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Reading through the reviews for this band, none seemed to be written by true prog lovers. Probably a majority talked about the repetitivity of the genre, and how they expected Andromeda to fall into that, and how the release either did or didn't meet such expectations. Being a prog lover myself, though admittedly with perhaps less in-depth knowledge of the whole of prog than other reviewers--perhaps when you see a generalization like 'among the watered down crop of prog releases that marked 2001' you might wonder if they too share my level of knowledge--I found the need to review an album that is rapidly overtaking MindFlow's Mind Over Body as my favorite prog album.
Before I leave the subject of prog knowledge, I feel I owe it to you the reader to give you some background of my thoughts on prog, so you know exactly how much I know when I bust out broad generalities in subsequent parts of the review. To me, Dream Theater has not had a good all-around release since Images and Words, or possibly Awake. And as I say this the only DT cd in my car is Train of Thought (mostly out of nostalgia--I consider it the first good metal I ever listened to). They've had their moments since, but never in a whole release. Early copy cats (see: Vanden Plas) have their moments too, but they in particular like to dwell on the hard riff-into-soft/brooding verse paradigm perhaps a little too much (understatement, anyone?). The truly good prog is found in those that forge a unique sound. Within my knowledge, I would place Symphony X (who unlike DT seem to get better with each release), MindFlow, Suspyre, Opeth, pre-Monday Morning Evergrey, and Nevermore (I see Nevermore as progressive metal in the literal sense of the term, obviously they're post-thrash or whatever genre label you want to attach to them) in this group. Oh yes, and Andromeda. Because for true prog lovers (see: me) we understand the repetitive elements of the genre--long instrumental interludes, technical sections taken to the point of wanking, etc.--and also understand that the music varies so dramatically from band to band that those 'defining elements' are largely unnoticeable. When they are noticeable that's the indication that the band is trying too hard to be prog and not hard enough on writing music that comes from the heart. [Now it comes time for me to rag on other genres that I know very little about.] Additionally, so what if all these bands share that commonality. Early (and..uh...current) thrash had its galloping, palm muted shit, power metal songs (and don't get me wrong, I love power) all have soaring choruses, and 'fierce' double-bass riffs and verses. Death metal (et al) all has growling, at least somewhat. Okay that's the indication that it's time to stop and focus on the album.
I love the mix. To me, this is the best mixed prog album I have ever heard. I think the tone of the guitar in particular is especially suited to prog. As happens all too often in metal (trust me, being a metal bassist, I know) the guitar tone can sound so just crunchy, [insert cool-sounding adjective], whatever sick to a listener, but it completely obscures the bass. So while you do get a downright sick guitar tone, it limits the scope of the music. Nevermore would be the perfect example of this. Oh, and when was the last time you were able to hear John Myung on a sick DT bridge. Or Michael Lepond, for that matter. When an album is really well produced, you can get a sick guitar tone and have some bass presence on the album--Mercenary's albums The Enemies that Remain and Architect of Lies are the absolute best mixed metal albums I've ever heard, and the only two to truly accomplish that mix of sick tone and bass. However, such a sound wouldn't really work with prog, IMO, so I think Johan's tone and the mix overall is perhaps the best I've heard on a finished prog cd. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the bridge/breakdown/outro/whatever to Inner Circle (starts at 4:30 or so). The dueling guitar-keyboard frenzy that leads it off is played during a bass rest, so the drums have to provide rhythm that in some ways has to seem melodic, and they do. Then the bass joins in, and when in sync with the guitars adds the low presence to the band's overall tone. When both guitar and keys are in the upper registers, the bass holds down the melodic aspects of the rhythm and meshes oh so sweetly with the drumming (no simple task!). As happens so often in metal, guitarists tend to think their tone needs to 'make' the riff. However, Chimera proves that well-mixed (prog, at least) metal can utilize the bass to provide the low presence truly great metal riffs need rather than the guitarist's distortion/overdrive eq providing that presence.
Though at first run one might think they hear quite a bit of the same thing over and over, once you get to know the songs their drastic differences really come out (believe me, this is no Dragonforce...). It ranges greatly in tempo, from the rapid, crisp pace the drums and guitar give Periscope's first assault, to Iskenderun's up-tempo yet somehow laid-back first verse, to No Guidelines's 'prog-doom' opening riff. What unites it all throughout the album (and lends great continuity to the album) is the absolute precision exhibited by all the musicians, but especially the drums, bass, and guitar. This is brought all the more to the forefront by the absolutely equal mix and unencroaching guitar tone. The drums perhaps are what makes this band perfect--the mix of polyrhythms, out-of-time snare/bass/cymbal shots, and lack of any repetition what-so-ever (perhaps best seen in the already-referenced Inner Circle breakdown) can make even straight 4/4 parts seem oddly timed. Musically they seem to be polar opposites of MindFlow (or at least MindFlow's first two releases--what I've heard of Destructive Device seems to have abandoned the concepts set forth in their first two releases). Where MindFlow's most proggy songs show a profound lack of repetition and a complete abandonment of song structure, Andromeda's seem to adhere to fairly rigid structure (minus, of course, the amazing instrumental journeys they take mid-song). They avoid repetition by demonstrating a basic understanding of baroque music (see: themes), altering just about every verse and chorus to make them distinct from the others in some way (and sometimes its just the drums, which is why I said earlier that its them that makes the band).
