Review [S] Page 2:
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Stramonio - Season of Imagination
Stramonio - Mother Invention
Strings 24 - s/t
Stump, Joe - Speed Metal Messiah
Stump, Joe - Virtuostic Vendetta
Subject to Thoughts - From Emptiness to Beyond
Subject to Thoughts - From Sunrise to Sunset
Subject to Thoughts - To Embrace The Light
Sun Caged - Artemisia
Sun Caged - Scar Winter
Sun Caged - Dominion
Super String Theory - Principles of Transformation
Superior - Younique
Svarte Pan - Nattvandring
Sylvan - Posthumas Silence
Sylvan - Presets
Symmetry - A Soul's Roadmap
Symphonia - The First Movement
Symphony X - V: The New Mythology


Stramonio - Seasons of Imagination
Northwind
(2000)

This album was one of finest prog metal albums released in 2000. Stramonio's first album features what prog metal fans really want to hear. Lots of intricate prog metal ensembles, symphonic laden sounds, impressive guitar/keyboard solos, and nice lead vocal performance, etc. are presented. Definataly, this band's style appeals to Dream Theater style prog metal fans. Overall, I enjoy their symphonic prog metal music. Really killer and well-done performance and song writing. Again, Stramonio is also from Italy's prog metal scene. Highly recommended gourgeous progressive metal album.

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Stramonio - Mother Invention
Frontiers Records
(2002)

It's a second release from Italian progressive metal group. Their previous album 'Seasons of Imagination' holds a special place for Italian prog metal fans, so we anticipated getting similar line on this new album. Of course, the instrumentation of Stamonio is definitely first rate on this album again, but the atmosphere itself on the new one is quite different from their first album. Somewhat, this album's approach is a kind of comtemporary and a bit of ecclectic to some listeners. I feel the elements of symphonic rock and Italian rock influences are mostly stripped down. Some elegant flavors that are featured on the first album are almost gone as well. Personally, the emphasis on this album by the Italian veteran group has changed a bit, but the contents on this new album 'Mother Invention' are very varied and interesting in different terms. Maybe, Moving to a new record label has influenced a bit on their overall sounds, so the fans of Stramonio need to think twice before you purchase this cd. Better not epect something bombastic and immediate punch like 'Seasons of Imagination'. That being said enough, Stramonio's comtemporary and slightly different direction would surprise the fans of first album. The result of this production and their instrumentaion is again quite interesting to me.

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Strings 24 - s/t
Lion Music
(2009)

Italy has offered many incredible bands of various musical styles, such as prog rock, prog metal, symphonic metal, jazz rock/fusion, experimental style, and so forth. On this website, we added some reviews of quality Italian artists and groups; I posted some good comments and impressions about these Italian prog metal groups and technically proficient artists. Probalby, you'd agree with my thoughts, because you've also witnessed some talented groups and excellent albums of Italian people in various opportunies. There is no wonder why Lion Music has been keen to score several talanted progressive groups and quality instrumentalists from the country. For instance, these artists on the Lion Music -- Marco Sfogli, Massimo Izzizari, Tommy Ermolli and Simone Fiorletta to name but a few -- showcase really excellent guitar works on their released albums. Indeed, these are really successful ones for me to digest the music and having purely great listening enjoyment. Once again, Lion Music have introduced new Italian squad to the guitar instrumental scene.

The Italian instrumental group Strings 24 feature Gianluca Ferro, Frank Caruso, and Stefano gXenoh Xotta as core soloists. When you look at the booklet and photographs on the cd or their official website, each guitar player of the band uses eight string guitar. You see the answer of this simple math, right? This is why this Italian group obviously named themselves Strings 24. This Italian group managed to utilize their own unique instruments and show an unique amalgamation of hard rock, progressive metal, blues rock, and slighlty fusion sounds. Along with star guitar players in the area of Milan, backing members of bass and drums pull off great performance on the entire cd. Their musicianship of all members on the debut album is really excellent and simply stunning as you delve into it closely. The sound production and arrangements are also very good and quite solid as well. I wish I would have heard how they incorporate keyboards/synth sounds with guitar-oriented instrumentals more. Well, maybe I'm asking too much though. In any way, the Blues-based track gRemember Bluesh has nice Hammond-organ sounds and solo performed by Alessandro Del Vecchio.

