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Outer space is a fun musical subject, putting forth a large array of possibilities and yet always being uniformly recognizable for what it is. There’s a certain aesthetic to it that can’t be mistaken, a certain esoteric feel that tends to come off as processed and electronic to the untrained ear, yet is actually quite organic in its proper context. It’s a theme that is perfectly compatible with the elaborate and often freeform style of progressive music, though it largely tends to take a backseat to the recesses of the subconscious, the intellectual ponderings of modern philosophy, or a number of different egocentric issues that are usually accompanied by meandering songs loaded with often unrelated ideas. Intergalactic occurrences, by virtue of the established themes of 19th and 20th Sci-Fi writers, demands a band that has a bold sense of nonconformity to the drudgery of standard songwriting, yet still one that maintains the general notion of songwriting as opposed to pure virtuosic showboating.
Pagan’s Mind, a band founded largely on the desires of exploring the plot possibilities of “Stargate” (as can be gleaned from the recurring imagery on their album covers) and also dealing with tangent mythological subjects, is the perfect act for the job of bridging the divide between catchiness and progressiveness. The label of power/prog is not a deceptive one, but an accurate depiction of a sound that takes into account a host of classic USPM influences including Fates Warning and Queensryche (during all the various points of their respective history) and also the better known aspects of early 90s Dream Theater. The resulting sound is a brilliant mix of accessible songs with somewhat cryptic and intellectual lyrics and a lot of idea development and contrast. It lacks the abruptness of some of the purer progressive metal bands that try to directly emulate Dream Theater alone, and thankfully doesn’t coast along the way a lot of retro progressive rock bands tend to.
All of this considered, this rather puzzlingly titled 3rd opus in “Enigmatic: Calling” is something of a detour from the majestic brilliance that typified their first two albums. The general flavor has modified itself slightly from a consonant surge of power metal melodies with a progressive edge that kept it from being utterly cliché, to a progressive album with a strong element of the former style. While “Celestial Entrance” seemed to brag of the influences of the 80s and 90s power/speed metal bands that paved the way for their genre, this album is much more prone to loose and free flowing ideas that run more along the lines of “Awake” and “Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes From A Memory”. Some songs take a blatant approach with extended verses that are either overtly jazzy in “Supremacy: Our Kind”, which is also chock full of modern metal influences that were likely borrowed from “Train Of Thought”; or otherwise half-ballad oriented as in the otherwise energetic opener “The Celestine Prophecy”. While nothing on here could be qualified as being boring or even remotely forgettable, the backing off of the tempo and the greater tendency towards Dream Theater emulation is really hard to miss.
Simultaneously, the band almost seems to be seeking to compensate for the somewhat more laid back character by ratcheting up the guitar when it takes the stage, resulting in a somewhat more heavy and aggressive character. But this change is character was more likely the inevitable result of losing co-founding member Thorstein Aaby and taking on Jørn Viggo Lofstad, whose sound has been characteristically groovier and darker when going on his pasting work in Jørn. His abilities as a lead player are obviously unassailable, and the really versatile display of heavy yet elaborate riffing mixed with auspiciously artful guitar noise on “Supremacy: Our Kind” in particular really nails the point home. Similar displays of thudding grooves with a repetitive yet exciting tendency dominate “Celestial Calling” and “Resurrection (Back In Time)”, which trade blows with wild lead fills, a dense keyboard aesthetic and the usual mixture of fast and mid-paced beats.
Every career ebbs and flows, and thus far Pagan’s Mind’s stint has been one more focused on the latter, while the former is usually represented by a slightly interrupted flow by a few individual rocks. That is pretty much how “Enigmatic: The Calling” shapes up, a very slight ebb that could be qualified as the band’s low point, yet being still so powerful and consistent that it is barely worth mentioning it as being such. It’s generally the case that if you like one album by this band, the rest will work equally as well, varying slightly depending on whether power or progressive metal is an individual’s poison. But one thing is crystal clear, and that is that while you generally shouldn’t mess with perfection, this band has successfully done it 3 times and come out with stellar results.
