this rather long album (70 minutes may be the rule nowadays, but still it is far too long to sustain effectively) manage to really capture the listener’s attention. Track lengths vary, from the 3 minutes of opener Message from the Past (a rather uninspired, by-numbers offering) to the 9-plus of The Longing, probably the most ‘symphonic’ piece on the album, in which lush layers of keyboards compete for centre stage with some really tasteful guitar antics (as usual, shame about the vocals). Close My Eyes, on the other hand, puts Hamel’s metal roots to good effect, alternating airy, sweeping keyboard passages with some positively heavy riffs, and ending with a distorted guitar solo. Break Free is probably the track in which the metal influences are strongest, particularly in the fast and furious riffing (at times reminiscent of the likes of Metallica) and the almost-growling vocals. Space-rock influences are evident in Broken, though not employed in the most effective way (the song is one of the main culprits in terms of compositional patchiness), and particularly in Descension III, driven along by pulsating electronic keyboards. On both tracks, Hamel’s guitar work sounds clearly inspired by David Gilmour’s trademark clear, dreamy tones. Finally, such an eclectic album would not be complete without one or two token acoustic ‘ballads’ – of the two present here, only Tides is moderately successful, while album closer Last Dance is trite and ultimately forgettable. While I would not call “Descension” a bad album by any means, it lacks originality and a clearer sense of musical direction. However, Hamel is a talented musician, and, if he hopefully decides to put a real band together, he might come up with something definitely more impressive than this first solo project of his.

Conclusion. While “Descension” will certainly appeal to guitarists and guitar fans, anyone who loves a good vocal performance will do well to avoid this album at all costs. Luckily, it seems that Hamel has recruited a female vocalist, Jessica Rasche, for his new album – which is sure to improve the quality of his musical delivery.

RB=Raffaella Berry: Agst 11, 2009
The Rating Room


Related Links:

MALS Records
Majestic


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