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It can be interesting or annoying to some people to find that almost all the progressive metal bands formed from the year 1995 and newer always name Dream Theater as their main influence, and, in fact, all those bands don't have their own new sound for the simple reason that they are simple appendices or extensions of that American band. That's why I call lots of them the "sons of Dream Theater".
The few progressive metal bands with a different style or sound are mainly the European ones, just like Threshold or Andromeda to name two of them. But France has a jewel in this kind of metal music. I have to confess that Spheric Universe Experience really surprised me. It truly was a breath of fresh air to a metal subgenre which was starting to result boring and monotonous, but this album is in fact one of the best progressive metal releases to date, no doubt about it.
What I appreciate about this band is their independence to stay away from the temptation to sound like all the sons of Dream Theater, as they are able to recreate an original and really enjoyable progressive metal atmosphere (I'm not saying that all those bands suck, because they don't. Some of them are incredibly good, I just criticize just their lack of originality), and this band is something that listeners of progressive metal surely never heard before.
The first song on the album is "Sceptic". Although the first seconds of the song are weak, once the guitar riffs are heard at their finest moments, the situation completely changes and "Sceptic" turns into an powerful and addictive song with explosive and fast riffs, the drums track are impeccable, and perhaps the most impressive feature of this band is the voice of Franck Garcia. Despite his notorious limitations (obviously, he's not one of the best vocalists for a progressive metal band), the vocal range of this man is still unbelievable and for my opinion, he overcomes singers like Damian Wilson or David Fremberg.
I can assure to the new listeners of Spheric Universe Experience that if they liked this song, the rest of the album will be exciting and entertaining to them. If not, I still encourage them to give it a chance; it's completely impossible not to like the whole album. Now, listening to Anima, I realized that S.U.E builds their original intrumental sound based on three main aspects:
1. Their explosive, yet melodic sound of their guitar riffs following the drums in an intense result, very distant from the sound of bands like Dream Theater, Circus Maximus, and etc. Both musicians don't concentrate on creating virtuouso performances, nevertheless the speed of the drummer and the guitarist are truly mindblowing. This can be appreciated in "Sceptic", "Neptune's Revenge", or "The Key".
2. The extreme importance of the keyboard within the sound of the band. It has two roles easily distinguishable: to create some symphonic or atmospherical backgrounds or solos in contrast with the default sound of the instrument, adding the classical formality and elegance to their songs. This is indeed one of the major characteristics that makes this band something unique and it's a rarely found feature in other bands of the same subgenre.
3. The bridges and trances to change from a phase to a newer one are not as pronounced or masterly as the ones performed like, once again I'll say it, Dream Theater or even Symphony X. Nevertheless, the execution of those bridges are clearly good enough to categorize them as a progressive metal band. This feature is present in the instrumental songs "Stormy Dome" or "Being".
As I just metioned, another important thing to itemize is the instrumental songs from Anima. These songs: "Being", "Stormy Dome", and mainly "Black Materia" are masterpieces, and anyone who deems himself/herself a metalhead and lover of progressive metal can't miss them. It would be a fatal error, an unforgivable sin or whatever. "Black Materia" itself shows us who are Spheric Universe Experience in their instrumental sound, so if you're new to this band I highly recommend to you to listen this song first.
To end this review, I'll say exactly the same that I've said before: you can't miss this album. Trust me when I say that you won't regret listening to these eleven songs. These French musicians are something else; they're very different from any other progressive metal band you've listened to before and they truly deserve to have more listeners.
Highlights: "Sceptic", "Being", "Neptune's Revenge", "Heal My Pain", "The Key", and "Black Materia".