To tell the truth, if there's ever been one thing absolutely everyone in the world can agree upon, it's that prog metal has been getting too far away from the purpose of its existence: billions of notes, convoluted sci-fi/fantasy lyrics, nasal Geoff Tate-impression vocals and clacky triggered drums. I mean, maybe it's just me, but I've noticed that there just aren't enough bands out there writing multiple seven-plus minute magnum opuses (opi?) per album these days, not enough reasons to spend hours weeping over my guitar because I can't quite master augmented sweep-picking or Phrygian mode. In short, too many progressive people are turning into that most dreaded of character... the songwriter. Personally, I blame Bob Dylan. His 'Dylan goes (to) music school' period (it was between “Dylan goes electric” and “Dylan goes Hawaiian-Style”), where he demonstrated the viability of lyrically expressive folk songs in 15/9 just ruined prog. (And frankly I suspect the guitar solos were sped up on "Through the Times They Are A-Flamin'" because he totally can't pull off those pull-offs live, but that's neither here nor there.)
So thank God for Pagan's Mind, a band who fly in the face of emotional connectivity, bravely flout the creeping infection of restraint and generally give a hearty "UP YOURS!" to so-called 'original ideas'. These guys know exactly what their fans want: Dream Theater's Images & Words without all the sissy memorable melodies. You see, if you can't remember anything that happens on the album, every time you listen to it it's like it's brand new. Every time I listen to a song like "Supremacy, Our Kind" my mind can be freshly sodomized by the technically amazing technicality of the solos, my interest in computers piqued by the inhumanly Pro Tooled rawk guitar tones, my inner mainstream music fan placated by the bizarrely Marilyn Manson-ish distorted vocals at the beginning and the post-Queensrÿche god complex chorus arrangements! And what's more, I can do it seven more times because almost all of the other songs (save the two brief instrumentals [which are not nearly long enough] and “Search for Life” [which is slow and therefore demonstrates how much range they have]) are unbelievably, equally the same! I was really afraid that I'd only get to hear really fast solos and incomprehensible quasi-metaphysical poetry once, but that was proven unfounded.
And speaking of those lyrics, I really like stories that I can read over and over again until I imagine they make sense! It's almost like a creative writing exercise, and then I can go share my ideas on my forum and make fun of n00bs who claim that this passage is simply generic sub-Helloween fluff:
Nine Insights will lead the way
To transform as One
Charging mass consciousness
Twelve tribes of Israel
In fact, Pagan's Mind have just outlined the way to bring peace to the Middle-East. Unfortunately normal people won't understand because it has numerology and it is therefore too complicated.
If I were forced to isolate one particular passage to illustrate why Enigmatic : Calling is so terrific it’d be 4:45 - 5:05 of “Enigmatic Mission”. It’s at this point that Pagan’s Mind epoch-defining philosophy is best given purely musical form. I’m going to have to go into some complex academic language here to make my point, so try not to get too lost. Now, there used to be this kraut named Nietzsche, who said a bunch of stuff about the abyss looking back at you when you look at it, which is because it has a Balrog in it (see Tolkien for more info). Another guy named Kierkegaard read Nietzsche, and posited that humans have to take what he called a “leap of faith” over the abyss (because of the Balrog). Pagan’s Mind take this a step further here by leaping over the selfish demands of listeners looking for musical coherence by all abandoning the riff as one and playing whatever they want. I admire this kind of rugged individualism, which is very reminiscent of the works of Karl Marx and Mary Tate Engels. Also of note is the rather ominous and baroque keyboard solo at the beginning of “Taken” and the weird spacey keyboards droning in the background of “Resurrection (Back in Time)”, which sounds a bit like a movie soundtrack. This of course means that Pagan’s Mind consider their music to be on a par with narrative films like “StarGate” and “The Matrix”, which are awesome.
Personally, I think Enigmatic : Calling is a real watershed moment for metal because not only does it sound a lot like their previous two albums, it also sounds a lot like Images & Words or Metropolis Part II: Scenes from a Memory. Sounding a lot like old Dream Theater albums is key for progressive metal, because otherwise it wouldn’t be progressive. In fact, the only complaint I can really make about the album is that the songs in general are not as long as Dream Theater’s are and the solos are slightly less disruptive. But of course, Pagan’s Mind are their own very unique band that sound like Dream Theater and it would be unfair to continually describe them as a heavier version of old Dream Theater. I think it’s unfair that people always feel the need to talk about Dream Theater in Pagan’s Mind reviews.
I will now close off the review with an Important quotation because Pagan’s Mind are an Important band.
The eminent street poet of our generation, Eminem, once said “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo.” Well, that may be true for most, but I am sure Pagan’s Mind will have the opportunity to blow over and over again.
Stand-Out Tracks: Oh, all of them. But especially the fast ones with sweet keyboards, drums, guitars and vocals.