The first half of this cd has up-lifting and dynamic instrumental works of each guitar player most time. On the other hand, there has slightly laid-back and different approaches on the side of second half. Strings 24 seem to concentrates on injecting tremendous energies and souls into all tracks, but they do not sacrifice good melodies. Obviously, each player's musical background is a bit different; however, they all rock very hard with some intricate instrumentation to entertain the listener. To me, the style of Gianluca Ferro is most appealing to my musical tastes, since his approach seem coming from progressive metal and technical fusion. The roots of other guitarists might be coming from hard rock guitarists and some neo-classical metal. Both Frank Caruso and Stefano Xotta are definitely veteran guitarists that blend various rock guitar styles into their own styles. Overall, the music is showcased here on the first cd is really brilliant and top-notch in my opinion. There have lots of melodic vibes and accessible tones with nice hookliness. Of course, these guys know how to make really good sounds and shred all over the place. Nevertheless, they do not wank meaninglessly; each soloing sounds tasty and would appeal to all guitar kids out there. Everything interweaves well to have made this album perfect in their course of planning.

It's attracting to the fans of contemporary technical guitar players, such as Marco Sfogli, Joop Wolters, Milan Polak, Cosmosquad, and John Petrucci of Dream Theater. Even do appeals to the listener who is into the Italian prog metal sounds and technical fusion, if you are into the bands like Arhke and Heart of Sun that are obviously led by one of the players on thie review -- Gianluca Ferro. The first debut cd of Strings 24 is safely recommended for general guitar instrumental fans appreciating high quality sounds with intricate musical performance. Note: if you are looking for excellent acts and quality Italian players like what Strings 24 do, better watch out the updates of my favorite Italian musicians including Alex Argento, Daniele Gottardo, Marco Sfogli, and Massimo Izzizari as well. I wish all the best for Strings 24. Again, I'm really impressed with Lion Music for working really hard to find out and signing another talented instrumental group.

[official website]: http://www.strings24.com/
[MySpace]: http://www.myspace.com/strings24

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Stump, Joe - Speed Metal Messiah
Lion Music
(2004)

Latest album from neo-classical shred guitarist, Joe Stump. This shred artist has been fairly known among technical oriented shred circles. He has released several solo albums and his band's works. Until I got Speed Metal Messiah, I had only checked out his album called 'Rapid Fire Rondo' from Leviathan Records. It was surprising for me to see that his new solo album was not released from Leviathan Records. Maybe, Joe Stump has recently got release deals with Lion Music in the region of Europe. On this new album, Joe maintains his extraordinary speed shred guitar playing all time. Stylistically, he concentrates on neo-classical power metal music with lots of lava flowing energies. His speed picking and neo-classical sounds are really powerful and furious, but it doest not hold my attention for a long time while listening to this cd. I slowly start getting burnt out on this neo-classical metal genre. Indeed, I respect his guitar playing is amazingly energetic and awesome. However, there does not have big differences of what other guitarists and bands have done in 80's like Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, Racer X, and so on. Probably, the sound production and arrangements on Speed Metal Messiah shows big improvements from his previous works like 'Rapid Fire Rondo.' Nevertheless, I wish he could have fused new elements into his hot-burning neo-classical metal onslaught. Having said that, Joe Stump's music still appeals to die-hard neo-classical shred powerful metal.

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Joe Stump - Virtuostic Vendetta
Lion Music
(2009)

Virtuostic Vendetta is the American neo-classical metal guitarist Joe Stump's latest solo album. According to the info sheet, it's his eighth consecutive full-length solo album. Along with solo career as a metal guitarist, he has also joined a melodic and powerful metal band Reign of Terror. Time flies so quickly. I have not heard his new updates for a long time, since I checked out his previous solo album 'Speed Metal Messiah.' After spending the tour and guitar clinics in the United States and other areas, the shred guitar maestro finally returns with his new music. I'm always amazed to hear that his furious shred guitar performance influenced from neo-classical metal on this cd 'Virtuostic Vendetta' has never ever toned down whatsoever. Joe Stump tips his hat to classic heavy rockers and bands like Rainbow, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, and Robin Trower this time. As you see his jacket art on the cd and hearing the music, you could guess he put his heart and soul 100% into neo-classical metal and shred guitar works. In some sense, I totally agree with you. Nevertheless, this time U.S. shred guitarist's new album is not always focused on the side of neo-classical speed metal influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen Rising Force. Just like I mentioned above, his new cd also contains 70's style hard rock guitarists' influences and powerful metal in his original interpretations. You see 'Virtuostic Vendetta' is a kind of diverse guitar instrumental album; I'd add this sounds almost an amalgam of his neo-classical metal, speed metal, medieval influences of Dio and his original love for heavy rock predecessors. Year by year, I admit becoming burnt out on typical neo-classical metal sounds, except for some bands that managed to come up with new ideas and trying some unique approach like Symphony X, Magnitude 9, Artention, and Adagio. I used to be very enthusiastic following neo-classical flavored metal sounds, but such accolades of mine slowly fade away. That said, I wondered if I had not enjoyed the works of Joe Stump anymore. Fortunately, I've enjoyed the latest cd of his, because that has a really good balance of power, melody, instrumental prowess, and relatively solid sound production. The musicianship of Joe Stump with his backing rhythm section is always great. The 'Virtuostic Vendetta' cd proves that Mr. Stump's compositional skills give a fresh air to stimulate the neo-classical heavy metal genre. Additionally, he finally finds himself to present a decent album jacket with a help of the graphic artist Bob Graves; that's really a good move for Stump. Yeah, indeed paying attention to a good artwork is very important! Anyway, if you are dying for neo classical heavy metal and melodic power metal with European influences, you'd definitely find a great enjoyment on this cd. What if neo-classical metal thing or either Yngwie Malmsteen's style was not your musical tastes, you'd better stay away. However, this album takes some different approach than typical neo-classical metal style. Therefore, I could get into most tracks. Overall, I think this is his best solo album yet. Definitely, you could say Virtuostic Vendetta is not a kind of homogenious way of all speedy neo-classical metal-ism, so I enjoyed most tunes this time. I would say it's a new accomplishment for him. I strongly hope that Joe Stump should keep making an album like this one having various elements with different approach. Yeah, I could say it's nicely and ambitiously well-done job.

