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3 stars "Ashes" is the debut full-length studio album by Australian, Brisbane based progressive metal act Arcane. The album, which was originally intended to be released as an EP and only to feature the 24:15 minute long "Ashes" title track, was released through OzProg Music in February 2007. Now with 4 additional tracks and a playing time of 55:57 minutes.

The band play a very intricate form of progressive metal with interesting song structures, a generally dark and melancholic atmosphere and of course impeccable and at times virtuosic musicianship. The latter is more or less a trademark of the genre, so itīs not so surprising. Lead vocalist Jim Grey has a rather distinct sounding voice and it took me a while to learn to appreciate, but he sure is very skilled and after I have gotten used to his voice, I canīt imagine Arcaneīs music without it. At times he reminds me of Jan-Henrik Ohme from the Norwegian act Gazpacho. Thereīs lots of passion and also bite in his performance. I like the fact that he is able to deliver both soft styled vocals and more raw almost aggressive vocals too. Weīre not talking extreme metal vocals here though, just a commanding, powerful and passionte clean vocal style.

As such Arcane donīt bring much new to the table if you are well versed in progressive metal neither when talking instrumentation nor songwriting, but they deliver high quality material and itīs obvious that these guys are very talented and Iīm sure they will release even more unique sounding material in the future. With a strong and unique sounding vocalist like Jim Grey thereīs certainly a possibility that it might happen. Much great music begins with a quality vocalist and bearing that in mind Arcane are very fortunate to have Jim Grey.

There are many positive things to say about "Ashes" and overall I really enjoy the album, but unfortunately thereīs one thing holding the album back from being really great. The sound production isnīt very powerful or well sounding and while I can live with that because the music is as convincing and well excecuted as it is, itīs still an issue that drags my rating down a bit. The sound is pretty powerless and some of the instruments (mainly the keyboards) sound detached from the rest of the instruments in the soundscape. So a 3.5 star (70%) rating is warranted. With a better sound production "Ashes" would have been a sure 4 star (80%) rating.

Report this review (#455826)
Posted Thursday, June 2, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars (6/10)

Arcane is a band that I came across by using the list/filters function here on ProgArchives to find the 'top' albums from Australia (my glorious birthplace). It's a game I can strongly recommend playing if you're after a diverse range of excellent prog. Anyway, far ahead of all the other releases was a strange looking album, with a strange sounding title, "Chronicles Of The Waking Dream", by a band called Arcane. After many listens, I came to the conclusion that it was absolutely fantastic, so it seemed logical to explore Arcane's previous release, their 2007 debut "Ashes".

Arcane play a strongly metal-edged form of prog, with melodic clean vocals, but with enough sonic variety to get them labelled as heavy prog. You can hear influences ranging from Dream Theater to fellow Australians Karnivool, along with many others. The level of musicianship is good, as you might then expect.

"Ashes" was originally conceived of as just the 24 minute title track, but then expanded into a full album later. To be honest, it is something of a modest start, from a young band clearly bursting with talent, but sometimes being held back by the recording/sound quality. Their skill nonetheless shines through on enough occasions to make this a good album. Occasionally the sound of the keyboard is a bit off, and the guitar also can be a little flat. Jim Grey's singing, however is just full of personality. It is constantly enjoyable, though perhaps a little raw in places, but in a predominantly metallic environment that can work fine. In a few of the instrumental breaks however, it can occasionally sound like an 80s thrash band kidnapped a keyboardist.

Having said all that, what cannot be argued against is the compositions themselves, which are of a generally good standard (I certainly wouldn't consider any of these songs bad). I especially like the epic title track of "Ashes", which really forms the centrepiece of the album. The vocal performance in particular stands out to me, and there are passages where you can really see the band they would soon become.

I would say that it might be interesting to see the band re-record these songs but to be honest I think they can write much stronger material nowadays, and they should focus on getting that out there whenever possible. "Ashes", whilst still intelligent, is an altogether more straightforward release than the epic "Chronicles", which is where Arcane really broke new ground and carved out their own identity. Still, the ambition is there, and the sense of fun is there, certainly enough to interest new fans of the band. Just don't make this your first Arcane album.

Report this review (#905454)
Posted Sunday, February 3, 2013 | Review Permalink

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