Pagan's Mind are one of the best prog bands around today, and this is their newest album to date. Their last release, Celestial Entrance was perfect in every way, so the anticipation for this one ran high on all fronts. This is really more of the same we expected from them, and no less: Bouncy, spacey guitar lines and powerful, earth-smashing drum beats, basslines that cut like knives, and the rich, powerful keyboards layered over everything, all topped with the warbly, nasal, and powerful vocals of Nils K. Rue. They are a bit heavier this time around though, with a much stronger guitar presence, but other than that, this is just what you'd expect from Pagan's Mind, and maybe even more.
While the previous album started off with a short interlude that segued into the first real song, this one starts off with some dark, ominous ambience that slowly builds up into a 7 minute crescendo of prog, mostly midpaced, with pounding rhythms and drum beats, with the obligatory few solos from our prodigy Jorn Viggo Lofstad. Just close your eyes while listening to this song and be transported to whole other galaxies, blasting through time and space with ease. And that starts the album off, setting the stage in a most impressive way for the rest of the tracklist, challenging it to match the sheer brilliance of it, this one opening track.
Enigmatic:Calling is a heavier album than it's predecessor, much more metallic and riffy, and less ornate (but still proggy and complex when need be). There are no 9 minute instrumentals or Dream Theater plagiarisms here, but 11 solid songs full of the same odd, spacey brilliance we've come to expect from this band. The jazz semblances are still hiding there in the shadows, and the production is overall much heavier and somewhat slicker than that of it's predecessor. The songs vary from speedy, vibrant cookers like "Enigmatic Mission", the shredding insanity of "Celestial Calling", and the groovy "Supremacy, Our Kind", to the lone ballad "Search for Life" (which is absolutely amazing, I must add), and the more midpaced, longer numbers like "The Celestine Prophecy" and the liberating, uplifting "The New Order."
While there are certainly no bad songs here, I do find that some of them tend to blend together a bit. Songs like "Entrance to Infinity" and "Taken" are certainly great Pagan's Mind songs, yet they just don't have the memorable hooks or choruses of the other songs here, and you actually have to look and check to make sure of which song is playing when one of them comes on. There are also several power metallish instrumental pieces spiced in that are quite cool, but could've been expanded into actual songs, what with the extremely catchy melodies they're stuffed chock full of, for extra effect. It's not that big of an issue, but it's worth mentioning.
Overall, I'd say Pagan's Mind has solidified their place as one of the leaders in the prog genre by now, and certainly any fan of the genre would do well to buy this or either of their other two albums. They apparently have a new album coming out this year, so that'll be something to look forward to. Highly recommended.
The first time I heard this album, I was blown away. I sat in a feverish stupor for 75 minutes, letting the music seep into my very being, and at least another 15 minutes afterwards, trying to recover from what I had just heard. From the opening riffs of The Celestine Prophecy to the dying tones of New World Order, I was in love.
The musicians are all very talented, and they show their prowess in full on this album, even one member leaving would destroy the equilibrium they have now.
Stian Kristoffersen's brilliant drumming, Steinar Krokmo's complex basslines, Ronny Tegner's perfect keyboard soundscape (which does not sound cheap, nor tacky, like some bands I could name) and Jørn Lofstad's extremely skilled guitar-playing (who is quickly becoming one of my favourite guitarists) creates the perfect backdrop for Nils Rue's bombastic and versatile vocals. The first thing which grabbed me was Rue's impressive vocals, he has an extremely diverse range. Lofstad's catchy riffing and solos become more and more apparant as the album progresses, with every riff played interesting and well-planned. Tegner's keyboard plays a large part in the sound which makes Pagan's Mind, and is no way overpowering or out of place.
The lyrics are philosophical with the hint of science-fiction, inspired by the writer Erich von Däniken, and mostly deal with humankind's origins. They are just brilliantly fantastic, and without them, the band would feel almost incomplete - it just fits in perfectly with their sound, especially delivered with such force as Nils Rue does.
It is impossible to choose out the best tracks, all of them are excellent and are fantastic in their own way. If I'd have to recommend one song to a person who had never heard Pagan's Mind before, I would choose Supremacy, Our Kind, which sums up Pagan's Mind completely - high tempo intro with catchy riffs which leads into a slower part, opening with piano, opening for Rue's stunning vocals, which leads to an increase in tempo to the extremely catchy chorus and down again, with their usual philosophical lyrics with the hint of science-fiction.
