Artist: Waken Eyes
Album Title: Exodus
Label: Ulterium Records
Year Of Release: 2015
I don’t like the description ‘super group’; it conjures up too many negative connotations including the falsehood that the group of musicians themselves subscribe to the notion of being super or better than other bands. Occasionally, this might be the case but I find it a rarity. The other problem is that the minute a band is labelled as a super group, focus is removed from the most important thing; the music itself.
That said, if you’re a fan of the same kind of music as I am, the clientele involved in the Waken Eyes line-up is certain to get pulses racing and eyebrows more than a little raised. Formed by solo guitarist of note Tom Frelek, Waken Eyes soon took shape thanks to the additions of Darkwater’s Henrik Båth on vocals, Symphony X’s Mike LePond on bass and the prolific drummer Marco Minnemann who has appeared on several solo releases as well as alongside Steven Wilson, Ephel Duath and Joe Satriani to name just a few. As such it is difficult not to get sucked into the notion of a super group but I will refrain and instead judge ‘Exodus’, the debut from Waken Eyes on the basis of the musical output. And happily, on that score, the word ‘super’ can most definitely and legitimately be used.
Defined loosely as a melodic progressive metal band, Waken Eyes draw influences from across the rock and metal genres as well as from all corners of the musical world. These wide-ranging influences can be heard throughout an album which is definitely rich and multi-layered, with plenty of twists and turns. On a first listen, the compositions come across as deceptively simple, something that could potentially lead to the dismissal of Waken Eyes by those with short attention spans. Give ‘Exodus’ more time to unfold and the rewards are surprisingly gratifying.
The ten compositions are definitely melodic, with each containing a chorus, hook, vocal-line or bridge that will immediately grab the attention or infiltrate the subconscious in a quiet, insidious manner. The melody is generally quite understated however, as is the more ‘progressive’ element. We’re not talking polyrhythms, 15-minute instrumental passages where the musicians trade-off solos or showcase their technical abilities for the sake of it. There are instrumental passages here and there of course but these are more integrated within the songs, if that makes sense. As you’d expect, the execution is of a very high standard but the individual prowess of each musician never gets in the way of the composition. Instead, a sense of drama, complexity and ‘prog’ is created via the many layers of music, the exploration of light and shade and the injection of numerous, quite subtle different influences that all come together to create something extremely cohesive and focused. For that, the band deserves a lot of praise.
The album opens with ‘Cognition’, a four-minute instrumental composition that underlines the sense of the theatrical and the love of cinematic soundscapes. It begins quietly with a myriad of sampled sounds before a powerful drum beat joins with keys and synths as the track builds like a film score inexorably to a strong and dramatic conclusion via some rather luxurious lead guitar work from Frelek.
‘Aberration’ flows seamlessly from the opener and is a driving hard rock/metal track that’s not afraid to pull back and allow the bass of Mike LePond to dominate alongside a simple piano melody. The first notes from Båth are almost whispered but they build throughout the track. Synths are never far away, adding an atmospheric richness whenever necessary but the star of the show is the simple but oh-so effective lead guitar melody that takes centre stage throughout the first half of the track. The song then explodes into a dramatic finale again dominated but not overpowered by a virtuosic guitar solo, made all the more potent thanks to a great rhythm performance from Minnemann and LePond in particular.
Elsewhere, ‘Back To Life’ is a surprisingly emotive quasi-ballad that is book-ended by a spoken-word sample. In between, the track is complimented by a power metal-esque hook-laden chorus and an all-round execution from each member that screams quality. The vocals are particularly striking, as is the inclusion of an acoustic guitar which adds another dimension to the track and lends a slightly more mainstream edge, but in a positive manner. The piano that accompanies the spoken word intro/outro is simply beautiful; so rich and deep, it’s wonderful.
‘Palisades’ is another personal favourite. The intro is dramatic and the initial guitar and bass combo reminds me of Iron Maiden at their most introspective and broody. The synths join in to increase the atmosphere before the song explodes in pure unadulterated power metal worship. The guitar sings and is joined by some surprisingly strong head-back wailing from Båth. From there, the gears are shifted and a more straight-up hard rock vibe takes over complete with stomping rhythm and seductive swagger. Head nodding is compulsory, as is a touch of impromptu air guitar. This track is a great example of the subtle progressive nature of Waken Eyes’ music as almost imperceptibly, a myriad of different musical ideas are shoe-horned into four minutes of music without it ever feeling over done or messy; everything flows as it should, everything feels natural and before you know it, the track is at an end.
Each track more or less maintains this high quality. ‘Cornerstone’ is another ballad of sorts with a prominent acoustic guitar, emotional lead lines and another impassioned performance from Bath, who is joined by a female vocalist with whom he duets to nice effect. The instrumental composition ‘Still Life’ has an almost country rock vibe which I surprisingly rather like in spite of myself whilst ‘Arise’ sees Waken Eyes at their most extreme, with an occasional thrash metal edge to the choppy rhythm guitars and a harsher vocal delivery at times, albeit interspersed with quieter, more dreamlike sequences.
‘Exodus’ is then brought to a close via the 18 minute epic title track which pulls everything that Waken Eyes does well into one gloriously indulgent composition. The cinematic and theatrical elements are reprised in all their splendour, spoken-word samples make a return, the track ebbs and flows from all-out power to subtle, gentle restraint with ease and it is here that the band do indulge ever so slightly and showcase their considerable musical prowess. Nevertheless, the track remains cohesive and enjoyable throughout its many twists and turns and it’s a very strong conclusion to a highly commendable debut album, one that sees four musicians of note come together and create a soundtrack to match the hype and expectation that a collaboration of this nature is sure to bring with it. To be honest, this is a rarity but Messrs Frelek, LePond, Båth and Minnemann have delivered the goods. As such, ‘Exodus’ is certainly one of the melodic progressive highlights of the year. Who needs the term ‘super group’ when the music itself is super?
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
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Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
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Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
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Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
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Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
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James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
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H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
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