Sunday, July 19, 2015

Album Review: Tangerine Circus - The Conspiracy Chronicles

Despite the rich tradition of international metal, there are still countries from which it's unusual to hear quality material. Metal may come from all corners of the world, but there are hotbeds where the majority of what we hear emanate from, while a few bands will pop up in the dead zones to try to jump-start the scene there. Sometimes, all it takes is one band to break through, and an entire region can become a hot zone, producing quality bands one after another. And sometimes, that lone band will be the only one there, because they can't drive up sufficient interest in making metal a mainstay of their culture.

While there have been a few metal bands to hail from Mexico, Tangering Circus is the first one that I have put under the microscope. Playing a brand of progressive metal that borrows from all the heavy hitters, their heritage could provide an interesting take on what is often a very staid, lifeless style of music.

After a well-crafted orchestral overture, "Neohuman" opens the album with six minutes of quality riffing and subdued melody. The verses have the vocals buried in the mix, behind the saturated guitar tone, but the chorus section lifts them up just enough that you can hear the pretty good hook. Even then, it's impossible to make out the lyrics, because the vocals are too quiet. The bridge is dominated by a very loud synth part, before the heavy riffing takes over. It's a song that shows promise, but is let down heavily by the poor choices in mixing.

"Through Heaven" is a more dramatic piece, with arpeggiated riffs, more atmosphere, and some nicely sculpted melody. Unfortunately, it too suffers from a mix that buried the vocals. While the music is quality, and I can tell the song is well-written, not being able to immediately pick out the strongest hook and the human element, is a disappointment.

"Lifestream" changes things up with a heavy dose of keys, sounding a lot like a song that could have been on a recent Kamelot album. It's a well thought-out song, and has a lot going for it, when you can make out the details. I hate to keep going back to that well, but when the mix impacts the ability to hear what's going on in the music, it needs to be discussed.

The centerpiece of the album is the twenty minute "The Conspiracy", which sees the band flexing their prog muscles throughout the extended composition. They spend the first four minutes in an instrumental workout, throwing a wide variety of tricks onto the stage. When the vocals finally come in, there's some beautiful layering and what I think is counterpoint melody, and the juxtaposition when pianos come into the fold is beautiful stuff. Likewise, the lengthy guitar solo in the second half of the song is the best bit of playing on the entire record. If you like prog, you're going to love this one, because it's got a little bit of everything, and something for everyone.

Though that song can be draining, there are four more tracks left to go. "Spheres" is a highlight of the record, with a hook that has a simple, yet beautiful little melody that could be edited down into a perfect single to showcase the band's sound. "Advent Of The Thinking" is the only superfluous track here, a four minute instrumental that serves mostly as the introduction to the next track, "The Great Elector". That song's acoustic balladry gives the first hint of the band's heritage, and serves as a welcome respite from the loud, crunching prog.

Another fourteen minute epic shows up next in the form of "The Memory Delusion". This one is less focused on instrumental flourishes, and instead of rampant technicality, spends its time building up emotional and melodic catharsis. That can also be a criticism, as I'm not sure there's enough going on in the song to necessitate it being that long.

By the time the album is over, I've reached a very definite conclusion. "The Conspiracy Chronicles" is a good album, and a very promising entry of progressive metal that avoids the usual boredom that many of these bands produce. That being said, if the mix wasn't so brick-walled to the point of being painful, and the vocals were brought up in the mix, this would be a very, very good album. I like it, but it's such a case of 'what could have been'. Sigh.

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