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Despite progressive metal being my main musical preference, there's always been a large portion of it that I didn't like. For many people, the instrumental excess of Dream Theater or Between the Buried and Me defines the genre, but Scenes From a Memory just put me to sleep, and I considered the hoedown part in Colors to be bullshit, not brilliant. I do like the general sound of those bands, and each of them occasionally writes something amazing, so it's frustrating to wade through the bloated and tangent-filled stuff inbetween. This is why Sun Caged is a great album for me - it's fairly indulgent, technical prog, but it never loses the songwriting thread.
Not to discredit the members of Sun Caged; their songs aren't derivative, it's just that Dream Theater unfortunately has the trademark on "clean vocals + keyboards + doing a lot of stuff," and almost every prog band since then has been forced to endure the comparisons. Sun Caged would later evolve into something more unique, but they aren't really breaking new ground on this one, just doing it better. The instrumental wankery is there, but woven into relatively concise, heavy, futuristic-sounding songs with excellent melodic sensibilities. There's plenty of technical lead work, and Joost van den Broek loves to do these dissonant robot-circus keyboard freakouts, but the players know when to hang back also. Every song has memorable vocal lines, feels like it's going somewhere, and is dynamic - in fact, many of the best parts on the album are the mellow ones. The band walks a fine line between harmony and dissonance, with Marcel Coenen's often weird chromatic riffs coexisting with epic choruses, but never feeling disconnected. On top of it all is a thick layer of ethereal keyboards which make the album feel like a journey through space.
This came out in 2003, and looking back, the lineup was sort of a supergroup before anybody could have known it, with many of the members ending up in well-known bands later. For one thing, you've got Arjen Lucassen from Ayreon producing and mixing, and man does he get a good mix on this one - really heavy, but also full of atmosphere. Joost van den Broek makes his debut, and he gives the album a lot of its personality with his spacey and sometimes scary machinery-esque synth sounds. I haven't heard a grinding lead tone quite like that from anyone else. Prolific drummer Dennis Leeflang makes a rare metal appearance here, and his playing is tasteful and dynamic, without a single metal cliche in sight. He doesn't take the spotlight much, yet is almost always doing something interesting. Nine-string-bassist Rob van der Loo gets pushed out of the mix in favor of more low-end on the guitars, but if you listen for it there's some cool slap bass work and occasional leads. Vocalist Andre Vuurboom is a good unknown find, sort of like a more powerful James Labrie without the breathiness. He can sing metal well, but really excels on the softer material I think. He's a little piercing on some of the high notes, and sometimes his accent is weird, but overall a strong singer and a good lyricist to boot. I'd be interested to hear him on more albums.
Even with the ridiculous amount of talent on display in this band, Marcel Coenen emerges as the standout performer. He remains mostly unknown for some reason, but is right up there with Michael Romeo in guitar godliness, maybe even better. Just a few highlights of shredding insanity: The first five seconds of the first song; the solo in the title track, which blows even my guitar-numbed mind; and the main riff of Closing In, which I'm not sure how he could have possibly picked. My favorite guitar moment, though, is that short and simple solo in Hollow, which isn't difficult at all, but occupies such an emotionally charged space in the song, with such fine articulation, culminating in that perfect slight vibrato at the end. If this isn't "emotional enough" for prog naysayers, then I don't know what is.
I could go on, but basically, if you like clean-vocaled progressive metal, this is some of the best. It's also the only one of its kind from them. After getting some decent attention and great reviews for this release, the band lost almost all its members and changed significantly, so we'll never know what else they could have done. However, in this moment, they nailed this style. Subsequent albums were more original but not as immediately gratifying or well-received, and Sun Caged failed to take off in the metal scene. Now, with the band broken up, this will be their most lasting effort, despite maybe not being the "true" Sun Caged. Still, not a bad legacy at all. I've been listening for about a decade now, and it just gets better every time.
Sun Caged's debut self-titled album didn't wow me at first listen, I'll admit. I pretty much liked about 3 songs (namely the opener, "Sedation", "Sun Caged", and "Soil"). To me, these songs totally represented good prog. metal for a pretty hefty period of time: I was convinced almost nothing could usurp these three tracks from the top tier.