With not one note sounding false, not one passage feeling redundant, not one moment too long, they've managed to form an almost perfect album. They are wholly original, and are nothing like other Progressive / Power metal bands (which does not mean these bands are bad, but for the progressive genre, many bands do sound similar. On that note, they do borrow some riffs from Dream Theater, but sound nothing like them).
To sum it up, if you are into music at all, you must get this album. While it may appeal more to the power / progressive crowd, I firmly believe anybody who appreciates music will appreciate this. Buy it, download it, get a copy from a friend, whatever you do, get your hands on this.
Sounds like: Dream Theater and Stratovarius-influenced, high speed and high energy power-prog metal.
Have you ever experienced the feeling of meeting that special someone of the opposite sex who was not only the best-looking person you had ever seen in your life and also shared your interests, but was that someone you absolutely loved to death just for who he or she was? This is how I feel when I listen to this, because while Pagan's Mind's first two albums are also grade A-quality in my book, this band continues to get better and better with each passing album. This is one of those CD's that when I listen to it, I wonder if there is even any more room for improvement in any area of the band, their production, their songwriting, etc. etc. Pagan's Mind, without question, has a bright future, and it's only beginning as their first album only came out 4 years ago.
The Highlights: Highlights? Hell, every song! Each and every single one of them. But the songs that get my attention immediately are "Appearance / Search For Life", a two-part song which starts out as an ambient instrumental that reminds me of a crystal-clear night with shooting stars, and then by the time it ends, has a heartfelt guitar solo as the outro instrumental break. "Coming Home" is also an excellent instrmental track, with a power-metal style underlying riff / mid-tempo guitar solo on-top combination.
And like the two albums that came before this one, the real strength of Pagan's Mind is Nils K. Rue's unique singing. His tone is very difficult to compare to anyone else's I've heard, the closest comparison I can think of is perhaps former Lost Horizon singer Daniel Heiman, as both singers are capable of carrying their bands' songs practically by themselves. The songs that feature the best singing include "Supremacy, Our Kind", "Taken", the songs mentioned above as well as "New World Order".
Antoher strength Pagan's Mind have over many of their prog metal peers is their ability to combine the elements that make bands progressive in the first place, like time changes and long solos and instrumental breaks, as well as writing catchy guitar riffs and adding their own ideas into their songs without sounding too much like Queensryche and Dream Theater (more on that later.). And they are able to do these things without turning into a pretentious talent display, as well as doing these things at a very high energy level. This is a band I would love to see live because of this. Some of the songs that have the catchiest guitar riffs are "The Celestine Prophecy", with a very infectious intro riff, "Celestial Calling", and the aforementioned insturmental "Coming Home". Pagan's Mind also come up with very clever keyboard melodies that are definitely atypical of other prog metal bands with keyboards, and I don't mind them being mixed loud because of it.
All the other songs are excellent as well. Continue to expect top-shelf singing and songwriting, as well as catchy guitar and keyboard melodies.
The Lowlights: Just one question: why won't Pagan's Mind stop borrowing / paying tribute to / ripping off Dream Theater melodies? On their first album, they borrow the main riff from "The Mirror" (the same as the outro riff from "Lie") on "A New Beginning", and on Celestial Entrance, they borrow the vocal melody from the beginning of "Learning To LIve" on "The Prophecy Of Pleiades". And on this album, they once again borrow the vocal melody from "Learning To Live" on "Celestial Calling" during the breakdown part. Come on guys, I know you guys love DT as much as most other progressive metal bands out there, but you're original enough where there's no need to do this.
At least they do this for only about 30 seconds, so I'll only deduct a minimal amount of points; this makes what would be an A plus album an A album. I just hope this doesn't become an ongoing trend though for future albums from these guys.
Other than that, the song rules just like all the others on here.
I also hope that Nils' addition to Eidolon's lineup late last year doesn't make him decide to abandon Pagan's Mind permanently. He will be sorely missed, perhaps irreplaceable if he decides to leave for good (see also: Matt Barlow's departure from Iced Earth.). He's also a much better fit for Pagan's Mind than he is for Eidolon's darker, more sinister style of power - thrash.
Who this album's for: If you like power or prog metal, or even just prog rock, you'll like Enigmatic Calling for sure.
The bottom line: This is top-notch, grade-A progressive power metal, so if you download this and like it, or hear it from a friend, or whatever method you use to hear it first, by all means don't hesitate to buy it.