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Zero Hour (USA) - 2001 - "The Towers of Avarice"
(45 min, "Sensory", A Division of "The Laser's Edge)


*****

Tracklist:

The Towers of Avarice

The Subterranean

Stratagem Reflections

Demise And Vestige

The Ghosts of Dawn



Music written by J. & G. Tipton, except:

4 (by J. Tipton)

6 (by E. Rosvold).



All lyrics by E. Rosvold.

Arrangements by Zero Hour.



Recorded, engineered and mixed by Dino Alden

at "Alden's Gate" studio, CA, USA.

Produced by D. Alden & Zero Hour.



Line-up:

Jason Tipton - guitars, keyboards (4)

Troy Tipton - bass

Mike Guy - drums

Erik Rosvold - vocals, keyboards (6)

Prologue. It turns out that "The Laser's Edge" sends me promo packages more accurately (time talk) than any other label. The 'formula' of such an accurate sending is simple: another year - another package (another summer - another package, more precisely). Both CDs from the first package that I received from "The Laser's Edge" last summer were reviewed in detail at the same time (approx.):
The Underground Railroad - 2000 - "Through and Through"
White Willow - 2000 - "Sacrament"
A few months ago I also reviewed both the debut albums by the two masterminds of The Underground Railroad (thanks again, Bill):
Kurt Rongey - 1991 - "Book In Hand"
Bill Pohl - 1992 - "Solid Earth"
Listening to the three (already) albums "The Laser's Edge" sent me, reading the reviews on the other works by the performers based on this label (including its "metallic" division "Sensory") in various Prog-sources, beginning with Progression (the Journal of the Genre, though), I see that Ken Golden, - "The Laser's Edge" owner, - has collected not too big yet (probably) entirely excellent stuff. And Zero Hour is just one of them.

The Album. This is a kind of conceptual album since the main lyrical idea, based on a self-penned "fantasy-action" story about (pseudo) solving terrible social problems, including the most global, with a typical in such cases super-hero at the head of it, goes the album throughout. While a concept like this is by no means a novelty and its various forms used by lots of bands mainly of Metal genre (in general), the music Zero Hour performs is the more interesting thing to talk about. Despite the fact that on "The Towers of Avarice" you won't hear anything absolutely innovative, this is very impressive music (at least for me). Firstly, I'd like to note that the musicianship of all Zero Hour members is top-notch. Each instrumentalist demonstrates simply fantastic masterly the album throughout. Actually, excluding just two mellow songs Reflections and The Ghosts of Dawn, the album consists of endless solos, often crossing each other, from guitarist, bassist, drummer and vocalist, who uses his voice as another musical instrument to create a wide-variety of diverse vocal arrangements. Of course, the instrumental canvas of any true Prog-Metal album (as this one) is filled with kaleidoscopic changes of (almost always) new directions of album's musical events. According to "the laws of complex progressive", each musician paints musical pictures of his own always and especially in joint playing. Although each of all three (or four - when the vocalist joins the game) solos work their own ways almost always, the laws of Classic Harmony according to which they work make clear that anyone of Zero Hour's guys uses arrangements that different among themselves just to let their music be complex and intricate, i.e. really progressive. There are only truly 'metallic' structures on the first two songs - with a lot of purely thrash-guitar attacks, bass lines that go the same aggressive yet one of the most freewheeling ways in joint arrangement. All these things, following a super-hero's (who's The Subterranean) holy war against the towers of avarice that enslaved all people for their abominable purposes, are strongly supported by percussion actions of the allied double-bar machine-gun fire. Stylistically similar, the 8-minute Stratagem and especially (of course) the 16-minutes Demise And Vestige are the most diverse songs in terms of arrangements, - they comprise all musical 'moods' found on "The Towers of Avarice", and then intermixed them in a most progressive manner (just amazing). Real Prog-Metal killers, those two. It's obvious, however, that the longest cut contains at least twice as many severe battles with volcanic guitars and the rhythm section's heavy-artillery pounding away everything underneath with the help of dramatic-to-furious voices with frequent 'halts' to stop to think of further actions. It must be added, though, that all these 'attacks' and 'halts' (that abound on the two most progressive compositions) replace one another more than just often and almost all of them have completely new sounds, new moods, new approaches to arrangements. During the 'halts' a kind of philosophic thoughts prevails aloud to the accompaniment of either just a semi-acoustic guitar or soft, meditative joint pulsating of all the three super-hero's technical forces. There are two more songs on the album and both them, as well as the two other different 'pairs of songs', have at least the same melancholically dramatic fillings. On Reflection, the only absolutely non-progressive song on the album, Erik sings just to the accompaniment of uncomplicated semi-acoustic guitar passages and synthesizer chords. But while this one is just quite a simple ballade typical rather for a traditional Metal band than for its Progressive counterparts, then another ballad Ghosts of Dawn is a kind of not of this world - at least, of the musical world of "The Towers of Avarice" album. This is the only song on the album that was probably performed by entirely Erik Rosvold himself. There is a lot of varied ethereal-to-dramatic in not too long but very emotional and efficient vocals here done into a proper accompaniment of very gentle piano roulades, not complex, but original and enjoyable interplays between piano and synthesizer, and far, mysterious synthesizer flights just add a uniqueness to this strange and beautiful ballade.

