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3 stars (5/10)

Vultress is a bombastic heavy prog band from Philadelphia, in a similar vein to some of the newer heavy prog bands like Arcane and Haken, but with a bit more of a mainstream metal component. They are comprised of Paul Uhrina (drums/percussion), somebody going only by the name of 'Chucho' (bass), Jordan Gaboian (guitar) and Anthony Capuano (impressively handling both vocals and keyboards). "Distance" is their first full length album, in fact, if you look at the band photos they all appear to be about 10 years old. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration maybe, but they are pretty young, which makes the musical chops and epic ambitions on display all the more impressive.

After a taster EP of some of the music they had already put together, the band successfully organised a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make their dreams a reality, culminating in "Distance", a whopping 76 minute suite with 6 parts and an interlude. Points for starting big, though with such a colossal amount of music (with so much squeezed into every song) it can be a bit overwhelming to sit through, especially given the album ends on a nearly 25 minute epic. The band does offer a good amount of variety to compensate, but like a lot of the CD-capacity-length releases that come out nowadays I feel like there was some room to streamline.

Structurally we see a lot of the modern tropes of newer heavy prog bands: long runtime; epic opening, closing epic (with repeat themes), interlude song, tracks running into each other, supernatural story based concept. These are all handled competently, though if I'm honest, I didn't really follow the story (though I'm sure others who might review this album could be able to explain it). There is also a lot of content that will feel familiar to fans of prog metal bands like Fates Warning and Dream Theater, whose influence is very much apparent.

I did enjoy the vocals, which were sometimes hinting at TMV. Capuano can really puts some welly into it when he wants to. I'm really not a fan of the death metal vocals that cameo in half the songs, though that's more of a personal preference, they are fairly decent for what they are. The instrumental sections is where the band really stretches out though, with some entertaining guitar acrobatics being the highlight.

That's not to say the band spends the whole time in one gear. As I mentioned earlier Vultress offer a good amount of variety. The epic opening "Part I - A Chord From Heaven" pretty much runs the gamut as an exciting opening, whereas "Part II - Returned To Earth" moves though death growls, melodic harmonies and spacier ambient moods. "Part III - The Path" then launches forward on one of the heavier riffs of the album. It's a comparatively shorter piece, and is probably one of the most 'straightforward' modern metal songs on the album to start with, but it goes on to explore some interesting territory in the instrumental second half.

If anything the second half of the album is even bolder, which is why its probably a good thing we are offered a breather in the shape of "The Siren's Song (Interlude)", which is a lighter, more subdued, vocal dominated piece that allows things to calm down for a couple of minutes. We ease back into things with "Part IV ? Reinvocation". It opens with dark and foreboding heavy sounds, before launching into a more sing-song part, and then some more growled vocals, before ending on clean vocals as the other instruments gradually peel away. In "Part V - The Siren Screams", the guitar pyrotechnics are once more on display, but by this point I'm starting to feel a bit tired. Luckily Vultress saved the best for last.

The album concludes with the 25 minute epic "Part VI - At The Edge". Jesus Christ, this song has so much in it the only thing I can think do is to list it in order: playful interplay of heavy guitar and delicate piano, death metal, then some jazzy wanderings, followed by clean sung modern metal, more jazzy keys, and we are not even halfway! We then get acoustic and melodic flavours, leading into a section that sounds like DT at their most melodic, a jazz-tinged transition back into some strong singing, even a little bit of vaudeville, before the song kicks back into prog metal. Nope, still not done! We are given some interesting acoustic rhythms, before the song begins building to the grand finale, with the song finally then winding down on some pensive acoustic guitar and keyboards. Phew! I think after that description you will probably know if this is the sort of music you would be interested in hearing.

The album does have its flaws, particularly with regards to what I've already said about brevity, though there are also a few issues with production (e.g. keyboards sometimes sounding a little cheap), and clearly Vultress still has some maturing to do. The instrumental sections really can go anywhere, which is good and bad point. Sometimes its fun to ride all the changes the band blast through in the space of a few minutes, sometimes you just want a song to get to the point, rather than stringing together several disparate parts. But overall there's a likeable youthful charm Vultress and their approach that's hard not to enjoy. Keep an eye on them for sure, I can only see them growing in powers from here. The album is on BandCamp at 'name your own price', so if this sounds like your sort of thing you should at least give it a listen.

