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Oliver Hartmann goes Prog. - 80%

hells_unicorn, December 17th, 2007

Some people I know jokingly refer to prog. metal as "The Village People" of metal genres. All the goofy imagery of Indians and policemen aside, there is some truth to this both in the case of the instrumentation, style, and line-ups of many bands under the progressive sub-genre. In the case of Empty Tremor, most of this is found in the stylistic aspects of their situation, although Oliver Hartmann being in a project like this in the aftermath of 80s power metal acts such as At Vance, Magic Kingdom, and Iron Mask is a bit interesting as his gravely yet chorally adept voice can turn a 3 voice harmony of a musical refrain into an anthem of triumph.

“The Alien Inside” is a rather well realized concept album in the vain of late 80s/early 90s Dream Theatre and Fates Warning, although with a little bit more rock influences than jazz or classical. The songs tend to be long in length, often going through a good deal of change-ups that often seem to come out of nowhere, and are loaded with differing sound timbres. The guitar work is fairly standard for this genre, mostly going for the thematic and melodic tendencies of the Fates Warning approach rather than John Petrucci’s wild displays of virtuosity. Likewise, the choruses (where Hartmann really shines) are catchy and placed in an idiomatic matter that makes even the 9 minute songs listen more like songs than compositions, unlike later 90s and early 2000s work by Fates Warning.

The most metal sounding songs on here are the opening title track and quasi-speed metal track “The love I’ve never had”. The riffs in both songs tend towards an odd-timed groove approach not all that dissimilar to what was heard on Symphony X’s “The Odyssey”, although not quite as heavy. Keyboard work is mostly used for atmosphere, although a nice little Kevin Moore-like solo can be heard on the opening of “I Found You”. Every musician on here does an adequate job for the genre, but the one element that really puts it above average fair is Hartmann’s versatile vocal approach, ranging from some raunchy Jeff Scott Soto work to easy going lower and mid-range clean singing, particularly on “Stay”.

This is a good deal different from most of the projects Hartmann has been associated with so fans of At Vance and other power metal acts he’s been involved with may or may not go for this. Its true target audience is likely fans of Dream Theatre who maybe wish that James LaBrie had a huskier voice and a wider range, and disenfranchised fans of Fates Warning who liked everything from Perfect Symmetry to Inside Out but have trouble with most of the avant garde stuff they’ve done since. You will probably want to get those albums and Images and Words first because they are a bit better, but this is a worthy purchase for anyone who likes a little rock with their prog.