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Subject to Thoughts - From Emptiness to Beyond
Independent Release
(2005)

This is a kind of single man's progressive metal group from United States. Subject to Thoughts is led by a multi-instrumentalist Mark Mendieta, who performs all vocals, guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. Of course, all songs are written, produced, and mixed by Mark himself. You would imagine that he took time to put all music really carefully. Ambitiously, 'From Emptiness to Beyond' has a long epic flow dealing with his philosophical concept about some sort of emotional movements like horrowness and sorrowness inside of the human being. I could guess that the theme throughout the album is a kind of journey of realization, if I am allowed to speculate the concept of this cd freely. Stylistically, the music of Subject to Thoughts on this cd remind me of Fates Warning's prog metal classic 'A Pleasant Shade of Grey'. Somewhat, his music goes into very dark and melancholic, due to the theme and lyrics on each song. Obviously, Mark puts the emphasis on melancholic flavored complex flows and accessible instrumentation over irrelevant complexity and mind-boggling chops not to get lost in the middle of your listening. You could divide into two parts of 'From Emptiness to Beyond' (wow, what a deep philosophical title this is!!): One is the theme dealing with Emptiness; Another part is focused on beyond human comprehension and imagination...perhaps, leading to an ultimate tranquility, well who knows? :-). Indeed, it's a quite long demanding progressive metal epic extravaganzza to dive into. Therefore, you are asked to give more than a few listens to enjoy the music of Mark Mendieta, but these subsequent listens help you to open the door of innerself, per se. . What I am impressed with his works on his music is that he is really good at expressing his inner-thoughts and deep emotion with somewhat gloomy, yet transcendent prog metal instrumentation. It might not appeal to all metal and rock listeners, but if you are looking for the music which has challenging theme and thought-provoking approach, then you give a chance to Subject To Thoughts's album. This is a quite unusual independent progressive metal music I have heard this year.

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Subject To Thoughts - From Sunrise to Sunset
Independent Release
(2007)

This is the latest album from the U.S. melancolic progressive metal group. What I've heard about this album is probably the last chapter of the story and testimony by Mark Mendieta who is responsible for this Subject To Thoughts project. Until last three previous albums, this project is mainly driven by Mark's own performance. However, this album features a lead vocalist/guitarist Brandon Strader who has a pleasant and clean singing performance. Mark used to sing lead vocal parts mainly before, but he sincerely gave a great chance to a new member Brandon singing entirely on new works. Mark's melancholic and somber singing approach might be a matter of taste for some listeners, but I kind of miss his own feeling and sad expression. Anyway, the main melodic lines of vocal sections could be directed by Mark for a new singer. I think it works out pretty well in this new format of Subject To Thoughts. In this way, they have much potential to appeal to new audience.

Musically, they stay in the similar malancholic flavor and line of what they have achieved on "From Emptiness to Beyond" and "To Embrace The Light". What this album amuses me is that they've challenged some new approach and different musical performance. Esp., the keyboard parts and synth lines are quite effective to dramatize the music with occasional hard guitar passages and lines. In addition, the rhythmic parts are getting more lively and vivid than previous works. That is another big plus point for their improvement on this new album. I am sure that they carefully construct more dynamic and interesting sections, comparing to their other works. Due to lyrical themes and climax points within the journey of Mark's own realization, "From Sunrise to Sunset" album contains lots of emotional rollercoaster rides. Effectively and successfully, it shows some interesting musical ideas and performance everywhere. To my ears, I could find their sincere hard works and good job on some vividly exiciting instrumentation and songs.

