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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.