Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: Sons of Seasons, "Magnisphyricon"

It's no coincidence that I was just talking about "slow growers" in my last post. Sons of Seasons make challenging music that requires many listens in order to truly grasp the scope of what they're doing. Because this is a new album and I've only listened to it about 10 times, I can't claim any privileged insight into the album. However, I can say that it rewards close listening. The musicianship is top notch and the band really made the effort to create complex and accomplished music. The album is dark and heavy and challenging.

However...I want to say a little something about "symphonic" metal. While Sons of Seasons could be also be called progressive metal or power metal, I want to talk about their symphonic aspect. (I find genre labels tiresome in general because you always end up quibbling about bands that are on the boundaries; I'm not particularly interested in those kinds of debates).

At any rate, Sons of Seasons are so talented and full of musical ideas that they begin to layer their songs with many complex and interlocking parts. Guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards are just the beginning. Extra guitars and multi-tracked vocals cover the album in layer after layer of sound. Phil Spector has nothing on these guys. There seems to be an ever-present layer of keys or simulated orchestra on everything.

This over-laden, over-polished production is not unique to Sons of Seasons -- and in fact I hate to bring it up here when there are worse offenders out there. But I'm provoked to mention it because the album has so much promise otherwise. This is a good album that could have been great with just a touch more restraint. There's a lot of variety on this album, and I think it could have used some variety in overall sound, alternating between a stripped-down, direct sound and the full and layered sound on the rest of it.

The one place where the over-layered wall of sound recedes nicely is on the album's final track, "Yesteryears." This is a brilliant song with a very poignant vocal melody and thoughtful lyrics.

But too much of the album is like the beginning of "1413." It's a great song in theory, but there's instrument overkill. The first 23 seconds of the song has a great-sounding metal riff and some kick-ass drumming...but it's got synthetic orchestral intrusions that ruin what would otherwise be a show of strength. As if that's not enough, the song also pipes in a bit of synthetic horn sounds into the left channel. Why? Isn't metal guitar/bass/drums good enough? At the end of that 23 seconds is a nice stop, which adds a bit of needed dynamics, but then there's even more layers when it restarts. I swear there's 27 different instruments coming at you. A bit more restraint is called for.

While I have some things to complain about, Sons of Seasons have really put together a bold and ambitious album. I think I may get to like the album even more after additional spins, which will give me more of an opportunity to digest the provocative lyrics.

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