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Zero Hour - Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond CD (album) cover

SPECS OF PICTURES BURNT BEYOND

Zero Hour

 

Progressive Metal

3.74 | 56 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I recently bought a copy of this Zero Hour's latest, SPECS OF PICTURES BURNT BEYOND, and I still can't explain why I did it. As you know, my review of one of their earliest albums, METAMORPHOSIS, wasn't really a flattering one, and I gave the album just one star for what I deemed as the absolute lack of musical coherence I had ever found in a record up to that date. Things haven't really changed that much since that day. It's not that now I love that album, I still find it segmented and lacking direction, and I still find the singer that performed there annoying. But, I don't know why, somehow I found a copy of this latest release in a record store, and I just couldn't stop the impulse to buy it, to give ZH a second chance, so to speak. My relation with Fates Warning had, I think, much to do with the decision: that was a band I used to dislike, with a singer I used to despise, both of which now I like and a lot; FW's music is a clear influence in Zero Hour's sound; so, it was only logical that I though that maybe, maybe things would also change with regards to this San Francisco outfit. That's my only possible explanation as to my purchase, and now that I've actually listened to the CD more than a couple of times, I think it would be fair of me to give my opinion on a band I once categorized as music for "octopus lovers".

I still can't say that I LOVE this band, but at least now I can listen to the album without ever wondering what the hell am I doing listening or it or what the heck were these guys in ZH thinking when they recorded it. I can distinguish some structures here, I can hear some bits that resemble a melody there, I can finally understand that this music has a purpose. In SOPBB (the title is too long to write), Zero Hour has created a collection of very heavy, very difficult, very complex technical progressive metal. Unlike the only album that I had heard of them until this one, here we have coherent songs. Another element that didn't exist in METAMORPHOSIS that I can see now is, as I already said, melody, although it still isn't this band's specialty (nor, I guess, are they really interested on it, as this is not music meant to be melodic.) The music still sounds like a very technical version of Fates Warning with some elements by other bands, but that's the main influence without any doubt. Zero Hour is a progressive-metal band that listened to Cynic and Fates Warning much more so than they did Dream Theater or Symphony X, and it clearly shows. Their music isn't as technical as Spiral Architect, but it's much more complex (in the technical sense) than most average metal bands. In the final track of the album we can even hear some Meshuggah-like riffs, a detail that can surely tell you how heavy and aggressive ZH's music has turned out to be.

I have to mention the change in vocals, as it's one of the key reasons for the improvement that I've detected in this band. Chris Salinas is really a fantastic singer, much in the vein of Ray Alder but even more so in the style of Queensryche's Geoff Tate. Salinas is a versatile singer, going from the metal, screaming approach to the more calmed, restrained mood in a matter of seconds, and he's also capable of some drama, some theatricality, something that's very hard to find in Fates-Warning- influenced singers.

Face the Fear (8/10) The very rhythmical start a la Cynic (and also a la Primus, to be honest) leads to a zigzagging riff that goes upwards, goes down and immediately climbs again. A quiet section that sounds a lot like Fates Warning interrupts the insanity attack. It's worth mentioning the good work by the bass player, one of the highlights in an already very technical band. Madness strikes again, Salinas sounds more Tate-like than ever, the riff sounds like it came from a sick mind, from a complete paranoid person. The song is long but goes by very quickly. The quiet section returns, and the song nears its end. The guitar riff grows more relentless, it seems it will never stop. One of the best songs ever by Zero Hour (which, coming from me, it's not saying much, as I've only heard one other album besides this one).

The Falcon's Cry (8.5/10) The heaviness is evident, imposing. I don't like the singing that much when Salinas almost shrieks trying to reach impossible notes. Another insanity-driven riff of pure rhythmical interest, hardly any melodic one. This album is really a chant for crazy, mentally-derailed people, as the riffs are this close to be perfect portraits of a nervous and mental breakdown. And, as with every insane person, anger is followed by quiet and even beauty. A peaceful part sung by Salinas who sounds 95% like Geoff Tate, only much more schizophrenic. Interesting. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I'm hearing good music! This section is truly the best part of the album, as is this song, the best I've ever heard from this San Francisco group. Incredible: 8 minutes that go by like 4, unlike in METAMORPHOSIS where the exact opposite was the truth.

Embrace (8/10) The "Believe It or Not" reality we're living continues, as we face an instrumental of decent melodic value! This is only guitars and more guitars, in an interesting texturing exercise, with Salinas harmonizing in the rear background. Short but good.

Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond (6.5/10) It was too good to be true. The violence starts again with a riff that crushes like heavy machinery. Sadly, the singing ruins the main verse. Yes, the same singing I was applauding moments ago it's the cause for problems here. I just can't take those ultra-high shrieks a la Judas Priest or King Diamond. The music is too neurotic, too epileptic to be liked by me. In this song, the death of melody has been produced again. I can't lie and say this guys can't play, but this track, though far from atrocious (an adjective I recurrently used when reviewing their third album), is just too chaotic for me.

Zero Hour (7.5/10) The riff is interesting but it seems like we've heard it before. Guitar and bass playing are of the highest quality, and the drummer is quite a virtuoso, too. A rather noisy track that is short and concise, and just because of that, it works. Yes, there's no melody in here but when melody-less, rhythm-oriented, odd-time-signature written pieces last only 2 minutes, I can very easily digest them, and I even welcome them!

I Am Here (7.5/10) Clean-guitar arpeggios and melodic singing? We're in Ripley's land again. A good moment of peace and relaxation before the carnage that is about to come. Good, if not brilliant, little acoustic song. Great singing by Salinas.

Evidence of the Unseen (6.5/10) This starts so quietly, just a murmur. We know only cannibalism can lie behind such noise. The riff is another hymn to insanity, straight from the sanitarium, complete with dissonances and odd-time signatures that would make Meshuggah's members quite proud. The riff is just too savage, too terrorizing. Melody has died. But then a quiet, almost atmospheric (yes, I said that) section gives us a second to catch our breath. It doesn't last long and the guitar-engine is at it again. Then another quiet section. The song continues like that all the way to the end. It's not a bad track but it's just too much of a massacre for my taste.

As a final comment, let me say that I'd given this album 4 stars were it not for the two ultra-violent tracks that I've rated with 6.5/10. I have to give credit where credit is due: Zero Hour is a good band that could be even better, for my tastes, if they added a little more melody to their music. But for fans of this kind of metal, I'm telling you, the album will probably be something of a masterpiece for you.

Not recommend for: fans of melodic metal; people that dislike metal in general. Most of all, people that NEED melody in their music.

Recommended for: technical-progressive metal fans; fans of Zero Hour; fans of Cynic, Meshuggah, Spiral Architect, among others.Oh, yes, and Geoff Tate's fans.

.Chris Salinas is the best Geoff Tate I've ever heard.

The T | 3/5 |

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