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Ivory Tower > Heavy Rain > Reviews > lukretion
Ivory Tower - Heavy Rain

Listless drizzle - 54%

lukretion, May 14th, 2024
Written based on this version: 2024, CD, Massacre Records (Digipak)

German prog/power veterans Ivory Tower are approaching the 30 years of activity, having started as a band in 1996 (and with a self-titled debut album released in 1998). While not terribly prolific (7 full-length studio albums before this one), they have attracted interested among progressive fans, thanks to their slightly grittier take on the noodly genre that has sparked comparisons with bands such as Manticora and Tad Morose. On their new record, ominously titled Heavy Rain, Ivory Tower promise an even more marked turn towards thunderous soundscapes, fuelled by a renewed line-up that includes new singer Lord Francis Soto, a seasoned musician who over the years has featured in a number of German heavy metal / hard rock bands.

Despite the titular premises, the new album had on me an effect more similar to a boring day of listless drizzle than a spectacular thunderstorm. There are several reasons for this, but the main culprit lies in the dull songwriting. On Heavy Rain, Ivory Tower seem to have opted for an uncomplicated sound, centred on minimalist riffs, steadfast beats, and simple, direct vocals delivered in a gruffy yet melodious style, bringing to mind the hard rock aesthetics of Jorn Lande. In principle, I can get behind such a sound, stripped away of much of the whistles and bells that are typical of the prog metal genres – if it weren’t for the fact that Ivory Tower somehow forgot to reduce at the same time the songs’ length. Look at the track-list. There is only one song below the 5 minutes, and most approach or surpass the 6 minutes in length. The simple structures and arrangements of the album’s ten tracks simply do not justify such extended durations, which are mostly achieved by repeating the same riffs and melodies for what seems like an endless period of time. It may sound like a minor complaint, but it does take the toll over the course of the album’s full 58 minutes. The clock watching starts already after the first three songs, and by the time I reach the album’s midpoint I have almost completely lost interest and had to force myself to reach the end of the record for the sake of this review.

The issue is compounded by the fact that there is very little variation in mood and style across the album’s ten songs, and by the polished but highly compressed production that sacrifices sonic depths by pushing the vocals and drums at the forefront of the mix, drowning out much of the guitars and keyboards. This is a choice that might increase impact and that gives a modern feel to the album, but spectacularly backfires in the context of a set of songs that already feels monochromatic and one-dimensional by design. Looking at the credits (minor quibble about the booklet layout: how is one supposed to read lyrics and credits when the font color is almost identical to the color of the background images?), I was shocked to see the production was handled by trusted and revered names such as Jens Bogren (mixing, jointly credited with Alexander Backlund) and Tony Lindgren (mastering). Maybe a case of famed producers who are not a band's authentic artistic match?

Although these issues bring down the listening experience considerably, the album has its moments amidst the shortcomings. “Black Rain” and “Never” illustrate well what Ivory Tower tried to achieve here, combining ballsy riffs with inspired – yet gloomy – melodies. New singer Francis Soto is a perfect interpreter for this style of music, adding just the right amount of harmony to his gritty performance. Frank Fasold’s keyboards are often hardly audible, but do add some interesting harmonic layers here and there. The potential is there and the band’s previous output is witness to that, which is the reason why I am not quite ready to give up on Ivory Tower yet. Heavy Rain may be a misstep, but the direction of travel is not hopeless, and a few, simple mid-flight corrections (shorter duration, more variation between songs, more nuanced production) would go a long way in making this a much more palatable creative endeavor.