Summary. Zero Hour even on their second album* are still on the way to reach a complete, firm sound all their own, though the technical prowess of all the band members is already now amazing. The main 'metallic' structures the band take advantage of on the first two songs were originally created by Watchtower, though the guys of Zero Hour do demonstrate their own additions to this scheme. Unfortunately, despite the album's united lyrical conception, all songs beginning with the third musically differ pretty radically from the first two opening tracks (as if standing for the whole album) created within the same monolithic, clearly united stylistics. Besides, while Stratagem with Demise And Vestige are at least more or less similar, all the songs from 4 to 6 are extremely different from each other anyway. In this case, it would be better if the album's producer had at least recommended that the guys intermix songs 3 to 6 properly since, thank God, a half of these, as we already know, were created with the same structural nucleus. I wouldn't like you to view the above thoughts as a criticism, as actually these are just my thoughts whose 'purpose' is to show some moments the band should avoid, in my view, in their further activity to become a true 'metallic' progressive reference band already in the near future. "The Towers of Avarice" as a whole is an absolutely stunning album - without making any allowances to the band member's young age, etc. Also, in the creation of such bands as Zero Hour I see the beginning of the renaissance of that truly 'metallic' Progressive which actually filled an almost empty niche of Progressive Rock (in general) in the second part - the most progressively 'dark part of the dark decade' of the 1980s. Sad to know that nobody of our contemporary "brothers in prog pen" even now mentions that unique, powerful Metallic Progressive movement or its leaders. What wonderful, true Prog-Metal Titans played in those 'dark' years (and the band I'll list first still play great Prog-Metal, though): Denmark's King Diamond (hey, have you ever listened to his music really attentively?), Canadian Voivod, German Sieges Even, US Toxik, the above said Watchtower, etc. Even Fates Warning - the band which was close to the epicenter of the eruption of Progressive Metal movement in the second half of the 1980s - was never mentioned concerning that movement exactly. There were a lot of underrated yet real Kings of Prog-Metal in the 1990s too - with the UK's Skyclad at the head of the underrated ones. So I salute Zero Hour for playing true, strong even harsh sometimes Prog-Metal today when it is considered good form to name the "kings" of the genre such sugary, simple melodic-metal bands as Rhapsody, Elegy and Stratovarius (which is just a simplistic Finnish copy of German Helloween) or such accessible Neo Prog-Metal bands as Symphony X and Angra (yeah, do you really think both these play complex, truly progressive (Classic!) kind of Metal?). Then try Zero Hero and if you comprehend their music - compare anyone of the bands, mentioned in the previous sentence, to them. (*The debut Zero Hour album was self-released by the band in 1998 very successfully - all 2.000 CD copies they pressed were sold out quickly.)

VM. May 30, 2001


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