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Are These Atmospheric Metal Progressions for Real? - 83%

bayern, March 8th, 2017

Although the German scene has been the most revolutionary one on the metal circuit, it also showed how the bands could lose the initial aggression displayed, and settle for a softer, more melodic approach sometimes after just one album, not necessarily for the better. This detrimental tendency was exhibited way before the big transformations the field experienced in the early-90’s; quite early, as a matter of fact: Warrant became “enforcers” (yeah, right!); Iron Angel only passed by the Winds of War with the new happy-go-lucky formula; Angel Dust “decayed to dust” untimely with no shades of the previous “dark past” fury; Sieges Even made bold “Steps” into shaking off all that was labelled as thrash from their beginnings; and Rage turned to mere “reflections of a shadow” of their fierce roots. Later Helloween became the laughing stock of the whole movement, the biggest “chameleons” of them all; and Mekong Delta decided to sell their picture collection “at an exhibition”… Scanner seemed to fare the best of the lot, albeit “mentally reserved”; and Depressive Age created a pretty decent ode to those “blue times”.

Yeah, the Germans were eager to display this more tender side of theirs even before some of those acts had even managed to consolidate themselves within a certain style. The underground also fell prey to these metamorphoses, and the band under scrutiny here were one of “the victims”. They started convincingly with the “Maze of Distress” demo in 1989 with inspired progressive power/speed metal anthems bordering on thrash at times, and it seemed as though the guys might make a turn towards the more clinical execution of acts like Mekong Delta and Deathrow in the future. Well, the following demo (“Inspiration”), which appeared several months later, offered more complex, quite challenging at times, music, but the band looked towards the early Fates Warning legacy and the darker feats of Sanctuary this time; all vestiges of thrash and any other more aggressive attempts were removed.

A year later they were ready with their full-length, the album reviewed here. This opus only contains four compositions which close on nearly half an hour. There’s a lot of music to be savoured for sure as the band continue with their explorations of the American progressive metal heritage with Fates Warning again, and Queensryche the main targets for worship. The opening “Jesterday” is a pensive semi-balladic cut with edgy, but not very dynamic, guitars, very good emotional clean vocals, and unobtrusive keyboard presence. The title-track begins with not very intense strokes emphasizing on the ballad again, but the riffage shows its “thorns” later although it gets intercepted by more quiet moments “the tussle” eventually won by the harder side which even “flirts” with twisted Pyschotic Waltz-esque motifs at some stage; a surreal rifforama which unfortunately doesn’t last for very long, but more dynamic sections emerge again in the second half to make this 9-min atmospheric saga more eventful. “Drowning in Real” spends half the time in calm meditative balladisms, but some sharp riff-patterns appear out of nowhere only to turn to excellent stylish technical shreds in the spirit of Sieges Even (think “Steps”, above all). “Tale of a Rainmaker’s Longing” doesn’t miss out on the introductory serenity, but intriguing creepy riffs break “the idyll” those even recalling the Americans masters Zero Hour (these lads could have been an influence on them…); still, for most of the time it’s peaceful, pacifying chords that one will come across on this sprawling epic.

As a work of complex, multi-layered progressive metal this album works on all counts; however, it seldom has a bite, and when the more aggressive, serpentine riffage comes to play, it sounds more like a teaser than an intentional exhibition of skills. The intricacy on those more hard-hitting moments is really high, and one would wish they never ended so untimely every time they appeared… They by all means show the band quite adept at shredding with force, but alas, they remain sketches on a largely pensive, balladic/semi-balladic canvas which would definitely find its audience among the fans of the aforementioned US acts, rather than with those who were worshipping the technical/progressive thrash metal wave that was in full bloom in their motherland at the time.

All was not lost for those who wanted to thrash with power, though, and two of the band members (the drummer and the bassist) later joined the progressive thrashers Megace for the recording of their sophomore opus “Inner War” (1999). The bond with the other musicians apparently worked well as the entire line-up carried on under the name Step into Liquid, still active up to this day, where the approach is mellower, closer to the progressive metal landscapes of Drowning in Real, with a more alternative flavour also coming from the characteristic female vocals. In other words, the band haven’t really “drowned”, they’re still afloat, at least some of them, and that can only be good news for the fans of atmospheric, retrospective metal with a pinch of covert aggressive complexity.