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Sounds of Wisdom from a Higher Place - 74%

bayern, January 1st, 2018

“To perplex, or not to perplex?”, this was the dilemma in these lads’ camp at the beginning of their career, and although I’m not sure how exactly things had turned out on their debut, a sought after item at least in my household, on the album reviewed here they have created a decent, albeit largely misunderstood as evident from the first review here, slab of multi-layered, labyrinthine progressive metal that bases its not very decipherable at times vistas on Psychotic Waltz’s “A Social Grace”, Watchtower’s “Control & Resistance”, Fates Warning’s “No Exit”, Zero Hour’s “Towers of Avarice”, etc.

In other words, there are quite bit of influences enmeshed here, but most of the time the band seem to get away with it like on the opening “Quantic Macrorealms”, a challenging 8.5-min maze which has to overcome a strangely uplifting, goofy lead-driven intro before hectic staccato rhythms start overlapping each other in a surreal, sometimes openly illogical, fashion the outlandish clean Buddy Lackey-sque vocals adding more to the eccentricity of this opus which threatens to go deep down the rabbit hole with the tranquil balladic respites, the sudden surging gallops, the elusive melodic undercurrents, etc. “Mental Distortions” may indeed cause mental distortions in the audience with the utterly unnerving, unheralded alternations between hard-hitting and serene sections the latter sometimes stretched to the max, including the listener’s patience who won’t know what to make of this eclectic musical curiosity which on top of everything comprises sparse infernal deathy shouts near the end.

“Above Ourselves We Must Pass” is finally a full-fledged tender acoustic ballad, but “About Setting Illusions on Fire” is a fine technical/progressive thrasher the death metal vocals now fully epitomized, leading this stylish cavalcade which passes through several transitions one of which is an intense death-laced outburst. “Humanized” is next for the taking, but the initial balladic etude is overlong, killing the inertia until the arrival of the optimistic speed metal dashes and the stylish melodic leads. When “It Flows” offers another quiet inauguration the fans may start frowning a bit, but the band restore the faith with dramatic Dream Theater-like configurations that create a larger-the-life picture which surrenders to more balladisms at the start of “When It Looks Like an End…”, a minimalistic pensive doomster that may be too sleep-inducing to some. A rude awakening lying ahead in the form of “Inertia” which adds more to the eclecticism of this recording with the spacey psychedelic vibe, the Oriental melodic “excursions”, the brilliant virtuoso leads, and the somewhat relaxed trippy execution ala later-period Psychotic Waltz.

A lot of music thrown at the listener, for better or worse, the guys beaming with ambition and enthusiasm which win over their compositional skills at this stage, the longer pieces lacking coherence at times with the myriads of nuances embedded some of which not necessarily belonging there. As another example of a less structured, stream-of-consciousness-like approach this opus works all right for most of the time, but the guys could have utilized the editing tools more regularly if they had wanted to reach the lofty standards of the mentioned luminaries.

The band are no more, and the “to perfect or not to perfect?” dilemma never became a very tangible one for them. Still, as another illustration of the full of complex surprises Canadian scene this album should definitely get wider exposure; who wouldn’t want to broaden his/her horizons with another work of outside-the-box musical art?

Shows promise, but work still needed - 40%

kapitankraut, August 24th, 2007

"Dilemma's" is the second release by Quebecois progressive metallers Highest Place and finds them experimenting with a broad range of musical ideas. As is often the case with massive experiments, some of these turn into something enjoyable, while others end up looking like a crime against nature.

The first thing I noticed with this album was the production. I'm not sufficiently in tune with musical theory to explain it better, but the drums sound as though they were recorded in someone's house, along with much of the guitar work, rather than in a professional studio. I should add at this point that this is the first experience I have with the band, so it could well be that they were recording in a house and I just didn't know (they're independent at present, so it wouldn't surprise me). The result is something that sounds a lot more "home made" than most prog-metal does, which is not without its charm, although I keep finding myself wishing for a cleaner guitar sound and a generally more rounded mix.

Musically, the band veers between an all-out assault mode and a more reflective folk-inspired one - frequently on the same song. The ten-minute "Mental Distortions", for example, lives up to its name by featuring everything from thumping drums to guitar riffs that seem to appear from nowhere. On the vocal front, the song is generally a clean one - apart from right at the end when grunts appear without any warning and never re-appear on the album.

The lyrics aren't usually much to write home about - although "Temporary Out of Order" (which is barely a minute long and feels almost like a sketch for a song, rather than the finished product) has the interesting metaphor of "playing dice with my soul". Indeed, on first listen, I thought the line was "What if I lose my roleplaying dice with my soul?" instead of "What if I lose my role/playing dice with my soul?", which coupled rather nicely with the acoustic guitar-led track to give a sort of "Dungeons and Dragons" feel to the whole thing.

As a general rule, the vocals feel a bit clumsy, which may be a result of translations from French, given the band's origin. I often get the sense that there are extra syllables in some lines, which is a shame since the vocalist (Kévin) actually has an engaging voice.

My abiding impression of this album is that it just isn't quite Highest Place's time yet. Musically, they're undeniably talented - even with a muddy-sounding mix, the guitars are definitely doing some interesting things (the solos in the middle of "It Flows" are quite something) and the drums are impressive as well. Vocally, they've got a singer who is certainly comfortable with this style of music. They're not too far off lyrically either. It's just that the overall package is wanting that final punch to move them up to the level where they want to be. Currently, they still sound a little too much like the local band made good, and not yet like the international successes they could become.

Still, they're only just starting out, and I'm sure that signing to a label will get them well and truly on the right track. I'll be watching for their next efforts, because there's more than enough promise here of what may be to come.