On the other hand, I do not deny that some critial listeners might find some repeated pharases and similar sounding moments and atmospheres to interrupt enjoyments to listen to this album. To my personal thoughts on this album, I would like to congratulate Mark's new works with his new friend Brandon Strader, because Subject To Thoughts has got something new direction and exciting approach between melancholic atmospheres and some kind of promising moods. Maybe, this project needs to update sound gears or engineering punch to be added to improve proudction wise for grabbing critical thinking progressive metal/rock fans. So far, "From Sunrise to Sunset" album has most cohesive and powerful somber progressive metal works ever in their career. Once again, congrats for your another new achievement. Keep up a good work for both music making and sound engineering. If you are interested in Subject To Thoughts music, I recommend that you need to give a chance to this album at first. :-)

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Subject to Thoughts - To Embrace The Light
Independent Release
(2006)

I think you might have already seen the review of Mark Mendieta's previous demo cd entitled 'From Emptiness and Beyond'. It has really strong somber atmospheres and moody prog metal sounds. On this new demo cd bordering on both prog rock and prog metal sides, he mentioned that this is another concept story about his reflections of thoughts. And again, I am guessing what he has gone through in his life. I would say that this has shown some interesting instrumentation, esp., on first three tracks that sound very interesting. Just like his previous demo cd, 'To Embrace The Light' album continues dominating his somber and melancholic flavors, yet the subject itself has slightly leaning more hope and passion at the end of the tunnel through his journey of new realization. Some instrumental sections have quite energetic and more intense elements than his previous album that I really enjoyed. I think he seems to enjoy looping and performing sequential guitar rhythm patterns by his own hands once again; it sounds really effective and more attractive than his previous works in my honest opinion. What amuses me more is really warmer synth/keyboard arrangement and sound patches that also are big plus to my ears. His vocal performance is more like soft-spoken and somewhat very moody again. In my thoughts, he's really good at pouring out his deep feelings inside him to share through music. Just like what I have said on my website previously, his new music is not a kind of music to appeal to everybody. It depends on what listener finds out something from his music. Some people might point out the production that seems to be a little bit weak side and suffering, however I do not agree with them in certain points. His music contents are good enough to get into this melancholic music in details; nothing to destract from what he wants to express with his messages and moody prog metal instrumentation. I can tell it's really hard to keep up making your own music by yourself; it means that you have to prepare everything basically, so I understand he has gone through some difficult experiences to put together cohesively with relatively decent sounds. Henceforce, I admire and respect Mark Mendieta's honest spirits toward the music of Subject to Thoughts project, and esp., lyrical themes and thought-provoking messages have a good chance to move someone who has had a similar soul-seaching experience. I believe that some people would get deeply moved by his new music. This is another monumental musical work for Mark.

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Sun Caged - Artemisia
Lion Music
(2007)

The latest album of Sun Caged released in 2007 is one of their most solid and catchiest albums ever for their fans. Even though all members of Sun Caged has been completely replaced with new members (except for their leader Marcel Coenen), the musicianship of this group astonishingly keeps quite extreordinare as good as their previous works. Nothing to worry about the songwriting and musicianship at all, if you try to check out this album for the first time. Artemisia features lots of uptempo and hard-driving prog metal tunes with nice twists and turns. New members of Sun Caged also contribute with nice amounts of energy and musical ideas into each song. There are a few guest members playing some nice memoments, such as ex. Lemur Voice member Barend Tromp on bass. People might argue with their new lead vocalist Paul Adrian Villareal's works, but I think his contribution somewhat reminds me a bit of soaring vocal performance of Gregor van der Loo. In other words, Paul's expression and tones give atmospheric and mysterious touch in a good way for Sun Caged. Of course, Marcel Coenen's guitar works shine on this new album entirely without any doubts. New rhythm section has also strong impacts and pulls off complex parts with intricate rhythms. Esp., the drum works of Roel van Heldon, who also performs on his band Delphian, contribute Sun Caged's heavier and harder parts pretty well. Yeah, bass works are also very solid and quite tasty as well. There are lots of great keyboard solos and backing parts that make me quite amusing as well. From the beginnning to the end of this new album, there are lots of great moments and lyrical sections. As their previous album sounds really great, this new album Artemisia has really nice bombast and strong instrumentation going on with excellent song-writings. Definitely, Artemisia is one of best progressive metal albums released in the year of 2007. Highly recommended for prog metal fans who enjoy melodic songs and intense performance. Really well-done!!

