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THE EXTENDED MIND

Athem

Progressive Metal


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Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars 'The Extended Mind' - Athem (5/10)

It is often quite difficult to review the music of a band like Athem. Although commanding an undeniable grasp of musicianship and tightness among the band members that verges on that of brilliance, when it comes down to the music itself, there is virtually nothing here that hasn't already been heard before. Falling into a common trap among progressive metal bands, Athem decides to go for a default sound, the likes of which is spawned equally between prog metal titans Dream Theater and Symphony X. Although Athem delivers nothing new to metal with their debut record 'The Extended Mind', the band manages to foster a decent observation with their highly melodic brand of metal.

Although Athem is a fairly youthful act, 'The Extended Mind' is quick to show their intelligence as music-makers. 'Overture' introduces the listener to some very tastefully arranged programmed symphonics, a fairly staple sound for the band throughout the rest of the record. As the metal aspect of the band takes over, one can still hear a heavy draw upon classical music that works well for the band. Much like Symphony X, the band's heavier moments are focused on speed and vicious technicality, but there is always the depth of the keyboards to fall back on. When the band isn't delving into one of their many Dream Theater-styled instrumental cuts, the music centers in on the highly melodic voice of Will Shaw, who is quite a technically skilled vocalist, although the vocal melodies rarely leap out, and the lyrics are generic at best.

Sadly, the word 'generic' creeps up far too often while I listen to 'The Extended Mind'. The rather uninspired album cover that seems to attempt to give an air of class but comes across as being cheesy and uninviting. Although it is fairly typical for bands not to have a firm grasp of their personal identity and style on the first record, Athem seems to be content with rehashing ideas that Symphony X and Dream Theater both mastered years before. Many of these riffs and synth patches sound far too familiar even on the first listen, and this does not lend well to a listener that seeks out truly progressive metal. It cannot be emphasized enough that 'The Extended Mind' is nothing in the way of originality, but for what it's worth, Athem does the style well. It is also clear that the band is trying to find their sound throughout each of these songs. The single-worthy highlight 'Fallen God' points the band in the direction of Symphony X's darker material, whereas the follow-up third track 'Away' goes down a much more upbeat and peppy prog rock sound. One can only hope that if Athem comes out with a second record, they will have finally found a more unique voice for their talent out of these experimentations.

Athem's 'The Extended Mind' is not a bad record necessarily, it just feels a little unnecessary when there have been so many bands to have already covered this sound to death. Especially in 2009, the formula has become stale, but Athem still manages to pull off the sound fairly well, despite being seemingly content with the label of being a Dream Theater clone.

Report this review (#465966)
Posted Monday, June 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars (6/10)

I discovered this album a while ago, after a friend linked me to the YouTube channel ("UnflexableGrace") of their talented singer, Will Shaw. He was doing covers of songs like "Don't Stop Believin'", "Queen Of The Reich" and "Metropolis Part 1", singing along to them in his car, and making a damn good go of it too. I bought "The Extended Mind" mostly on the strength of these covers.

I thought this album was good, but I couldn't really enthuse about it the same way. The vocals, whilst still done well, didn't stand out as much as I was expecting, and as much as I know they could. On the instrumental side of things, this is a pretty standard modern progressive metal release. Maybe a bit lighter in places, but essentially well within the established standards. The musicianship is good, but definitely not especially so, particularly given the bands (Dream Theater, Symphony X etc.) that have clearly influenced Athem.

There are 3 songs that really stand out for me though: "Fallen God", which moves from quite an aggressive technical prog metal start to a more symphonic and driving end; "Away" which is a brighter track that manages to be both melodic and heavy; and the closing epic "Lifting The Veil" which comes in at over 15 minutes. "Lifting The Veil" is really the powerhouse of the album in my opinion, rounding it off by revisiting some of the musical and lyrical themes of the rest of the album, going through a healthy variety of different movements.

There wasn't a massive payoff for the gamble I took in my purchase, but all the music here is of a generally good quality, even if it doesn't really bring anything new to the modern progressive metal table. I can at least recommend this album if you are curious. I would be interested to see if Athem could develop some unique aspect to their sound, because it is already enjoyable, but it's quite difficult to get updates. Hopefully Athem won't just disappear in a cloud of apathy, another victim of a genre already saturated with many similar bands, because I do feel like with a bit more work they could really make something of themselves.

Report this review (#889567)
Posted Monday, January 7, 2013 | Review Permalink

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