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I’ve basically experienced Suspyre in reverse order, first hearing their latest and most complex effort “When Time Fades…” and then sort of working my way backwards. With some bands this approach is extremely problematic because there are often drastic changes between their older material and their current output. In this band’s case, being a progressive metal band that strongly adhere’s to the Fates Warning ideal of evolving rapidly between albums, there is definitely a sizable divide in “The Great Divide” (no pun intended) and their most recent effort. None of it really hinges on the influence of mainstream phenomena, which is usually how these changes in sound tend to occur, but more from the band being highly eclectic and not desiring to get stuck doing similar things on each album. Nonetheless, the nature of this album is a lot easier to grasp than the one that follows, mostly because it sticks to a much more familiar and accessible power/prog character that more are familiar with.
In a general sense, “The Great Divide” is a much more metal based album, drawing much more strongly from bands like Symphony X and Fates Warning while downplaying the jazz ballad elements and the softer sounding “Falling Into Infinity” characteristics that would come to greater prominence on “When Time Fades…”. There is a stronger neo-classical and symphonic flavor to much of the music also, along side a harder edged riffing approach that definitely seems to be reaching for a power/thrash character. But at the same time, the characteristic slow parts and keyboard work is still maintained within this different format, though there seems to be a much greater emphasis on memorable ideas and less on seeing how many differing styles can be put together within a song.
After a small little orchestral prelude with concert choir vocal work to act as a prelude in “Forever The Voices”, things really kick off with the furious fit of riff majesty and technical wizardry “The Singer”. This essentially marries all of the elements that made Symphony X’s “The Odyssey” such an amazing album, throwing in a barrage of crunchy thrash goodness and double bass blurs and transitioning perfectly back and forth between neo-classical choruses and technical solo sections. Clay Barton’s vocal presentation definitely shows strong Russell Allen tendencies, and occasionally surpasses his mode of aggressive yelling and delves a tiny bit into more extreme forms of vocalization. The first lone riff after a somewhat extended intro actually listens fairly close to Megadeth‘s “Symphony Of Destruction”, but spiced up with some extra notes and presented in a much less groove oriented environment. Naturally it’s not a complete Symphony X homage and does throw in a jazzy quiet section and a keyboard solo section that definitely shows some “When Dream And Day Unite” tendencies, but for a 9 minute long song, this is very easy to follow and get into.
For the most part, this epic and extravagant approach to progressively merging neo-classical power metal with a lot of non-metal twists is maintained and a strong Symphony X and Adagio atmosphere is maintained. “Galactic Backward Movements” spends a lot more time in symphonic and keyboard oriented territory, but still pounds out plenty of hard edged riffs and spellbinding solos. “Manipulation Of Time” reaches back a bit further in the playbook to something similar to “Divine Wings Of Tragedy”, laying on the Holst and Beethoven influenced romanticism with plenty of heavy ended metallic goodness. “Subliminal Delusions” almost listens like a straight shot of speed metal, occasionally resorting to the piano for an interlude here or there, but putting the peddle to the metal for the majority of the listen. The sheer lack of ballad sections and almost complete lack of true ballads save “The Spirit” almost makes me wonder if this is the same band.
If you are thinking on giving Suspyre a chance, I think this is probably the best place to start. It’s definitely a lot easier to follow and geared for a more general metal audience than “When Time Fades…”. It doesn’t really come close to the insurmountable majesty and brilliance of Symphony X’s “Paradise Lost”, but this is definitely a cut above a lot of more recent progressive metal albums to come out in 2007. Although it is not in the general nature of a band like this to want to revisit their past, if they were to do so on their next album with this format as the template, I don’t think I’d be able to bring myself to complain.