But, I think that's because I really don't like progressive metal much. Before you berate me for writing this review from the perspective of a "disliker" of prog., hear me out. I gave this album a high grade because I had left this release alone for over a year before deciding to listen to it again one day. I guess it must have been that day, because everything clicked to me on that one listen. Besides those three songs I had originally listened to exclusively, I had found that every song was really fucking good! While the opener and "Soil" are still two of my favorite tracks, I've taken a liking to "The Eighth Day" and "Unchanging," as well; both represent progressive metal without becoming self-parodying, boring, motionless wank like so much (TOO much, frankly) of the genre. "The Eight Day" features a typically "off-time" chugging riff intro, but for some reason it sounds much more earnest coming from this group of Dutch outfit. Everything on the CD pretty much just works; it all falls into place. While the riffs may seem typically "heavy" and overtly "boring," a lot of dynamic parts are interspersed in order to make the CD more cohesive. A lot of the choruses are totally fantastic, due in no small part to the singer's clean, mid-high range wail; certainly no problems here, this guy clearly knows how to sing!
Keyboards are well-placed, and seem to follow a pretty interesting motif (i.e. the paranoid-sounding, recurring beeps after the first riff in the title track), but they are used in some tracks as more of a lead, which I found pretty substantially fitting. In "Secrets Of Flight," we are greeted with a fast paced riff-fest that breaks down into a fantastically random keyboard solo, that you can't help listening to again and again. It's these kinds of things that make me love Sun Caged...I have heard that they are doing some new material soon, and I can't wait to hear it! An excellent release in a usually poor, overcrowded genre!
It is common knowledge that progressive metallers are the dudes who just enjoy writing compositions clocking at no less than 7 minutes using most unexpected turns and rejecting simplicity at any manifestation. Creating an over-complicated opus for them is as easy as pie and never looks like a problem. Nevertheless, the problem is how to prevent the listener from falling asleep somewhere around at the second track.
Fortunately, Sun Caged, a young Dutch Progressive Metal band, seems to have been able to put the axe on the helve with their decent self-titled debut. Even the most intricate tracks, such as Sun Caged and Secrets Of Flight can be listened to in one go. The fact that the production on this album was partly executed by Arjen Lucassen, a far-famed man in progressive circles, just sheds an additional lustre on it. Though, this one has nothing to do with Arjen’s other projects and is miles away from his main brainchild Ayreon.
It goes without saying that being unprecedented on today’s metal stage is rather an arduous task, but Sun Caged at least have tried to achieve the status of not being pure clones. And I must admit this proved to be in their competence. Just listen to the self-titled track and you’ll get an irrefutable argument for this fact. Multivariate guitar and keyboard passages, irreproachable vocals, inimitable drumming and independent bass lines – all are here to stupefy the listener with its vigor and genuineness. Most of the pieces here hold on to no tempo preferring a stick-slip nature instead. Some of them begin as fast-paced compositions, but due to frequently utilized rhythm changes and interludes one is likely to forget the initial tempo as far as the middle of the song. The others tend to crawl at the beginning but only to break loose afterwards. The rule not to follow any rules is more than obvious here in almost each track. Just the final tranquilizer Unchanging can be regarded to have a more or less unchangeable structure throughout the song. The name itself implies it. There are no bad songs, but the self-titled track, Home, Soil, Secrets Of Flights and Unchanging are definitely among the highlights.
Instrumentally, this work is like a layered pie where every single layer is a real dainty, but the guitar work deserves a separate eulogy. Those into non-standard, nearly thrash riffing and shredding will surely appreciate it. As young as he looks, Marcel Coenen knows his stuff very well and sounds like a versed master. With his five fingers he manages to put up such whimsical pyramids that it just takes one’s breath away. Though the other’s contributions are quite tangible as well.
