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Fuzzy - 77%

Mr Ferocious, April 15th, 2012

When I picked the majority of this band's discography in the Motherland, I was naively unaware how fortunate I was. Now that I am older but not any wiser (copious amounts of vodka can do that), I am inclined to promote them just a little bit.

I'll start with the guitars, which are fairly fuzzy when they delve into some low-end riffing, but are clear and sharp when the upper fretboard melodies are on the go. And my God, are there a lot of melodies. They are present in every song, throughout the entirety of the music. Remember the end of 'Sweet Child o Mine,' where Slash solos to the end of the song with Mr Rose shrieking over the top? Take that, turn the blues-rock into classical symphonies, the shrieking into growls and stretch it for half an hour and it would sound like this. And I love it. Unfortunately, the lead guitar does not distinguish itself when it begins one of its solos, so you may not realise at first that the guitar is doing something different. But once you do, you will be sucked in by the sheer beauty of the guitar. There are not a lot of riffs that are stylistically associated with death/doom metal, because the rhythm guitar work is more on the power metal side i.e. palm muted power chords occasionally tremelo-picked. Ordinarily, this would be a major gripe, but as the production kills the riffs that do appear, I have concluded that it was a good decision, knowingly or not, to leave the lead guitar to carry the weight of the music.

The keyboards are the harmonious counterpart to the lead guitar on the album, adding an ethereal presence to the atmosphere with spacey chords and tinklings on the keys. They also take to the fore on the intro and outro instrumentals, creating a peaceful ambience with a hint of sadness. On occasion, the synths deliver a Pink Floydish ambience. There isn't a keyboard solo that you may come to expect if you have listened (and beat your head against a wall in frustration) to 'Octavarium', because they handle the sonic drama of the songs, although on 'Three Roads of Doom,' they do work antagonistically with the galloping rhythm guitars to create the kind of atmosphere you'd expect when the zombies have got you trapped in a shopping mall (original Dawn of the Dead all the way.)

The death growls on the album are competently handled, working in the mid-to-low range of the spectrum, with a rare scream making appearences for seconds at a time throughout the album. However, due to the fuzziness of the production, the growls are entirely unintelligible and do not sound as threatening as they could have otherwise been, although this does not detract from the music. The clean lead vocals are also delivered well, which combined with the growls makes for nifty change in the mood of the music. On a related note, there are also Russian lyrics as well as English being sung, which was pretty cool to hear for variation. There are also female backing vocals, which are in partnership with the keyboards to complete the tranquility of the album., without sounding overblown, for which I am thankful (and makes me wish Manowar would take the hint).

The bass follows the rhythm guitar for most of the album, rumbling away to itself at the bottom of the fuzz. Don't get me wrong, it follows it adequately, but I had the feeling it could have done more. And on the closing track, it does, busting out an arpeggiated melody to complement the dreamy keyboard, which was a welcome change from the uninspired playing it had done before.

I will say at this point, the bass drum did exist on this album, although I suspect during recording, the mike for the bass drums was moved to the other side of the room accidently and no one noticed until they had completed the drum tracks, because they are exceptionally quiet. The rest of the kit is as loud as the production allows, feeling fairly organic, although kinda tinny for the most part. In terms of playing, the beat is kept, the fills are at a tasteful minimum and you can feel the double bass patterns kicking in, but you have to transform into a bat to fully enjoy it.

Overall, the running time of the album may disappoint some listeners, coming in at just over half an hour, although you may have got sick of the fuzz by the end, which was the sole force in keeping chunky riffs from making it to the album. There is quite a bit of variation on the album, in terms of speed, mood and vocals, although it ends up sounding one-dimensional due to the final mix, which is a shame because there is plenty to be enjoyed on the album, which is a weird fusion of doomy deathy powery metally music, as only Russians could make. And if you think I'm acting biased, rest assured I am not.

I actually am biased.