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Ivory Tower - Beyond The Stars CD (album) cover

BEYOND THE STARS

Ivory Tower

 

Progressive Metal

3.89 | 14 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Well, I'm very happy to be the first one to write a review of this fantastic album by this very talented German band.

In case you're wondering, the name of the band gives us a clue of what it sounds like: Ivory Tower - Chess - Math... So Ivory Tower is a math-prog band...

... Not really. The truth is, this band sounds like a Dream Theater-meets-Vanden Plas- meets-Threshold-meets-Celestial Season-meets-Stratovarius mixture, which is mandarin for "prog-metal, Dream Theater-style". Yes, Ivory Tower's main influence when writing their songs was, we can easily tell, the legendary quintet from New York. All the elements are here: hard-rocking guitar riffs; abrupt time changes; odd-time signatures every once in a while; longer-than-average songs (between 5 and 11 minutes); grandiose, forefront keyboards, not only a chord-playing instrument but a soloist one as well; powerful, double- bass-drum-aplenty drumming; (this one sadly) not-so-easy-to-hear bass guitar; complex- yet-accesible structures (actually, structures are quite simple, but the abundance of melodies and riffs makethem sound more complicated than they really are); catchy choruses, and high-reaching, often-falsetto vocals. So, from the beginning let me tell you: if you don't like Dream Theater or Threshold, chances are, you won't like Ivory Tower. But if you do, well, let's keep on going here.

The five members of the band are quite talented musicians, although not all of them play at the same level: Sven Boge, the lead guitar and main creative force is a truly gifted performer, capable of very hard-crushing riffs and at the same time very beautiful, almost (only almost) Petrucci-like melodies and solos: his style tends to be more restrained than that of dear John P. Laschetzki, the bass guitar, has one thing in common with John Myung: we BARELY hear him... in this case, is not as much of a shame as in DT's albums, for in skills department, he's just an average bass player. Thrunke in drums is a decent power drummer, very good with the double-bass, very good at hitting the heads with the utmost violence, but he has not a lot of truly original patterns and rhythms. Machon, the keys-man, is one of the more talented musicians in Ivory Tower and his playing easily ranks at the very top among his bandmates: he knows how to play melodic and virtuosic solos, he knows how to provide songs with an aura of menace, sadness or joy at will, and he also is capable of just atmospheric, "background" keyboard playing. Finally, a word about Fischer, the singer: I think he's a better singer than he lets us hear: when he so wishes, he can sing very melodically; when he wants, he can sing with pure strength; but he relies on falsetto too much... there are quite a few times in the album when his voice seems to be on the verge of collapsing due to trying to reach higher notes than his vocal chords allow him for, so he uses his throat to produce the sounds his toraxic cavity can't achieve, but he barely gets there. Think James LaBrie (my favorite singer, by the way) in Awake, when at his most "metal".

On with the songs:

Silence (9/10) , a great song. It starts with a melodic vocal line over piano... then the main descending guitar riff makes its entrance and from then onwards we have as true a prog- metal song as any; very powerful track, with an excellent chorus that manages to ease the tension of the verse. The guitar solo is in pure power-metal vein. (Note: the main rif is very close in spirit to that in the beginning of "Tearing Down the World" in Royal Hunt's uber- masterpiece Paradox)

Secret in Me (7/10), over a machine-like guitar riff, the keyboards announce a melody in pure Dream Theater style; what follows is an enjoyable if somewhat uninspired number; the chorus is just not good: Fischer's singing hits its album-low here, it sounds false, forced.

Foreboding (10/10), the best song in the album, and I'll go further: for me, (and remember Dream Theater is THE band in my opinion), this is the best Dream-Theater-styled short-epci ever, even better than songs like Narcissus from Threshold. This has everything: it starts menacing, with a fear-inducing guitar riff over piston-like bass drums; the instrumental intro last for a few measures, and the sudden appearance of the keys make for a moment of rest before the onslaught of fury that is the main verse; Fischer sound quite good here, restrained, not trying to over-reach; when a very low voice says Foreboding in what sounds like a threat, the chorus comes a a relief, an anthem to hold on to your dreams no matter what; but the best part of this short-epic (11 minutes) is the middle instrumental: first the bass alone makes an statement, soaring guitars punctuate its discourse... the melody seems to be growing strong, tension appears to be building up... the guitar suddenly voices a sorrowful-yet-hopeful lament, a high melody moment; the guitar, now doubled, picks up the thread with thundering double bass drums, then the fast part of the solo gives us a chance to realize hopw skilled both the guitar and the keyboard player are; the music continues to develop... it exhausts: now clean guitars make for a pause in the midst of the anger, a truly beautiful moment; the vocals reappear... the chorus comes back crashing everything in its path... the cycle is complete. GREAT, SUPERB SONG.

Game of Life (3:53), after such a number, everything that follows just pales in comparison. But this short track holds its own... very melodic, quiet start. Fischer's singing gets worse but not annoying; no drums here, only at the end in the form of snare-rolls complementing the soaring statement by vocals and guitars.

5. Peeping Tom (10/10), well, it may be a 9.5 more honestly... a beautiful song, for some it may sound a little bit over-sugared, even cheesy in its "love-you-can't-have-you-I-peep-at- you" theme... but it's a very melodic number, the piano adding to the overall romantic-yet- morbid atmosphere... not a love song; a song of desperation. The guitar solo is Boge at his most Petrucci in terms of melody (not quite, really)... VERY GOOD.

Beyond the Stars (9/10), this is such a good song... I just have one complain: is too DT- ish. A very typical prog-metal track with a great chorus and good solos... another complain: too much double-bass drumming. If there's something I can't stand from power- metal bands is the exaggerated use of the double bass playing at ultra fast speed.... and, sadly, IT's drummer seems quite fond of that style.

When Thoughts are Running Wild (6/10) Not a good song. Too derivative. . The middle section is decent, though.

Flight into Self (6/10), a boring song, mostly uninspired, mostly unoriginal.. this one sounds like Dream Theater after quite a few nights of sleep deprivation; the chorus is slightly better, with some Queensryche overtones here and there... but nothing to write your uncle in Alaska about...

Treehouse Theme (?/10) , one of those tracks you just don't understand the purpose behind including them in the album... it consists of a keyboard version of the main theme of the following song. Now, that theme is good but nothing great, it's not like it's a incredible melody, so, what was the point?

Treehouse (8/10), finally we return to safe grounds; a prog-metal near-epic where the theme announced in the preceding track proves useful and good to work with. Again, the DT references are there. Good but not in the level of Foreboding. The chorus sounds very close in style to those in Mullmuzzler works (LaBrie's band before Elements of Persuasion).

In the end, not a flawless album. Not even near-perfect album. There are two main problems: one, a couple of songs are just not good. The other: TOO DERIVATIVE. Yes, at times this sounds too close to Dream Theater.

But for Foreboding alone, this album earns a better-than-average recommendation. That song is just superb. Even with the DT references, that one sounds original enough for us to award Ivory Tower with a fourth star. It's very simple: if you like prog-metal, this is an excellent addition to your collection.

Just don't think you'll be blown away with innovation:what you have here is very-well- played prog-metal music DT-style, a couple of great songs, a marvelous one, and a couple of fillers. What you don't have here is a band that sounds like nobody else.

The T | 4/5 |

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