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(61:38, Symbioses Music & Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Family Portrait 8:56 2. Guardian Angel 9:10 3. Lost 6:33 4. How Much More 12:14 5. Silence of the Night 2:46 6. The Gift of Tears 7:07 7. Anat 14:52 LINEUP: Michael Hos – vocals Ron Mozer – keyboards Sylvester Vogelenzang de Jong – guitar Rene van Haaren – drums Casper Kroon – bass
Prolusion. ULYSSES, from Holland, was founded back in 1998 by guitarist Jong and keyboard player Ron Mozer. 2001 saw the release of their first demo, while in 2003 their first official album "Symbioses" was issued. "The Gift of Tears" is their second outing, released in the US in November 2008 and in March 2009 it was made available to the rest of the world through a distribution deal with French label Musea Records.
Analysis. Progressive metal has grown to be a rather popular style during the last 20 years, with a plethora of bands supplying what seems to be a steadily growing fan-base. During the three decades that have passed since the genre more or less was formed by acts like Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, Fates Warning and Voivod, it has blossomed out into many and diverse expressions. There are many examples of artists exploring these musical territories that are highly inventive, creative and adventurous; artists working hard to break down musical barriers to create new and previously unheard stylistic expressions. Some prefer to tread where others have already paved the ground, and this Dutch outfit falls into this category. As far as musical similarities go, this band reminds me of artists like Candlemass and Threshold, at least to some extent. There's a fair bit of ‘80s heavy metal in the sound of this production as well, and a general mood and atmosphere that makes me associate this creation more with ‘80s metal acts than contemporary progressive metal bands. Slow, drawn out and heavy guitar riffs are a dominating feature on all tracks here. We're served a few instances of staccato riff barrages, some acoustic guitar wanderings and a select few riff patterns of the quirkier ilk, but first and foremost the heavy elongated riff forms the foundation of these compositions. Partially contrasting the guitar and partially harmonizing with are various guises of keyboards, most often in the shape of an organ but more modern sounding synths are utilized as well, and on a few occasions the piano gets to add some finer melodic touches to a piece. The vocals have a major role on this production. As the guitars create a sonic foundation to a much greater extent than forming distinct themes, the powerful singing of Michael Hos is central in the vocal sections of the compositions, carrying the melodious elements of the music. As for the non-vocal parts, both keyboards and guitars are given ample room to deliver soloing, covering this aspect of the songs in a more than decent manner. The performances are nice enough, Hos has a strong melodic voice, slightly accented and with a tad too much power at times, but not to the extent of being a weakness, and the rhythm section is steady, with the drummer adding some inventive, fluent touches on occasion. But there's nothing here I haven't heard before, the performances aren't of such a unique quality that they are interesting in themselves and the compositions are a bit on the weak side. Seeing as most tracks are above the 5 minute mark and two doubling on that, I'll have to admit that both varieties of songs come across as overly long. There's a lack of gripping, intriguing and compelling moods set up and explored to cater to my taste-buds, the songs are predictable and too often end up as meandering in my opinion. The finer details are lacking, and with a few select notable exceptions the band opts for the use of melodramatics rather than contrasts and textured soundscapes to create nerve and tension: where I for my sake prefer the latter over the former.
Conclusion. Predictable in nature and not very imaginative or adventurous, this is a production that won't cater to the needs of the avid fan of truly progressive music. Those who enjoy the slow and heavy variety of progressive metal might find this creation to be of interest. Especially the younger fans of the genre I imagine. Others might want to investigate this act a bit more to see if this is to their liking or not.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: May 12, 2009
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