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Aztec Jade - Concrete Eden CD (album) cover


Aztec Jade


Progressive Metal

3.00 | 7 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I bought this widely unknown album almost a year ago, and I haven't heard it ever since the first couple of listens. I got back to it yesterday and I think I have given the record enough spins to be able to share my thoughts on it.

Aztec Jade's music is progressive metal, without a doubt. Their style owes a little (or maybe a lot) to that most copied of prog-metal bands, Dream Theater, though we can safely say that, unlike other groups that limit themselves to emulate what the legendary New York band did in AWAKE or IMAGES AND WORDS, this American band doesn't stop there and has a sound pretty much their own. They also show some Rush influences, but also (as the biography correctly says) at times they can remind us of more pop-oriented prog like Saga, or to an Art-rock band like Enchant. One of the factors that contribute to that is the singer, about whom I will speak later. The music is not as virtuosic as regular progressive metal, yet there is enough space to a few solos and displays of technique. What Aztec Jade clearly tries to always have in their songs is catchy, melodic choruses, though they only partially achieve that. There are also clear Queensryche references in the music, and all of these different fountains this band has drink from have helped shape what their own sonic universe looks like. We could not forget to mention Fates Warning as another name that jumps to mind when citing influences for Aztec Jade, though this band never tries to play the kind of more technical metal that most of FW's followers do.

The musicianship in Aztec Jade ranks from good to average. Neither of the band's members is truly a master of his instrument (at least we can't tell it from what we hear) but neither is a weak performer, also. The singer, as I pointed out, is probably the most successful player in Aztec Jade, his voice combining elements of modern rock with old- school singers like Steve Walsh from Kansas or another one much influenced by the latter, Ted Leonard from Enchant. Geoff Tate is always a name to mention with many prog-metal vocalists, and with Aztec Jade's we have no exception. The guitar and the keyboard players are competent, never truly surprising us but never letting us down also. The rhythmical section is the one that at times I have a few issues with. The bassist doesn't make mistakes nor plays sloppy, but he doesn't play imaginatively either. He always keeps it safe, bordering in the formulaic. About the drummer: I used to think that Rick Miller was an awful musician. Now that I've heard CONCRETE EDEN a few more times, I can say that I was wrong, though not incredibly away from the truth. Miller can play, but, just as the bassist, he lacks imagination, his playing repetitive and run-of-the-mill.

The recording doesn't help him, though. The album, as a whole, sounds a little bit like an old recording trying to sound new. The drums are the biggest problem here: they sound so in your face, but also so empty, like big, enormous empty barrels made of wood, that it almost ruins the experience. The drums sound a little like Hair-metal recordings from the 80's, big, fat, pounding, with no finesse. The other instruments sound raw, crude, with little production behind them. I've heard great recordings by small, in-a-budget bands so that's no excuse. There are times that, I don't know if because of the drummer or if because of the recording (I don't know if this is possible), the drums sound like if they were being played a mili-second later than the rest of the instruments. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening riff of the second song, "The Machine".

About the songs, let me say that, unlike many albums, CONCRETE EDEN actually gets better after the first few tracks have gone by:

Concrete Eden (6.5/10) The two first songs are very similar, they share almost the same exact bass line and rhythmical figure, and the same weakness in the chorus.

The Machine (6.5/10) Read above.

Black October (7.5/10) sounds a lot like Queensryche, specially in the chorus where the words "mother Mary pleas forgive me" almost take us back to the "Suite Sister Mary" song in OPERATION:MINDCRIME. It's not a bad song, though.

Someone Not Me (7.5/10) is the Enchant-like moment, with a little bit of Saga thrown in the mix.

Manifestation (8/10) starts almost as pure NWOBHM and then switches to a more regular progressive mood. And then the chorus is completely power-metal-ish, with some horribly sounding double-bass drumming by Miller. Then a section that reminds us of REO Speedwagon (?!?). The ending piano chords remind me of Magellan (?!) A complete mess of a song in terms of style but entertaining.

Victory Procession (8.5/10) The best song in the album without a doubt. The keyboard chords again sound like Magellan, but the chorus is quite powerful and soul-lifting. Very good song. The awful-sounding drums keep it from being a bigger success.

Visions (6.5/10) The star sounds like a straight power metal slow song, but then the middle section is more progressive-metal-ish in nature. Not a great track.

Revelations (4:18) The beginning of this song sounds like a power ballad by a hair metal band from the 80's, as does the ending section and the middle one. Well, this actually DOES sound like a power ballad from a hair band from the 80's, complete with huge, gigantic drums that sound like empty oil-barrels. But man do they sound!

The Final Hour (8/10) The start sounds like Dream Theater, WHEN DAY AND DREAM UNITE-era. Then the rhythm in the main section brings us back to the first two songs, but then the chorus is quite original, played in two speeds (a slower first section followed by a much faster second one), and gives this song a distinct flavor. Whenever a member of Aztec Jade has a chance to play absolutely solo, it sounds kind of weird, like after the first chorus when the bass player gets a chance. He sounds forced, like he's really trying. Anyway, a good song, one of the highlights in CONCRETE EDEN.

Issues (6:49) The most "regular" progressive-metal song in this album, the band play it safe here. I have to say that Aztec Jade are at their best when they do their strange mixes of styles, but when they try to keep it traditional, they fail. The middle section is quite awkward: we have an Iron Maiden-ish guitar riff, and the keyboard follows it but sounding like a 70's Hammond (?!?). Near the end we have another one of those double-bass drum moments when we wonder what went wrong: either the drummer or the recording are doing something wrong here, but something seems out of place.

End Of Days (7/10) The last track in the album is also the longest. This one owes the most to Dream Theater, and is the one with the most instrumental sections. We have a fast middle section where it finally gets evident that the drummer and the bass player are no in harmony with each other (I don't mean musical harmony but just harmony, they just don't cooperate with each other). Another slow section that sounds a little psychedelic (?!?) leads the way for the last section to arrive. This somewhat glued- together song is not really bad, but it could be better.

As it's easy to see, I've used this exclamation figure, "(?!?)" a lot in my review of this record. There's a reason for that. CONCRETE EDEN leaves me utterly confused, as I don't know what style the band tries to emulate nor how talented the musicians really are. There are moments of good music, there are moments that almost reach a level of higher greatness, but then there are instants where we wonder whether if all five members were actually playing the songs together or if just each of them went to the studio a separate day and recorded his part. For the good moments, I give the album a 3-star rating, though closer to reality would be a 2.75 out of 5.

Recommended for: fans of prog-metal, fans of metal looking for an entertaining experience.

Not recommended for: Fans of tight, precise, technically-perfectly played metal; people who dislike metal; but most of all, this is forbidden for aspiring sound engineers.

.or maybe we should encourage them to hear this as how not to record the drums in a 2000's metal album. This could've been OK in the 80's. Now we demand more.

The T | 3/5 |


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