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3 stars As quirky as expected!

Meridian II is Phavian's second step in the 4-album series of their concept Meridian and the third studio album since their inception. Similar to their previous releases, this clocks around the 40-minute mark - it consists of six tracks, all quite different to each other but with one common mood: dark and quirky.

The compositions generally flow in a haunting atmosphere, driven by the lyrical concept, which is also depicted in the album's excellent cover artwork. From the first notes it is clear that this is not your typical prog metal album.

'Adam's Ale' is a beautiful folksy 3-minute track, totally driven by the voice of Elisabeth Matson with a remarkable acoustic guitar 'acompagnamento' that moves straight in 'Purl', with the listener almost not taking notice. There is a nice balance of acoustic guitars and low-tempo high-note electric guitars in the opening of this track, reminiscent of 90s atmospheric/experimental metal, with the vocals and an operatic background dominating the ambience. Midway through a more dynamic sequence of melodic riffs breaks the norm and continues to the closing of the track. 'Hexenring' kicks off quite unexpectedly, with an in-your-face untypical heavy riff and Elisabeth singing on high and obscure note sequences; galloping mid-tempo guitars and ever-changing themes comprise this rather unusual track, that seems to be have been born out of the quirkiness of To-Mera. This is by far the most 'difficult' track to digest, and this is aggravated by its relatively long duration.

The second half kicks off with a 4-minute piano 'interlude', deeply influenced by classical music (apparently part of the band's musical education); while not extravagant, it links quite nicely with 'Watersong', arguably the album's highlight. Having listened to it in their 2011 EP 'Foreword', I was positively surprised to find it here. Clean and distorted guitars playing on the minor scale remind heavily of Opeth's tactics but the vocals and the power metal riffing give this track both a more 'classical' and 'metallic' feeling respectively. The build up to the 5th's minute mid-tempo melodic refrain is worth the wait and the best that this album has to offer. Although not as impressive, the rest of the track keeps you on your toes with a variety of abstract vocal passages and avant-power metal riffs. The best description for 'Fall of Cruor' would be: an odd classical music track played with metal instruments. Here I could hear patterns that remind me of the masters of the style, Mekong Delta; however the female vocals again differentiate it from anything that you have listened to before, and although it does not leave me a feeling of satisfaction as the closing track, some of the elements of composition are simply stunning.

Meridian II is a weird combination of classical/avant-driven progressive metal with dark and brooding atmospheres. Female vocals are leading the game but sometimes it feels like they are over-done, mixed a notch higher than they should be or are just too quirky for the typical prog-metal fan. The production, though not weak overall, feels a bit thin especially on the drums. The ideas are there, there is a mix of melodic and harsher moments while one could argue that the long tracks extend just a bit more than they should have done.

If you like your prog-metal dark, quirky, weird and untypical, with female vocals not following the norm, then check this band. As this is only pt. 2 of the 4-part concept, I am personally expecting an even better release from Phavian in the future.

Many thanks go to Patrick from Phavian for making this album available for review!

Report this review (#921358)
Posted Saturday, March 2, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Phavian "Meridian II" 6.8

"Meridian II" is the sophomore album from Californian prog metal band Phavian, the second part of an ongoing four act saga of Tolkien-styled medieval fantasy. Although being lumped in the modern progressive metal movement, Phavian in fact have very little in common with the common progressive metal staples of Dream Theater and Symphony X, bringing influences from gothic and folk music to create a much more diverse sounding record.

"Meridian II" is a record spanning only 39 minutes, and as an avid vinyl fan, I believe this is the right length for an album. It contains three shorter songs and three longer, 'epic', tracks. The longest of these, 12 minute "Watersong" was previously featured on the free download EP "Foreword", which contained one song from each of the four chapters. Many, like myself, have found Phavian through the free download release on bandcamp, which I think is a very good way of getting music to the masses.

Although they may be distant in genre, much of Phavian's structure comes from the books of Opeth and their 10 minute songs, with often breaks into acoustic interludes, with a very distinctive dual acoustic one in "Watersong". There are strong elements of folk music throughout the album, with opener "Adam's Ale" being essentially a folk piece, with some very nice vocal work from Elizabeth Matson.

Matson's vocals are another element that brings Phavian out of the cliché and into a realm of their own, her vocals taking influence from gothic vocalists such as Tarja Turunen, and I hear particular similarity to fellow progressive metal leading lady Julie Kiss of British band To-Mera.

However, Opeth's structural style has often been criticized as "patchwork music", becoming more formulaic than actually flowing, and I hear this here, specifically on "Watersong", which doesn't have the 'epic' feel of building to something, simply feels like one part on top of another.

However, like last year's shock low-budget surprise "Book I" from The Great Gamble, Meridian II falls short due to the weaker side of production. The songs seem very bare at times, often only the core instruments are heard, with very little 'depth', for lack of a better word. Although great songs like "Purl" are fine as they are, I feel that it could be a phenomenal song with a full string section, but a song like closer "Fall of Cruor" sounds odd and dissonant with the shallow production.

Overall, "Meridian II" is a good album that falls short due to its production. Unlike many modern prog metal albums, it doesn't have too much singular influence, and uses fusions of folk, gothic and prog styles to create something new. There is definitely much to be excited about here, as this is a huge step up from Meridian I, and I hope the band can improve on this still in the final two chapters of the saga.

Best songs: Purl, Mirror Skin

Originally posted at my facebook page/blog

Report this review (#927303)
Posted Saturday, March 9, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars The progressive/avant-garde metal band Phavian returns with their third album "Meridian II". The band first came on the radar in 2009 with their debut "Kiena". After releasing an EP ("Foreword") in 2011, they released the epic "Meridian I" a few months later and have now released the follow-up.

The acoustic, melancholy of "Adam's Ale" begins the 6-song, 39-minute album on a beautiful note. Lead vocalist Elizabeth Matson shows what a diverse singing style she has and fits in perfectly with the music. The opening song clocks in at almost 3-minutes and is followed by two 8-minute tracks. "Purl" is next and is a nice mid-paced song, with tempo changes that goes from heavier, guitar driven and back to the acoustic style of the first song ? in fact, it is almost like an extension of the opening number. The songs have plenty of atmosphere and emotion throughout the CD. "Hexenring" is a straight-forward track with a crunchy metal riff that dominates the song. "Mirror Skin" is a melancholic piano instrumental which leads us into the 11-minute epic "Watersong". This is simply an outstanding track and definitely my favorite. The final track "Fall of Cruor" is another highlight.

Phavian is a band that presents the listener with a lot of nuances and complexity in their music and "Meridian II" is no different. Phavian is a band that is both adventurous and fearless and with "Meridian II" they continue to push boundaries.

Rating ? 78/100

Review by Tony Cannella

(Originally published onto Femme Metal Webzine at )

Report this review (#1064314)
Posted Monday, October 21, 2013 | Review Permalink

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