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Prog metal with lots of ideas, but most are not fully developed - 60%

lukretion, May 13th, 2020
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Noise Records

Debut album for these four Austrian guys who in 1997 self-released their music under the name of "Stigmata". Due to legal issues with the moniker, they will later have to change their name, first in "Stigmata IV" and then in the definitive "Stygma IV". "Solum Mente Infirmis..." was then re-released in 1998 by Noise, and this is the copy I own.

The album features a robust prog metal that occasionally veers into softer progressive rock territory. It is an interesting mix. Most prog metal bands at the time were trying to follow the road paved by Dream Theater. Stigmata chose a very different route, blending in 70s prog influences with more traditional metal heaviness vaguely reminiscent of what Savatage were playing in the late 1980s.

The result is refreshing. The arrangements are quite varied and original ("Ground Zero", for example, turns from straight metal anthem into a vaguely psychedelic rock song with a tasty wah-wah guitar in evidence). The structure of the songs is quite complex, often consisting of multiple parts and sections. This reflects in the songs duration, which in all cases exceeds the 5-minute mark.

However, this melting pot of ideas is not really fully developed or well integrated into something digestible and of impact. One has the feeling that the longer, multi-part songs don't really go anywhere: rather than progressing, they march in place, coming off as fairly repetitive. Take "Sacred Man" for instance. It's the longest song on the album (over 13 minutes), but the first 6 minutes are really just a repetition of the same verse and chorus, with very little variation in the arrangements, before opening up to an instrumental jam. I feel that the band's ambition to construct complex prog epics is not really matched by the compositional and arrangement skills yet. Of course, this is perfectly understandable since this is a debut album, and the band will have time to hone their ideas into a more compact and coherent form on later albums.

Despite the obvious limits, "Solum Mente Infirmis..." is still an enjoyable album, which a few moments of brilliance. The shortest track "Bleeding Within" for example is a very good song, dramatic and powerful - a good example of the great songs that the band will write in the future. The title track is also memorable, with a nice chorus sung in Latin. Also of note the long and vaguely dissonant track "The Fool", which opens a dark saga about murder and madness that will be continued on later albums.

Another strong point of the album is the musicianship. The four guys in Stygma IV are all very proficient players and there are several great examples of this on the album (I am always impressed by the bass player, who colors the album with some really interesting playing). Singer Ritchie Krenmaier also makes a strong impression. His voice combines the gritty epicness of Dio and the dramatic emotion of Nevermore's Warrel Dane, which is an interesting combination.

Overall, this is a decent debut album, with a remarkable prog ambition and lots of ideas that, however, come across as not fully developed to their full potential.

A masterfully emotive, atmospheric work of art - 98%

Empyreal, April 3rd, 2014

Stygma IV never got their dues. This Austrian band was around in various forms since the mid 80s, and main man Gunter Maier has been playing in bands since 1979 – but still they are basically unknowns. The main reason for this is the numerous label problems they had all throughout their career forcing them to change their name. This was their debut when they were still called Stigmata, Solum Mente Infirmis. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever heard.

Picture a classic power metal sound in the mode of old Metal Church, Jag Panzer or Savatage – that’s the base these guys start out with. But then it’s like they got bored with that and decided it would be a better sound tripped out on prog rock acid and with song lengths averaging seven minutes. Unlike the Dream Theaters and Fates Warnings of the world though, this is a different sort of beast in that it’s not really prog metal as we’ve come to know it. Instead they took a power metal formula, catchy riffs and choruses, and added long prog rock breaks a la Rush or Jethro Tull – sort of just fitting them together like puzzle pieces, rather than blending them as an integrated style.

This is a very colorful, vibrant and evocative album, full of powerful music. At 72 minutes, it should be near insufferable, but the Stygma IV guys are good enough songwriters to make it captivating. They just have no boundaries here. They play heavy-assed, groovy power metal riffing like the best Criss Oliva ever penned back in the day, and they drop into moody, trippy psychedelic guitar noodling that evokes Jethro Tull, complete with acoustics and even a flute here and there. The songwriting is good because the band doesn’t just pad out their songs with whatever to try and drag them out longer – they know exactly what they’re doing and just let their songs play. And they just happened to need these long lengths to get their points across. I don’t think this album would be as good if the songs were short. The band uses repetition masterfully, with the effect not being boring songs, but rather powerful, oceanic works of music – the songs wash over you in waves.

Singer Richie Krenmaier is a real find, too. He mostly sticks to a Dioesque midrange, with a lot of grit to his voice. Sometimes on here he switches it up for a high, melodic wail reminiscent of Geoff Tate, and other times he sounds like a looser, more free-form Russell Allen from Symphony X. He’s got a lot of emotive power and really sells these songs, making them come alive and jump out of the CD player – with the proggy, rather cerebral material at times, a singer of his caliber is a huge godsend, making the music more accessible and more exciting. His aggressive, tuneful voice with the melodic and complex music makes for an unparalleled delight.

