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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.