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Estradasphere - Palace Of Mirrors CD (album) cover





4.23 | 109 ratings

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5 stars All good things must come to pass.

A band like Estradasphere that only exists and succeeds when the stars and planets are aligned is destined to have a short life. The fact that "Palace of Mirrors" exists at all is an astonishing fact considering one of the masterminds behind it all, John Whooley, sax extraordinaire, is nowhere to be found on the credits list.

That's right, nowhere on this album will you find that iconic saxophone of his. In fact, you're not going to hear any saxophone at all. (Ok, I lied, there is actually some baritone sax providing bass on some of the louder tracks, but it's barely noticeable half the time)

I was initially worried when I discovered that fact. I'm such a sucker for saxophone that I thought this album would be ruined without its glorious tone, but I'm glad to say it hasn't, because the rest of the band has stepped their game up in a big way by, as per usual with Estradasphere, going in directions and places no one else would dare go. In fact, the album proves to be the most polish and controlled yet, with absolutely NO vocals either.

After a meaningless title sequence, the title track opens up with a dramatic fast waltz scene with some elements of creepy carnival music to set the scene before "A Corporate Merger" returns that the classic eastern influenced jazz style Estradasphere is known for, but instead of hearing sax here, other instruments pick up the slack such as accordion and shamisen, adding extra wrinkles. Jason Schimmel gets more active and funkier here with some jazz and surf rock playing, while some funky rock organ provides some extra oomf, and the shamisen solo is top notch notch. Since the sax is generally a loud instrument, its absence here keeps the entire track relatively mild, at least until the heavy distorted chords kick in with a few minutes left (because obviously it wouldn't be an Estradasphere track with out death metal middle eastern jazz music).

So in terms of the longer songs, the more things change the more they stay the same, but the shorter tracks garner just as much attention. Much like the title song, "The Terrible Beautypower of Meow" is very soundtrack influenced (definitely some Ennio Morricone shit going on here) as it travels through different hints of movie sountracks and elements all while underpinned by a surf rock beat, a cool tune that feels like you're traveling from movie scene to movie scene in a Hollywood backlot or something. "Colossal Risk" opens similarly, with an air of mystique and curiosity before the string section barrels in onto a fast jazz drum beat and Schimmel's and Smolen's surf guitar roaring away behind Adam Stacy's rock organ. Eventually this dissolves the coolest elevator music I've ever heard before transitioning into some "Incredibles" style action jazz (the best kind of jazz FYI) before fading away like some creepy Addams Family home recording.

Keeping the creepy theme, "The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold" begins with some creepy electronic droning and a sort of Nine Inch Nails-esque heartbeat, a lot of electronic experimentation here before it fades out into an atmospheric soundscape, with the strings following suit thereafter. Not necessarily the most pleasant tune to listen to, but definitely one of the most radical songs the group has ever made (and that's saying a lot when you're familiar with their discography).

"Smuggled Mutation" is one of my favorites off the album. An accordian drone provides the backdrop for some violin and shamisen features before the band breaks out in a cartoonish bluegrass-esque frenzy before the distorted metal chords kick your teeth in. This is, quite simply, sophisticated, grown up cartoon music. It's always fast, always spastic. It never slows down, not even when the band pays homage to Mozart in the middle (at least I think it's Mozart some other classical or romantic composer of the time). It's freakishly good fun and continues to build in cacophony up to the very end like the final movement to a classical symphony, with everyone shredding what they've got. Simply an awesome display of instrumental prowess.

Taking a breather from that mayhem, "Six Hands" is basically a short player piano piece which flows right into "The Debutante", a jazz piece which features the sax! Yes, I said there was no sax on this album, and for the most part there isn't (apart from the backing baritone), but Joel Ford gets the credit for adding some sexy sax on a track that needs it. After all, you just can't have an Estradasphere without having at least one sax featured song on it. It'd be simply criminal.

"Flower Garden Of An Evil Man" is a very brooding track, beginning with haunting atmospheric elements before developing into a sludgy, spastic metal, almost Mars Volta-esque, but darker thanks to the band's signature heavy distorted guitars. "Those Who Know.." is a lighter song, with a crisp violin and shamisen spring in the step. A funky drum groove enters later to keep the party going to finish with a dramatic orchestral and decidedly Japanese-y flourish. The "Palace of Mirrors Reprise" is self explanatory, with the theme being replayed through different genres, elevator music and haunting movie soundscapes. "The Return" ends with a heavy metal base with some polka over top that ends in a furious, spastic finish.

In short, another fantastic album from Estradasphere as always, and an impressive final outing as well. It's diverse and eccentric like a typical Estradasphere album, but with Whooley's departure, the remaining band is forced to delve into more genres and elements to diversify their sound, and yet still sound entirely their own, and not just a sound collage, and they've succeeded with flying colors. An excellent farewell album from a band that will forever be uncontested in the realm of accessible avant-garde prog.

Wicket | 5/5 |


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