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I've always held off reviewing Pagan's Mind records. I figured it would come off as fanboyish and immature, and that I just didn't have the writing skills to describe Pagan's Mind, who have inevitably become my favorite band over the last few months after discovering them. But I figured I would try someday, and I suppose now's the time---so this is Pagan's Mind's sophomore effort, Celestial Entrance, and it's probably one of the best progressive metal albums ever created.
Pagan's Mind are always compared to Dream Theater, a band from which they take obvious influence---in both songwriting and technicality, not to mention the vocals of Nils K. Rue (which I will expand upon later). They even manage to plagiarize their idols a bit on this album, such as the beginning of the last track here, "The Prophesy of Pleiades", stealing both the melody and the vocal lines of the beginning of Dream Theater's "Learning to Live" (off the Images and Words album). But the difference between Pagan's Mind and Dream Theater is that Pagan's Mind condenses their sound a lot more, they write actual songs instead of just showing off for 13 minutes at a time. They don't needlessly show off, but are content with writing riff-packed and melody-infested progressive metal gems like "Through Osiris' Eyes" and "Aegean Shores." Oh, of course there's some instrumental noodling here and there, as on the 9+ minute "Exploring Life", but there are usually clearly defined chorus and verse structures, and a few these songs are actually extremely catchy, unusual for the prog genre.
Celestial Entrance itself is an enthralling mixture of the best qualities of both progressive metal ala Pain of Salvation and power metal such as Stratovarius or Gamma Ray. It's all got a spacey, futuristic sheen to it, aided by the song titles, lyrics, and cover of the whole package. There's also a noticable jazz influence in the rhythm guitar and drumming when the music slows down (there always has been with this band), which I've always liked, somehow helped with the spacey atmosphere most of these songs have. A very light, mellow, jazzy ambience often creeps it's way into the faster parts of the longer songs, and it's a nice change, very easy to listen to. In contrast, there are also some harsh black metal screeches in some of the tracks here, perhaps adding the feeling that something sinister lurks in the far corners of the galaxy. And this is a prog album, so every note is tailored to perfection, no mistakes here at all. The sound is as clear as a cloudless sky, absolutely flawless. Not too heavy and not too light either, nor is it muddy or dirgey in the least. There's a noticable self confidence about this album---there always seems to be with prog---but Pagan's Mind as a band have never struck me as the type of band to become self-indulgent or snide. This isn't really arrogance, just an unmistakable, fiery self confidence that they'll rise to the top.
Nils K. Rue's vocals may be a sticking point for some. He sounds a bit like a rougher James LaBrie, but he has a very prominent lilt of sorts in his voice, perhaps just his Norweigan heritage, and he tends to get rather nasal at times. But I don't mind his voice in the least, even with the layers of distortion they seem to pile on him like bricks. Every vocal line here is flowing with passion, energy, and sometimes even aggression. The choruses can be extremely catchy, as I mentioned above, and this is partially due to the fact that Nils has a catchy voice, one that you remember after the first time you hear him sing. By his side is one of the best guitarists I've ever had the pleasure of hearing, Jorn Viggo Lofstead. His riffs are heavy metal oriented, with a rather cold, mechanical feel applied to them, while his solos are winding, twisting neoclassical beauty. I don't know why he doesn't get more recognition as it is; he's one of the most criminally underrated guitarists in the metal world right now. The keyboards here are definetly worth noting. One would expect the keyboards by Ronny Tegner to take on a more neoclassical role, or perhaps just a backing ambience, but here they're put into full force with a rich, electronic sort of sound that overlays the guitars and adds to the 'space' theme. Listen to Mr. Tegner's work here and be transported to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, drifting with the stars and watching the planets go by. Stian Lindaas Kristoffersen's drumming is powerful enough to shatter stars, and Steinar Krokmo's basslines are snappy and spot-on, accurate enough to dance on Saturn's rings, providing the needed backbone, and the last piece of this perfect puzzle.
This is an incredibly solid album, and the only Pagan's Mind album where I remember every track and enjoy every single one. From the short introduction song, we're lead into a cornucopia of progressive metal perfection that never lets up on speed, heaviness, or power. Every single song is of stellar quality, even the rather obvious Dream Theater worship of the last track (which is still my least favorite on the disc). They're all very memorable for prog, too, as usually I don't find myself remembering any prog tunes that easily. But with this band, it's hooks galore, reeling you in like the biggest fish in the sea. And there is no shortage of diversity, either, as none of the songs sound alike. Even on first listen, one would be able to tell all of these songs apart. We have midpaced stompers, a few faster songs, one ballad, and three instrumentals, and not one second of the 70 minutes on this disc is boring.
For prog fans, this is mandatory, and you'll love it. And then, even fans of modern power metal will find something worthy of note here, and maybe even the traditional heavy metal fans. This is not inaccessible music in the least. I believe I've outlined every aspect of why this is a perfect metal disc, and thus I encourage you to go pick this up however fast you can. My highest recommendation.