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Sun Caged - Scar Winter
Independent Release

Sun Caged got started as the project of ex. Lemur Voice guitarist, Marcel Coenen in the very beginning. After Lemur Voice got split up in the late of 1999, Sun Caged became Marcel Coenen's main project. Later on, e.x. Within Temptation drummer, Dennis Leeflang became a vital member of this project. Throughout this e.p., I really enjoyed this dynamic heavy new prog metal sounds featuring several excellent guest musicians, such as Forever Times' singer Laura van Driel, great bass player Rob van der Loo, e.x. Lemur Voice singer Gregoor van der Loo, keyboard player Thijs Cuppen, and Nick Mameury. From the beginning to end, you will hear great instrumentation and very passionate vocal melody lines. Occasionally, Nick Mameury use growl and hardcore-ish vocal, so it makes others think about Wolverine a bit. Overall, Scar Winter e.p. is a prelude to something great happening in the future. Indeed, Sun Caged went through some transformations. Scar Winter is one of important stages for Sun Caged in their history. Unfortunately, Scar Winter e.p. is kind of "hard to find" item.

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Sun Caged - Dominion
Independent Release
(2001)

Dominion is Sun Caged's second demo E.P. In the beginning, Sun Caged started as a kind of special prog metal project revolving ex. Lemur Voice guitarist Marcel Coenen and ex. Within Temptation drummer Dennis Leeflang with several talented Netherland based musicians including Lemur Voice singer, Forever Times singer, and so on. On this album, the formation of Sun Caged changed radically since the first album. Sun Caged consists of Sascha Burchardt (vocal), Marcel Coenen (6 and 7 string guitars), Rob van der Loo (7 string!! bass, 6-string fretless bass), and Joost van den Broek (keyboards) with no guest musicians this time. Personally, I prefer their first e.p. Scar Winter to Dominion slightly because of diverse musical contents. Nevertheless, on Dominion album, Sun Caged started establishing their intricate and intense prog metal style with hard driving energies. Esp., the new instrumental sections are quite impressive. Somehow, the producction of Dominion is a bit thin and not so fat comparing to their full-length album, but nothing distracts their great performance. Marcel Coenen and Dennis Leeflang are magnificent as usual in their departments. In addition, new members are all monster players. Joost van den Broek is a really capable musician to fill the shoes. He handles Dream Theater/Ayreon esque excellent keyboard works and blazing solos. Rob van der Loo is a definately one of hidden talented acts, who handles really intricate and busy pulses and fingerings. I believe that this recording and performance lead their deal with Lion Music and generated buzz on the scene of rock/metal. Finally, new album of Sun Caged see the light since October 22nd. (Congratulations for Sun Caged camp for the first full-length debut album, by the way. Well, I have not finished up writing their new one yet, hopefully I will concrete my thoughts of 1st album in the future).

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Super String Theory - Principles of Transformation
Independent Release
(2006)

Although I was not familiar with the group called Super String Theory, their new album showcases really fantastic and technical progressive fusion/metal music. According to the info of their website, they have been working together in the area of Springfield, Missouri of United States, since 2002. Overall, it's really amazing shred and prog/fusion fest. I like both electric sections with bombastic energy and sensitive parts by the group . The production is really solid. It's promising one for both prog fusion listeners and prog metal instrumental fans. Obviously, the group members are playing quite intense on prog metal side tracks that might appeal to the fans of Ice Age, Spastic Ink, 7for4, and Bumblefoot. Even though they tend to perform intense and technical, there have lots of space to express melody and emotion within the track. The focal point of this group is definitely Aaron Rotten, who is responsible for all guitars, bass, arrangements, and production. With him, both band members and guest musicians like Steve Mason (drums), John Anderson (drums), Andy Levey (bass), and James Pitts (keyboards) are all competent and skilled to express freely and bombastic. ....Okay go back to focus on the leader Aaron Rotten again. I am impressed with Aaron's technical and bombastic guitar performance in particular. He carefully assembled various tracks like both intense ensembles and smooth acoustic ones. Super String Theory go sometimes really wild and wickedly complex realms, yet they are also very keen to sensitive touch and atmospheric sections with emotional phrasings. In particular, the prog metal flavored tracks like 'A Philosopher's Suspiciou Tale' and 'The Great Dictator' are my favorite ones, because of nice complexity and interesting rhythm tricks with technical guitar passages. On the other hand, the beautiful soothing track like 'Sometimes Goodbye Takes Forever' is also a nice treat. This group is a really versatile to perform various kind of instrumentals, so I enjoyed listening to the whole album. After having spinned the cd for several times, I came to the conclusion that it's still very enjoyable to listen the cd of 'Principles of Transformation' again and again. Perhaps, what Super String Theory has been doing is not categorized under the file of typical instrumentals or progressive metal music. But what they have achieved and performed here is impressive for open-minded instrumental fans and progressive metal enthusiasts. I wish Aaron and his supporting members of Super String Theory continue working together to make progressions and perform intense prog fusion. Thanks for the nice instrumental works by them. This cd is entirely very enjoyable to me.

