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Sporting its surreal, abstract landscape, and a rather cliche title, the Ivanhoe sophomore Symbols of Time seems more or less like any other progressive metal record released through the 90s, a piece attempting to engage both the intellect and the imagination of its prospective audience with its visual and auditory imagery. Sadly, the music here also holds to the same comparison, and never quite stands out or rises above anything else in the Germans' catalog. That's not to say it's a bad album, for some obvious care was also placed in the compositions, but apart from a few choice moments, I find it the least distinct of their works. Surprising, since the lineup was precisely the same as the debut (a consistency that wouldn't pop up again until many years later in the band's canon).
Dubbing this Visions and Reality Mk. Deux would not be far from the truth, for outside of a few minor tweaks, it's got the same level of variation in the vocals and tempos. I would say that the guitar playing of Chuck Schuler has evolved into a bit more harried technicality, with him flexing a few funkier chops and more stringent, memorable leads, but the vocals of Andy B. Franck are rather similar to the first album, if slightly better matched to the ebb and flow of the music here. Where he strains himself in the higher range it's not unlike James LaBrie sounded (and still sounds today), but he experiences with everything from harsher barking to the more subtle strain we experienced in several tracks off the debut. I particularly enjoyed Giovanni Soulas' performance (the real heart of this band), a ponderous and constantly plunking anchor to the expansive array of sounds being painted across cuts like "Wide Open" or "Vibrations", but for some reason, despite the smooth transitions of the album and its considerable arsenal of melody, there were few moments that really stuck with me.
Compare Symbols of Time to something like Dream Theater's Awake, which was the prog metal record to beat during that 1994-95 period, and it comes up a little dry of ideas, playing its rhythmic array rather safely. We've got the softer, dramatic piano driven tune "By a Feeling" which never really did a lot for me, and I also found the very Dream Theater use of the organs alongside the heavier guitars in something like the bridge of "Through the Lies" to fall a little short in the groove department. It's obvious that the production here had come a few strides forward from Visions and Reality. More concise and balanced on every level, and there's much more of a feeling that at any moment, the band could conceivably start jamming out into no man's land. That they still manage to keep that restraint they exhibited on the debut is indeed admirable, and they've never been an overindulgent group of show offs with 15-20 minute long tracks, but one can't help but think what might happen if they let loose once in awhile.
Absolute die hards of this sound might find enough on Symbols of Time to warrant a pickup, but this one hasn't left much of an impression on me through the years, and newcomers might be better rewarded with either of their more recent albums featuring Mischa Mang on vocals.