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X-Panda - Reflections CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.53 | 16 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars X-Panda is an Estonian progressive metal fusion band who have released two albums over seven years of history, the latest being "Reflections". I was contacted by someone in the band and asked to review the album. I told him I'd be glad to listen but warned him that I had a lot on my plate and I might not get to the review so soon. Some weeks later I finally heard the album, and after three listens, here I am putting fingers to the keyboard.

"The Game" kicks off the album. It's a full-on heavy rocker with a catchy arena rock chorus and pumped with synthesizers. More like a heavy neo-prog act that is shooting at a memorable, almost mainstream song, X-Panda leave you wondering what this album will deliver in the way of progressive rock in spite of the impressive opening song.

The second track, "Denial", would attempt to answer that with over twelve minutes of powerful symphonic metal complete with strings and brass. The rock band contribution doesn't strike me as musically complex yet the music packs a solid punch with the symphony adding the needed weight. The guitar riff is a simple chugger as a melodic and well-executed guitar solo takes over past the middle mark. Tamar Nugis is the vocalist and though he proves himself to be a theatrical singer with great power behind his voice, I find that at times on this track he is being overly dramatic. My red pen for striking down album weak points was raised once or twice here but I let it pass this time.

"Hit and Run" begins with a strong heavy riff but soon falls tragically into a formula that I dislike. After the opening riff gets a second run through with synthesizer adding a dark feeling to the heaviness, the song abruptly drops in bombast to make way for the vocals. The guitar is gone and only this mechanical and cold synthesizer plays while Nugis sings. The predictability factor maxes out here as the music clears way for two piano notes and whammo! the riff is back. But as I'm shaking my head thinking, "Formulaic! (heavy, drop down to light, go heavy again)" I can't help but notice that I am enjoying the music as it intensifies. Before long, I'm no longer caring about any formula and loving the heaviness and the bombast of the song's closure.

By "Slaves of Lies" the symphonic metal feel is in full force and I can't help but think about Symphony X from their "V: The New Mythology Suite". But then the music takes two surprising turns, the first with "Rise Up and Fly" which loses the heavy guitars and goes for an 80's pop vibe or maybe more like Depeche Mode but covered by this modern day band. Nice touch. Then comes the instrumental "On the Way" which really sounds like something from a 90's Steve Morse album. No heavy guitar here either but instead some nice guitar rock with a touch of jazz and a wonderful bit of lead guitar work. The music changes as the keyboards are given a chance in the spotlight. Bass guitar takes us back to the main guitar theme. Though much has impressed me thus far, this track really stands out.

"Reflections" comes in two parts, "Inner Battle" and "Silent Friend". The former brings us back to symphonic metal again. It's big, bold, and powerful with brass and strings accompanying the metal band with synthesizer. The Symphony X comparisons gain credibility. Then the music suddenly drops to delicate acoustic guitar joined soon by piano and vocals. Nugis sounds like a vocalist in an Ayreon rock opera now and the woodwind instruments come leading the song towards the heavy return of the guitars and then another ear-capturing lead guitar solo. The brass returns for a powerful punch of a finish. We hear rain and some pretty piano. More theatrical vocals and synthesizer and strings and then, surprise surprise, a flute plays a jig to strummed guitar while the symphony holds a beautiful but slow background. The symphony and the drums then take the lead with some electric guitar in the background and then that wonderful jig returns this time joined by hand percussion. The symphonic metal power comes back and the whole shebang wraps up with a finale of delicate piano with more lovely lead guitar.

The album closes with a song called "Esivanemate parand" which I'm going to guess is sung in native Estonian. This final track is almost like an opera/pop fusion similar to "Con Te Partiro" as sung by Francesco Sartori. I have to say that Nugis' vocals are at their best here, in my opinion, and really pack emotive power and passion. The acoustic guitar gets the lead solo break before we return to the anthemic climax of the song. On my second listen through, I decided that this might be my favourite song on the album. This song was the clincher for me that made me decide that I wanted the CD!

This has turned out to be quite an album. Though I was a bit skeptical about it at the start I have found the album to be full of pleasant and exciting surprises. I predict that this album will grow on me more with subsequent listens. Well done, X-Panda!

FragileKings | 4/5 |


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