[website] http://www.super-string-theory.com/

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Superior - Younique
Noise Records
(1998)

Younique is Superiorfs second album after releasing quite nice 1st album, Behind. Comparing to their first album, Younique adds some modern tendencies with newer synthetic sounds. This album sounds slightly different from Behind, but Superior keeps making quality progressive metal music with nice production. It is hard for me to believe that some people got disappointed with Superiorfs new musical direction on Younique. In my case, Younique is nicely done with good job. They successfully mixed modern essence and melodic prog metal sounds with nice vocal melodies done by Michael Tangermann. They do not hesitate challenging new ways to create fresh metal prog sounds. I still find pleasures to hear lots of interesting busy ensemble movements, odd-time beats, aggressive tempos, intricate guitar riffs, driving rhythms, futuristic synth sounds, nice piano pads, and so on.

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Svarte Pan - Nattvandring
Transubstance/Record Heaven Sweden
(2004)

Svarte Pan is a Swedish bluesy rock band. To me, their music resides in the realm between Black Sabbath and Nazareth-like heavy rock music and Stoner rock. While listening to their music very closely, I come to notice that they tend to be into more 70's heavy/blues rock sounds with their new approach and young energy. All songs sung in their mother language is a bit surprising to my ears, but it suites well for their music I think. Stylistically, their ensemble is very dynamic and hard driving with raw energy. Indeed, Nattvandring has really powerful raw energy with pumping upbeats and nice grooves. I think the Svarte Pan's highlight must be guitar-dominated hard rocking ensemble. This is not the music I usually prefer to listen to, but they have done really good job on this blues rock style music. Actually, I like this album. 70's rock fans will enjoy this.
[website] http://www.svartepan.com/

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Sylvan - Posthumas Silence
ProgRock Records
(2006)

'Posthumas Silence' is a Sylvan's fifth full-length album. I would guess that this latest album from Sylvan is one of best works they have ever done. Back in 1990's, they started their career from Angular Records, which seems to be out of business nowadays, unfortunately. Even though their former label got stuck in somewhere, this German group has been working so hard to make albums constantly. It seems that they keep progressing their musicianship and compositional skills with each new release. If you are keen to both neo-prog and prog metal scene out there, you remember that their third album 'Artificial Paradise' has successfully put Sylvan on the map of prog scene. Still, there are many fans of the group speaking out that 'Artificial Paradise' sets apart from the releases of most neo-prog groups.

In my case, my first encounter of their music might have been their first album that put the emphasis on some heavier neo-prog sounds with the influences of prog metal lite. Since I checked out their first one, I have not been very familiar with their other catalog, except to this new album, 'Posthumas Silence'. In the beginning, I did not know what I could expect from this new one, but in the end I've come to realize that this latest album totally blew me away entirely. What a surprise and epic new album, indeed. 'Posthumas Silence' seems to be based on the concept story that reminds me a bit of Marillion and Pain of Salvation. However, Sylvan has managed to create their own flowing story lines and lyrics to entertain and give away some sort of pondering thoughts on the topic.

Musically, what Sylvan has been doing here could be related to the neo-prog genre, however Sylvan put the emphasis on melody and great sound production with bombastic dynamics borrowing from prog metal lite. I really think what they have achieved here is really sounding comtemporary and very fresh. The performance of the band is really tight and powerful enough to move each listener. They definitely put the emphasis on ensemble oriented dynamics and sensibility over irrelevant technicality.

Many might consider them as fine neo-prog but I strongly believe that Sylvan's latest one also would have a great chance to draw prog metal listeners who also enjoy the music of Riverside, Pain of Salvation, Forgotten Suns, and Marillion. Every time I hear the music of this album, I could find new discovery and subtleties as well. I recommend you need to listen to this album carefully with subsequent listens. The album provides you a great satisfaction and worthwhile pleasure moment. Sylvan carefully crafts huge sounds and sensitive acoustic sections, too. All players of Sylavan are very skilled and competent musicians. In particular, I have been really impressed with Sylvan's keyboard player's synth leads and keyboard works that mostly appeal to prog-minded fans. Amazingly, they really know how to pull off graceful sounds and beautiful soundscapes. I have not heard their other albums, so I seriously need to pay attention to their products in the future. In the year of 2006, you'd find really fresh new albums with some gems and goodies. I would like to choose a Sylvan's latest album as one of my favorite/best album contenders for this year. Highly recommended for neo-prog fans and prog metal fans.
[Sylvan's website: http://www.sylvan.de/]

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Sylvan - Presets
ProgRock Records
(2007)

