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The penultimate progressive design - 79%

richieblackmetal, December 23rd, 2014

“Progressive” has become a blanket term diluted by various styles and artists while authentic “prog” projects everywhere are caught trending the same overused synthetic frameworks that have popularized the genre since the mid 90’s. What’s happening!? “Progressive Metal” is still alive and thrives; endlessly popular in its candid displays of skill in an epoch where techno-driven sounds and orchestra-inspired drum kits form the norm. But what ultimately is fading once definite lines and what continues to compromise the sheer bad-assery of experimental music is an unseemly low degree of variability: the same glitzy distortion and compartmental structures continuing to prevail under the illusion of musical revelation. In the case of France’s Spheric Universe Experience (SUE) and their 70-minute ‘prog playground’ of a debut (2006), a clear standard for the term was reset as they distinguished themselves an adequate latecomer on the “Prog Metal” scene. Taking conspicuous influence from the likes of deities Dream Theatre and Symphony X, SUE’s sound has it all in terms of that archetypal progressive approach featuring the heavy synth use, experimental time signatures, windy song structures, clean-as-can-be production, and hopelessly catchy choruses that typify the genre’s utmost fruitful offerings. But what separates SUE from the haze is a particularly inspiring French background and while songs are done in English for max appeal this group does wear their heart on their sleeve implementing their native dialect in tracks “The Key”, “Neptune's Revenge”, and “Heal My Pain”, among others, in taking a fighting stance for the mysteriously tame French scene with their follow-up release, Anima.

While the band’s go-to elements do not change from their inaugural “Mental Torments”, maturation from a single-skew, purely statement making debut to a more classic and less capriciously progressive approach is commendable, Anima being the first glimpse of this shift. A more atmospheric as opposed to purely riff-centric approach sees equivalent length songs gilded with a shorter number of better progressions and an altogether more melodious sound favouring deeper tones and fuller-bodied riffs. These arrangements also steer clear of predictable web-like linkages and each track supports a greater flow which ebbs through in a markedly gracious and well-thought out manner. A very listenable and most notably no longer pretentiously complex spectacle of proggy prowess results no less any critical elements that a “Progressive Metal” album should house.

“Sceptic” is first and off the bat one can ascertain the influences in its steady double kick and call-and-response solo sections. SUE’s overarching sound, though comprised at large of such hand-me-down progressive concepts, sound effects and zero-character chug-happy riffs, generates just enough striking eccentricity to ensure a worthwhile listen out of Anima. Supreme consonance between singer Franck Garcia and the band’s distorted sound is certainly one reason why one cannot come to criticize the listening experience provided here, a likeable mix of distorted “heaviness” and overall catchiness taking centre-stage throughout. And though widely appealing in its flawless, flowery production, Anima does not come off as entirely innocuous. “End of Trauma” and “Black Materia” exhibit undeniably apparent signs of epically progressive song writing – indeed, similarly along the lines of the debut but perhaps not as flamboyant as the “Burning Box Gala” – as “World of Madness” and “The Inner Quest” sprinkle prominent power metal overtones unto tasteful chorus sections. “Black Materia” proves an especially impactful closer in what truly is by all standards an incredible instrumental which responsibly balances monstrous progressions with remarkable continuity. The overall arrangement of tracks makes sense and in speaking to SUE’s veteran-like sound, and to the unanimity of newly honed melodic overtones, typifies nothing short of the penultimate “progressive” design. SUE’s candid musical proficiency breeds not only an aesthetic and somewhat unique sound – that is, indeed, saying a lot – but features very well poised lead lines as well as fully orchestrated drum parts that exceed the mere confines of musical accompaniment; all key factors in this album’s terrific listenability. Just don’t expect to find any Petrucci-esc solos in this one. B+.