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This album was one of the surprises of 2004, considering the band leader Sergei Mavrin's participation in Kipelov (Aria's ex-singer's solo band), and incessant touring he had participated in as a part of that project. And, if anything, the surprise here is a pleasant one, as Mavrin and co. delivered the best record of their collective careers, continuing on guitar-heavy sound of the previous album "Chemical Sleep"("Himicheskii Son"), but incorporating more of the progressive influences that reared their head once in a while on every record Mavrik ever put out.
While not a true concept record in the same sense as Iron Maiden's "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son", or Nevermore's "Dreaming Neon Black", there is a unifying theme to all of the songs, further witnessed through poetic, dark, yet occasionally hopeful ("Rozhdennye Zhit'") lyrics of Mavrin (who is a major lyricist this time around). The songs themselves run a gamut from almost neoclassical power metal of opener "Poka Bogi Spyat" ("While The Gods Sleep") to synth-heavy dark ballad "Padshii" ("Fallen"), with the synthesizers playing an integral role in the music, never overpowering the guitars, but not quite fading into the background either.
There is even the 8 minute plus instrumental title track that lets Mavrin show that not only he is a great songwriter, but also a guitar shredder on par with who-is-who of power, neoclassical, and traditional metal. In fact, even despite that the Russian lyrics might be a turnoff to some non-Russian speaking listeners, this album should be essential in a music collection of anyone into the above styles of metal.
Of special note is the excellent vocal performance of Artem Styrov, who really gives all of his predecessors in Mavrik's vocalist position a run for their money. This, coincidentally, marks the first time in Mavrik's history that the same vocalist performed on two consecutive records. Styrov's voice possesses excellent dynamic range, with just the right amounts of power and emotion, but never descending into the warbling eunuch impersonation popularized by so many power metal singers around the world.
To conclude, "Zapreshennaya Realnost'" is an excellent record with spectacular performances from all of the band's members, excellent songwriting that manages to sound different and unique without descending into the realm of unlisteneable, and a career high-point for Sergei Mavrin and crew. If you are in Russia or former USSR republics where this album might be readily available, do yourself a favor and pick it up. If you are in the location where the album might be hard to find (as is the case with myself being in the United States), locating it might be hard, but it is definitely worth the while, as "Zapreshennaya Realnost'" is possibly the most original, interesting power/neoclassical/melodic metal record of the year.