I believe that the latest album of Sylvan from Hamburg, Germany released in 2007 hit the shockwaves on the neo-prog and prog metal scene. Many neo-prog fans, who like their excellent previous album 'Posthumas Silence' must have been waiting for this latest album with high-expectations. Actually, the new album of Sylvan has lots of satisfying moments and great songs that never disappoint the fans of neo-prog and melodic prog metal music. With subsequent listenings, the music on Presets give much better strong impacts. Unlike 'Posthumas Silence' album, this latest 'Presets' album contains song-oriented approach music with dynamic sounds and very strong production entirely. Each song has a quite amazing potential and hookliness to draw new music fans who never tried out prog music before. Perhaps, some people argue that there are not many intricate and complex parts as their previous album has provided. However, this album was almost produced at the same time they were making a previous album, so I understand the approach toward new album is clearly different from previous one. Anyway, what I like this album is that their song-oriented approach with nice sound production wins over the listener. In fact, I have been intrigued with each song's theme and lyrics with quite solid instrumentation and vocal melodies. Everything has been presented with nice ideas and passionate music. All musicians of Sylvan has done tremendous jobs on new album as much as what they presented on their previous works. Probably, 'Presets' can be considered as their best sounding album that Sylvan have ever created and produced. What a great album indeed! Highly recommended for the fans of modern hard progressive music in general. The last ending track has somewhat progressive metal feeling, so I also recommend that prog metal fans need to pick up this cd to check out.
[Sylvan's website: http://www.sylvan.de/]

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Symmetry - A Soul's Roadmap
Stemra
(2004)

A Soul's Roadmap is Symmetry's full-length second album. Before delving into the music and story of A Soul's Roadmap, let me write about Symmetry briefly. Netherland based prog metal band started their musical career in the early of 1990's. Previously, they released the mini album called To Divinity in 1997. Later, their first full-length album Watching The Unseen was released in 2002. Watching The Unseen album has been regarded as one of favorite guitar-oriented prog metal albums among European fans mostly. I came to know this band and Watching The Unseen album through European fans and European prog metal magazine. Basically, I tend to like prog metal bands using lots of keyboard sounds and intricate proggy ensemble. In the case of Symmetry's Watching The Unseen album, I gradually enjoyed listening to their guitar-driven music without leaning on keyboards at all. Since I knew that they have been doing really good at twin guitar attacks and heavy sounds, I was expecting how their 3rd album goes.

My personal impression of this new album is really interesting and great one. A Soul's Roadmap displays their dynamic sounds and refined instrumentation with the deep concept story. On this new album, they had a minor member change. Two new members joined the force of Symmetry. These two members used to have been playing in the band Harrow, which has good reputation in the circle of power metal fans. In fact, Harrow plays really solid and quality power metal in the vein of Vicious Rumors to my ears. New members definately contributed Symmetry's music on A Soul's Roadmap. Moreover, their new addition helps them to step forward in the new ground. Stylistically, Symmetry keeps the legacy of pure guitar-oriented prog metal, so you hardly hear any keyboards. In addition, they also added several different musical ingredients, such as jazzy elements and sort of clean atmospheric sounds into heavy prog metal music. Those ingredients make A Soul's Roadmap very intriguing, and set apart from other prog metal albums. They injected fairly good amounts of heavy, soft, complex, and dramatic moments. The music of Symmetry gives the listener powerful and hard-driving energy and impression. However, I can hear lots of melodic vocal lines and impressive guitar leads at the same time. I think their instrumental sections on this new album sound much better and refined than their previous album. There are lots of great guitar sounds (both leads and rhythm parts), nice bass tones, and tasty drumming.

The theme of A Soul's Roadmap is kind of science fiction like. The protagonist of this album, Korben, is going to experience a bizzare journey in the search of his loving wife's soul. Throughout this cd, each track reflects upon what Korben felt and saw in his eyes (or you can say in his mind). Lots of crunchy and furious guitar sounds contribute Korben's emotions throughout his journey. Somehow, atmospheric and spacier sounds reflects his tranquility and peace in short moments. As you listen to the music, you have so much information and a lot going on. So, this album requires you to spin the cd several times to deeply appreciate what they have created. I assume that Symmetry themselves must take a lot of time and energy to visualize the theme and create the sounds, but they have done really great job. If you are one of the kinds who explore the music and the concept deeper, A Soul's Roadmap gives you back nice rewards I believe. What this cd makes me think cool is that the order of the songs is backwards. In other words, the song order starts at 15th track, and counts down backwards to 1st track. Therefore, at first I did not get it what is going. Anyway, the way they made this kind of song order is very cool and refreshing (according to the band info, this song order's idea was influenced by the movie Memento).