All in all, this is one of those solid debut albums that make us look forward to the sequel and hope that the latter will be at least a rival to the former. Apropos of this I should mention that the sophomore attempt is not far off and is tentatively due to this summer via Lion Music. For those just starting their first steps in the genre this release can appear somewhat difficult for perception. But if you are a wise and old bird regularly doing your prog exercises it can be of some interest, especially if you are fed up with your Dream Theatres and Fate’s Warnings.
Even though you may not have heard of Sun Caged before, they're not new-comers! Their guitarist Marcel Coenen formerly played in the Dutch prog metal band Lemur Voice, who released two CDs both of which were
amazing. The (new) singer Andre Vuurboom sang in a band called Imperium in the early-90's, and drummer Dennis Leeflang was Within Temptation's original drummer. He joined them at the early age of 16 and recorded a demo with them before leaving them to form his own band Sun Caged with Marcel Coenen.
It was a few years ago when I first heard that a band had covered Dream Theater's "Caught In A Web" with a female singer. Curious to hear what the song sounded like with a female singer, I checked it out only to discover one of the most interesting bands ever. I knew they had a lot of potential and a very promising future. When Dominion came out with Sascha, their previous singer, I thought it was a great addition to the melodic prog metal genre and started looking forward to a full-length release. But it would unfortunately take more than I'd hoped for them to find a good record label (Lion Music) and replace their singer to form their steady line-up. After a relatively long wait the CD was released in late October and instantly surprised me with its content.
On the self-titled album, the band has chosen a different musical path to express themselves. Andre being a more a real prog singer in the vein of Geoff
Tate, Ray Alder, and a younger James Labrie, the vocals are more high pitched (but not for no reason!) displaying some great upper register vocal delivery. Andre can shift from a deep tone to a higher range very effectively. The music has changed as well, adapting a more technical edge. In the end, all this evolution has been for the better, since it helped give Sun Caged their own identity and musical characteristics. While Coenen's playing is still as
melodic as it was in Lemur Voice, he's obviously also picked up on some crunchy riffing which brings the technical metal band Meshuggah to mind. The bass is also very prominent and heavy. Most American prog bands, despite their amazing bassists, tend to have their bass mixed a bit lower than favourable while they attach more importance to the technical prowess
of their drummers. Sun Caged employs a more balanced rhythm section. Actually the drummer, Dennis Leeflang, doesn't fit the typical "prog metal drummer" category. He never overplays to the extent that the rest of the
instruments are overshadowed. He enters the songs with amazing fills and rolls, but always knows when the restrain himself. The bass work, on the other hand, serves its purpose: Rob uses his 7-string bass to bring more life and depth to each song. It's gradually becoming a common characteristics for European prog bands to emphasize the bass sound, considering that
bands like Vanden Plas, Threshold, Divine Regale, and Pain of Salvation have all great bassists. And, Sun Caged doesn't disappoint either.
Those of you who have heard the band's demo Scar Winter and debut EP Dominion might be pleasantly surprised to notice the growth in the band's musical vision. All the various ingredients in their songwriting have enriched the content and serve to offer a lot of diversity. Although it would be a bit
pointless to compare Sun Caged to other prog acts, bands like Fates Warning, early Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment (particularly in the opening song "Sedation), Meshuggah (in the crazy riffing), Pain of
Salvation, and Cynic come to mind. The mastermind behind Ayreon and Star One, Arjen Lucassen, mixed this CD giving it a fitting sound quality. The wall of sound is huge. Production wise each member in the band is offered enough room to prove that, from a technical standpoint, they are masters of their instruments. The keys and piano aren't necessarily too prevalant but
you can always feel them as they are meticulously placed within the context of the songs.
2003 was a bad year considering the few prog metal releases that came out. Redemption's debut and Dream Theater's TOT are basically the only album that caught people's attention (despite the mixed reviews it's been getting!), so I think Sun Caged's first full-length album is a great disc in the way that it
has a lot to offer to the listener. There are lots of textures present on this album. It's a dense, poignant, and very progressive release. It will definitely be interesting to see what they come up with next, since this album seems like a very, very great debut. Here is your chance to hear something
different. Far heavier and technical than the average prog albums coming out these days. Pick it up and hear for yourself.