Report this review (#981322)
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Note: this is also a review of Zentraedi's Seven Medley Sins

I'm actually glad I've been given a decent chance to talk about this album, since I failed to do so last year when it was released. It came to me through bandcamp's name your price system, something that had heralded many gems the year before, but as much as I wanted this to be a timeless classic, there were simply too many things that brought it down in my books, no matter how good some parts were. So now, I've been given another opportunity, since Seven Medley Sins came along and I decided to do this 'experimental' double review. Because, hey, if experimental music exists and so does experimental film and sculpture and literature, why can't experimental music criticism exist?

This review is published in two versions, with different introductions and conclusions, but the same body, because these two albums, in my opinion, have very similar great parts and very similar flaws, and talking about them together only seems logical. Of course, the fact that one of these albums is significantly better than the other may veto this fact, but I really, honestly couldn't think of another way of discussing these records. So I'll do so by running through a few central topics of similarity (and difference):

i. Production

Ok, ok, I first must get this one out of the way, since this is probably the only major topic upon which these albums differ. Distance's production was a huge obstacle for me, it sounded weak and amateurish, and during the parts when it wasn't being awesome, it really did start to frustrate me. Both albums suffer from a lack of variation within tones ? and with long albums this can definitely get a bit grating, but Distance had the frustrating problem of the vocals sounding distinctly placed out of the mix, as if they were floating over the top rather than blended in with the music. Often as well, the vocals would start to sound a bit off-key, especially when Anthony Capuano goes into his full Claudio Sánchez impression.

On Seven Medley Sins, the production is far less of an obstacle, but there still is much to be desired. My major problems really lie with the tones of the instruments, particularly the keyboards, which house some inevitable cheesy sounds during this record's duration. "Dodging the Remote" features some rather nasty ones, especially during the instrumental jam section. Fortunately, for every average keyboard tone, there is a less average one in a different section. The band makes regular use of the IQ/Arena 'stretchy' neo-prog synth that I am a big fan of, although I'm not certain it fits entirely with this music.

ii. Vocals

Although both these records centre themselves around progressive metal, with ample use of synthesiser and Dream Theater aesthetics, both bands have vocalists that pull them from that crowd and straight into the post-prog sounds of Coheed and Cambria or Circa Survive. Vultress' vocalist channels a very Claudio Sanchez inspired delivery for much of this record, although missing much of the ridiculous theatricality and pronunciation that many find unappealing about Claudio's voice. Zentraedi's vocalist reminds me a lot of Nathan DaSilva from Canadian band Slyde, but considering Slyde are pretty underground too, that's probably an unhelpful comparison. Either way, both these vocalists would feel more comfortable on alt-rock or post-hardcore records, but I feel that may be what brings them out of the generic prog metal field.

iii. Structure/Wanking

As I have mentioned, one of the many odd similarities between these albums is the fact that both records have seven tracks, and both records clock in at around 70 minutes. So, by use of brilliant mathematical deduction, it means these tracks are long. Really long. Aside from "The Siren's Song" (which Vultress even label as an interlude), we don't have a single track under six minutes, and only two under eight. Between these records, we have six songs over 10 minutes, and one that nearly hits 25 in its length, and when I see track lengths like this, I hope to hell that the band knows how to structure them.

But honestly, I have yet to find a band that can make this many epics in a record and make them all sound cohesive, and although there are tracks that are pretty decently structured here, many of them meander and piss about, and generally feel like a bunch of song ideas stacked on top of each other. Both bands have an obvious Dream Theater influence in the way they use synth and guitar parts together, but there's also the influence of DT's messy gluing together of longer tracks, to the point where a few of them just completely lose all sense of greatness part way through the track. "The Path" on Distance has a really brilliant lead vocal melody and chorus, as well as some really nice instrumentation to back it, but the solo and bridge just lose themselves part way through, and even the final chorus isn't enough to really get any of the greatness back.

