Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Album Review: Fatal Fusion - Total Absence

This year in prog has been disappointing. The big names that were supposed to carry us through the year fell flat on their faces. Dream Theater made a double album with a story that could have been written by a twelve year old, for all the nuance it showed. Haken followed that up with a love letter to 1985, which is a puzzling decision, since 'real musicians' are supposed to hate that synth filled era. Bubbling in the underground wasn't much of note either. Prog has had a down year, and as we get set to round it out, Fatal Fusion is throwing their hat in the ring. Just on the surface, they have a shot, since they are deeply influenced by the sounds of the 70s, which as we all know, is just what works for this kind of music. Synths will never replace the Hammond organ.

After a two minute instrumental opening that introduces the album with a marching drum-beat and organ swells, we hit the meat of the record. "Shadow Of The King" is the stereotypical Egyptian motif, but it's a trope that usually works. It's just different enough that it makes almost anything sound more dramatic than it would with a more standard scale being used. There's a feeling that isn't entirely removed from "Stargazer" to the song, but the band lacks the fire and flare that Rainbow used in creating their masterpiece. Neither the riffing here, nor the vocals, can reach the heights they would like the song to achieve. It's a decent piece of music, but you can hear they wanted something truly grand, and just aren't quite capable of pulling it off.

There are moments on the record that could be the building blocks of something great. The dark riff leading into a flute line in "Forgotten One" is the kind of musical bit that twists what you expect on its head enough that it's inherently interesting. But the rest of the song lets it down, not delivering anything else of note. It's almost as if the band decided that once they had the one riff to build from, the rest of the song didn't matter.

But the biggest issue with the album is that the vocals kill it. The vocal lines aren't particularly memorable to begin with, but the actual performance isn't up to par. Not everyone is a great singer, I know, but a band needs to know when a member isn't good enough to put on record. That's the case here. Whatever little momentum some of the songs can get going, the vocals are like quicksand, trapping them and dragging them down into the abyss.

While I appreciate the vintage sound that Fatal Fusion is trying to bring back, and I think sonically the album is quite interesting, it lacks the songwriting to be anything but a nostalgia piece. Prog lets you get away with more self-indulgence than most genres do, but you still have to produce songs that have something to say, and something to offer. Fatal Fusion doesn't do that here, and the album suffers for it.

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