Pretty much all these songs are amazing. The only differentiation is the good ones from the FUCKIN’ AWESOME ones. I’m even going to have to go into a track-by-track here, just because every song is so different and very much worth mentioning. Opener “Greed Machine” kicks up with a monster riff and complex, winding vocal lines that soar and dive – it is an instantly memorable song that will get lodged in your head like an ax thrown by a serial killer. The eight minute title track is an easy contender for best on the album – with its mystical, occult lyrics about possession and murder, and twisted riffing mixed with a quasi Mercyful Fate-esque vocal performance, it is spellbinding and imaginative. I love it completely.

“Bleeding Within” shows off the band’s acoustic chops and then dives into a mesmeric, wailing chorus – most bands would never be able to pull off this much repetition this well. “Ground Zero” is a six minute prog rock tune a la Rush with some trippy instrumentation, but it lies in the shadow of the following triptych – the first among them being the massive “Sacred Man,” with its lyrics about religious doubt. This is a sprawling song that feels like its own private universe. Most bands would have this as the closing song on an album and it would be the absolute highlight, but this is still just the halfway point for these guys.

“Just a Nautic Tale” is a Queensryche-esque ballad with pulsating riffing and a highly catchy chorus. Lyrically it’s pretty cringe-worthy; a totally unsubtle rant about why killing whales is bad. This is forgiven, though, as it’s the most emotionally charged song on the whole album. Clearly the Stygma IV dudes cared a lot about the subject, as the song is hugely powerful – one of the best written tunes on the whole thing. I love the bit before the final chorus where you can hear the ocean sounds. Really well done atmospheric bit.

“In Your Eyes” is a pensive, beautiful song. Its delicate acoustics open up into probably my favorite vocal hook on the album – Krenmaier sounds like he’s positively crying here. Lyrically it’s another obscure, mystical story, this time about some kind of “savior of tortured souls.” It could either be a dark fantasy tale about Death gazing upon those he’s about to ferry to the next world, or a real life story about someone saving a loved one from drugs. It’s hard to tell, but the lyrics are so beautifully written it doesn’t matter – and I like the multiple open interpretations anyway. The music is wistful and openly heartfelt, exploding from its gentle acoustics into a pounding riff and a foreboding rhythm. Incredibly atmospheric song – you get the sense someone’s world was ending when they wrote this.

“Last Victory” rocks out with hard-edged riffing and some serious aggression, which the rest of the album is sorely missing – it’s a nice tonic from the cerebral and pensive mood of the previous songs. “The Fool” is probably the album’s most obscure and bizarre song, with its dense, contorted riffing and vocal performance that sounds like Krenmaier really is the mentally tormented murder-witness the lyrics paint a picture of so vividly. A lot of prog bands tend to go for a sort of detached, intellectual mood, not trying to sound too raw or emotional – letting the instruments speak for them in colorful swathes and dizzying technicality. But Stygma IV goes for the throat and each song is bleeding with various emotions. The riffs being so fucking good doesn't hurt either.

Frankly, there isn’t a bad song here. The band put tremendous work into all these songs and it shows. There’s no other album really like Solum Mente Infirmis It’s a huge, varied and complex work and I think it’s up there with the best power metal albums. There’s just a ton of feeling and atmosphere in this, and I’ve never heard an album that affects me the way this does. If you can find it – this gets my highest recommendation.

Fine Austrian prog metal - 91%

concertmusic, September 22nd, 2006

The Austrian quartet Stygma IV, also know by several other names due to legal issues, are, I am very sad to say, no longer active. This is a real loss to the prog metal community. Wait, you say! They are clearly listed as power metal, boyo - what gives? Well, based on the evidence at hand, namely their 1998 release "Solum Mente Infirmis", they are solidly in the progressive metal camp, with only a few power metal elements mixed in for good measure, but there is no doubt about their true allegiance.

Evidence is plentiful. Start with the track list, where you find songs of 13 and almost 11 minutes, with an average of 8 minutes. Furthermore, progressive elements abound in the music - an even balance between guitar and keyboards, easily discernible bass and cymbal work, passages of clean, almost acoustic guitars, particularly in the soli, varied with crunchy metal fare. There are multitudes of tempo and mood changes, and all of it is done with great skill and care. The complexity level is way up as well, maybe the best indicator of the progressive nature at work here.

Nonetheless, the power metal elements are there, but take a clear back seat to all of the progressive metal caressing the ears. The vocals are the primary culprit in giving impressions of power - they are slightly raw in places, but are nicely mixed with perfectly clean singing. The crunchy metal guitars sound like power material in places, but are more often underlined with progressive keyboard passages, or are simply played without any use of distortion. I can only name two tracks that have any claim to being power metal, namely "Greed Machine" and "Bleeding Within" - all of the other material is without doubt pure prog metal of the best kind. As a matter of fact, in "Just A Nautic Tale" there also appears a prog rock influence, which can be seen to some extent in a couple of the later tracks on this CD (particularly "In Your Eyes"). I could have done without that additional direction, but it hardly detracts from the rest.

This effort, completely unknown to me before now, is a welcome addition to my prog metal collection. I am fairly certain that other prog metal fans would think the same.