There are exceptions though, and I could cite both opening tracks as being pretty decently structured. Zentraedi throw one of the best choruses on the album right at you, straight off the bat, which I feel is a rather bold move, but it was certainly what sucked me in. I feel they did wait a bit long to bring the melody back into play, since it only reprises about a minute before the track ends, with a lengthy instrumental break and some hardcore wanking in the middle. Vultress take the tack of having a long and jamming instrumental to introduce the album, and is honestly one of the few instrumental sections on either album that I thoroughly enjoy. Despite taking up nearly half the track, it doesn't feel too long at all, and I really like the riff that comes in underneath the first vocal line. Unfortunately, toward the end of the track, they bring in one of the best melodies on the entire album, but 7.5 minutes into the track, it feels way too late to bring in such a great melody, and is one of the very rare times when I wish they actually continued and developed around this melody, because it feels so under-used.

But many of the tracks, and the biggest culprits here are "Time Capsule" on Seven Medley Sins and the closing "At The Edge" on Distance, which are both very meandering and aimless tracks. "Time Capsule" really just feels like a bunch of ideas flung together, and most of them are killed by completely unnecessary time changes, like the way that the intro never settles into a groove, constantly shifting and being rather annoying with the accented beats. Sometimes time changes are great, but here it just feels disjointed and irritating. "At The Edge", being nearly 25 minutes, has its fair share of long-winded and boring sections, and especially combined with the fact that it has as many memorable melodies as one of the shorter tracks, makes it a rather arduous listen. Vultress do have moments of good structuring though, and the reprises of the "Siren's Song" melody during both of the last two tracks is really nice, especially considering it's one of the best melodies here.

I think the basis of a lot of this meandering is because both these albums are heavily concept and lyrical-based. Seven Medley Sins as a title is a terrible play on 'seven deadly sins', and I have had my fair say of anger towards long-winded concept albums about deadly sins in the past. It doesn't come directly to the front, but on both albums, there are sections that are just lengthy storytellings, as if the music has been written around the lyrics. And of course, combine that with many prog bands needs to wank aimlessly for minutes on end, and you have some pretty tiring material. It would be something that affected my opinions of these records greatly, if it weren't for the massive redeeming feature?

iv. Melodies

I've often said in my reviews, at least of the albums that I say negative things about (yet somehow like) ? "everything is irrelevant if you have good melodies"

And as much as I love to talk about music in terms of everything but the melodies, you can't forget that melody is the core of music, and if you have great melodies, there's a 90% chance that your music is going to be great, no matter how you present it (there are still those (*cough Amaranthe *cough) that somehow manage it). But the fact is, everything I have said in criticism of these two records is fixable. The production will improve with success and fans and therefore better funding, the structuring and wankiness will come with time and practice, these bands just need to get a feel of where the songs are heading, so I guess that although these factors do affect my enjoyment, there are enough memorable riffs and melodies to make me forget all of that and enjoy the music.

Unfortunately this is where these two albums start to spread out a bit, in terms of my opinions about them, because it's obvious that Vultress have a far better knack for great choruses than Zentraedi, and that certainly has a bigger effect on my views. On Seven Medley Sins, the album opens with a bang, as I have stated the chorus of "Swarm" as being truly excellent, and there are certainly some other great ones ? "Dodging The Remote" and "Dek80z" are both littered with catchy little hooks in their verses, but nothing on here compares to some of the stuck-in-your-head-all-day stuff on Distance. "The Siren Screams" has an absolutely phenomenal chorus, awesomely catchy and memorable, which is a pity since a fair bit of the rest of the track is pretty lacklustre. "The Siren's Song" also has a nice little melody, and Vultress are smart enough to reprise it a few times during the last two songs.


But I guess the point is that, regardless of their similarities, these two records are both excellent debuts in the prog metal world that push beyond the obvious drawbacks to be significantly unique within the scene. Both these bands can be given the same advice, and with some more focus, they cold both release stellar follow-ups.

Distance - 8.1 Seven Medley Sins - 7.3

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Report this review (#1162180)
Posted Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | Review Permalink

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