What else I need to add more? Indeed, I am very impressed with each player's musical calibre and instrumental sections mostly. Symmetry's guitar team, Frank Schiphorst and Arnold vd Veen, is one of focal points to create hard driving and lava-like energetic powerful sounds. These guitar players know how to play clean guitar sounds, riffs, and tasty leads. Erik Maselink's vocal performance is getting better than previous works, and I think he is trying to improve more.
Bas Hoebink (bass) and Martin Kuipers (drums) keep really strong metallic foundations, but these rhythm players inserts impressive passages and very interesting jazzy/fusion moments. Symmetry shows lots of improvements on the departments of both instrumental works and song-writing abilities. With each listening of this cd, I always find new discoveries within each song. Very intriguing and unique prog metal I have ever heard in 2004. After listening to this album, I come to realize that they are definately one of promising prog metal acts. Congratulations to the members' hard works and efforts on A Soul's Roadmap. One of best prog metal releases in 2004. Highly recommended for the fans who strictly enjoy guitar-oriented prog metal bands.

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Symphonia - The First Movement
Independent Release
(2006)

This is my pleasure and exciting moment to introduce you to Japanese prog metal group, Symphonia. About five to six years ago, fortunately I got a contact from shu playing guitars for Symphonia. Eventually, the music of theirs intrigued me. Since I got to know them, I have always liked their demo sounds. (thanks to the invention of world wide web and e-mail accounts) Even though we have not met each other face to face in real life, I have always liked their demo sounds since I have known these nice young musicians. Finally, the cd of theirs is out in my country. Even though this cd is recorded and produced as independent works, it sounds quite fascinating to my ears. One of their main targets is to release the cd in the regions of Asia, Europe, and possibly North and South America. Recently, I've been spreading the word of the band from Tokyo, because I enjoy their music a lot. In addition, their music and approach sound promising I think. If you are being curious about Japanese groups in the field of melodic metal and prog metal, I highly recommend that you need to take a look at their website and give a try to each soundfile.

Speaking of Symphonia and their memorial full-length debut cd, they play quality melodic prog metal. Their main musical goal is to put the accessible melodies and catchy songs with slightly complex instrumentation and intricate interplays for all prog metal enthusiastic listeners. Perhaps, you'd like to compare and contrast between Symphonia and great Japanese prog metal group Vigilante. I do not think there are many similarities between both acts, though. The music of Symphonia has lots of lush atmospheres and interplays of guitars/keyboards/other members. The nature of Symphonia's music is not very heavy, but what they want to express contains prog metal lite flavors and hooks. If you are into the groups like Akashic, Mind Key, A.C.T, Shadow Gallery, Dream Theater, and Angra, then you would have a big chance to enjoy them a lot. The names I mentioned are just merely references, so Symphonia is not blindly following the footsteps of prog metal seniors. What they have established here on 'The First Movement' is not like the music of Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Symphony X. They are exploring their original sounds and styles, just mind you.

All vocal tracks of theirs are written and sung in English. Lead vocalist of Symphonia, D.A.I. has a very pleasant voice and pulling off relatively good English pronunciation and intonation, so English listeners have no problems at all to comprehend the lyrics with the booklet of the cd. On the other hand, the guitar performance of shu is quite melodic and technical enough for shred guitar fans. In addition, shu is a focal point of Symphonia in every aspect; in fact, his songwriting ability and instrumental performance in general are quite shining and impressive in my honest opinion from my gutts. You'll find lots of great guitar solos and nice keyboard parts. The first track, 'Stardust', has some really nice acoustic strings (real ones..no samplers). Each track of Symphonia has a great momentum as well.

In my country, the camp of SYMPHONIA has just started campaign and cd promotion in Tokyo area mainly. Their first full-length debut album, 'THE FIRST MOVEMENT', is going to be available abroad in the near future. But the Symphonia side needs to find a good partner, distributer, and label to help the cd out worldwide, before releasing. (Dear readers, please pay attention: If you have a good idea or tip about releasing the cd or getting signed with any label, please say a word and contact them). You also find some teaser music files on English and Japanese website of SYMPHONIA as well. I hope you would like it.Just recently, they have built-up an English site for English readers and speakers. Please visit Symphonia's website. Feel the passion and honest approach from SYMPHONIA's humble works. If possible, please leave your message and comments about what you've heard on the guestbook as well. They would be much happier and appreciated, whenever you comment your initial thoughts and opinions. Highly recommended for all prog metal fans who are into melodic sensibilities.

website: http://symphonia.edisc.jp/
contact: shu@symphonia.edisc.jp

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Symphony X - V
InsideOut
(2000)

Personally, I prefer Twilight In Olympus as my favorite Symphony X album. However, V is very ambitious prog metal tour de force. To me, it requires several listening times to absorb what is going on. Probably, on the first half of this album is a bit focused on slightly straighter approach with complex ensemble. Most tunes on the second half of V features lots of furious and dynamic intricate parts...this is what I have interpret on the musical side. On the story side, V deal with the story about the legend and mystic sides of Atlantis with some good forces and evil forces. Crunchy and furious guitar playings keep going with dramatic and symphonic orchstrations and hyper rhythmic sections. Symphony X successfully combine symphonic metal elements with some technical aspects of prog metal. Really well done.

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