These would be annoyances, but I'll get to why they aren't later. The vocals can get a little airy at times, and there's one vocal solo in particular that I couldn't stand in any other setting. The keyboards too can intrude/overplay at times.
Why It's the Best
Real music comes from the heart, and most definitely not the mind. This is why the stereotype of 'prog' exists--the genre makes it too easy to get caught up in the mental aspects (throw some wierd time here, a little odd key there), and there are far too many releases out there that feel like they contain no soul whatsoever. Chimera seems to me to speak directly from Johan's (and whoever else helped contribute) heart--though there are aspects of the music I would find excruciatingly painful to listen to in any other form, I would go so far to say that they enhance the music on this release. That opinion (I would think) explains the title and the 100 score. Believe me, that's not something I give lightly.
Andromeda's third attempt at being a progressive band fails about as hard as Mickey Mouse in a knife fight with Jack The Ripper and Minnie Mouse in a rape scenario with the Boston Strangler. Instead of being a progressive band with a set of worthwhile songs ready to spread like the next sexually transmitted disease from your local college, Andromeda, content with leaving their only truly worthwhile release, Extension of the Wish, working double time without overtime pay, seemingly have felt safe releasing the next album to hailed by fans of musicians pretending to be the next breakout progressive metal band. The lack of balls in the album's tone, seemingly exchanged for a Fabergé egg production with a focus on NASA level precision and clinicality and slip-n-slide slickness, holds much of the album back - especially the good parts (there are no great parts) - This bland tone has inclined me to be more comfortable with categorizing Chimera as a prog-rock album instead of a progressive metal album. Yes, in Andromeda's search for the sky, NASA production has screwed them over.
David Fremberg and Martin Hedin, I'm convinced, ruin everything they touch. David Fremberg's would feel comfortable in a airy white button down shirt that cost too much dancing gaily with Martin Hedin belting out slightly more technically proficient Backstreet Boy tunes. I loved Andromeda when I heard the pre-Fremberg (Fremberg?) version of Extension of The Wish - Mackrory was nowhere near as talented a vocalist as David however when he unleashes in The Words Unspoken, I am hooked for some reason.
Sadly, Johan Reinholdz has really held back on the recent releases. You can tell I am a die hard fan of Extension of the Wish. Chimera is the perfect example as to Reinholdz's recent impetus to "focus on the song." The main problem with this line of thought is that, I never cared about how convincing the 'song' in Andromeda was... I just wanted to hear Johan unleash guitar leads blistering enough to compel Petrucci to suck his thumbs and Herman Li to desperately search for his diapers and pacifier. On the whole album, Only near the halfway mark of "Blink of an Eye" do you really get a taste at what Johan can do with his instrument. While prog-heads would sit in amazement at the density of the lyrical prowess and well defined (yet to my ears fairly straightforward) compositional structure, I find myself wishing I was listening to the energetic and decisively metal attack of the debut and, I must admit, moments of II=I.
Going Under is a perfect example of why this album bothers me - Bombastic keyboard / guitar lead transforming into an anti-climatic, boring and nu-metal sounding (uckk) verse. The song picks up whenever Johan is playing but he constantly takes a backseat to the rest of the less interesting instruments. Granted, Fabian Gustavsson's bass playing is impeccable and excellently performed throughout the album and Thomas Lejon maintains an excellent presence behind his Sabians and Pearls but the song falls flat on it's face, like much of the rest of the album, in terms of excitability. Throughout the album, I feel less like I am listening to the band who released a seminal album in modern progressive metal and instead, more like I am listening to every Dream Theater fan's wet dream.
But it can't be all band right? I mean, aside from some of the horrendous vocals on "The Cage Of Me," I find the track momentarily charming in a cute girl walking past me "Yeah, thats nice," kind of way. Though, Before the song is halfway done I'm running full speed to a Wendy's, searching for the beef. Opener, "Periscope," also contains one of the album's highlights. While not as intense, or memorable (I swear I've heard it before), or even catchy as the worst riffs on "Extension," the main riff is worthy of mention as one of the high points on the album and the chorus in "Periscope," a song which, I must mention, also gets my vote as worst titled song since Disemboweled's awkwardly titled "Sperms Flowing From Nun's Vagina" and until Necropedophilia's 2006 track "Grandpa Gave Me A Japanese Vaginal Expander For X-mas," actually retains some replay value - one of the only parts of this album worth listening to maybe twice. Maybe.
Bottom line - you've heard it all before - the clean guitar interludes, the underlying keyboard, the intricate guitar lines, the competent rhythm section doing everything right but nothing wrong, the production, the song content and lyrical direction, melodies and even the vocals. Its all better found in other bands doing more interesting things better - Time Requiem for one. I wouldn't call the album stale - it's edible. Chimera is that lunch you ate every single day of the year when you were in seventh grade and your school only served one meal which had just enough taste to create the saliva to get it down, but still tasted about as vivid as the cardboard you were dared to eat by your friends.