Zero Hour - A Fragile Mind

Year of Release: 2005
Label: Sensory
Catalog Number: SR3028
Format: CD
Total Time: 44:11:00

A little bit of sadness always sets in with the passing of something you once loved. It could be your favorite shirt that now was a gaping hole or maybe a restaurant you went to for years finally closed its doors. For the purpose of this review it's the band Zero Hour, a progressive metal band from San Francisco that used to borderline on the technical and now borderlines, well, something else. From their earliest days as an underground metal band hyped for their musical chops and diverse song structures, the band has stayed true to itself playing progressive metal that was both challenging and accessible. A Fragile Mind, though, sends the band in an entirely new direction. They are exploring new territory and at the same time washing away some of their progressive roots and nearly creating a new band in the process.

Their independently released self-titled debut was of such quality it was re-released years later by Sensory without being remastered. All they did was add a few tracks and bonus demo cuts. Their second album, The Towers Of Avarice, was marvelled as a progressive masterpiece blending very complex guitar parts with a deeply lyrical concept. Now armed with a new vocalist in Fred Marshall, guitarist Jason Tipton, bassist Troy Tipton and drummer Mike Guy attempt to follow up a critically-acclaimed prog classic. They are well aware of the talent they lost when former vocalist Eric Rosvolt parted ways with the band. There was no way they would take some of the same musical risks with a new singer, so they had to go a little different direction with good and bad results.

A Fragile Mind begins with a six second intro of indecipherable noise. Six seconds. This is an actual track on the CD. Once those six seconds are over, we finally get to the first actual song, "There For You." This sets the pace for the rest of the album and defines the new Zero Hour era. A more modern sound has been added to the guitar, but Jason's distict picking style still comes through, reminding us it's the same band. This is definitely a heavy track with staccato riffs and an in-your-face production. While this song is nowhere near challenging for player or listener, it has an immediacy or an urgency about that is almost begging for acceptance. Progressive runs have been replaced with chugga chugga rhythms and once intricate drum fills have given way to the standard. The guitars are pretty much the same throughout the album with little variation in sound or tone. What does come through is very clear and monstrous; it just has a repetitive feel.

Replacing a revered singer in any band is a daunting task, especially in the prog industry. It's difficult to tell whether Fred Marshall was incapable of writing intricate vocal melodies and the music was tailored to his style or if he was forced to change his writing to fit the more modern approach the band had adopted. Either way was unsuccessful. While obviously a talented singer, his skill is not allowed to shine here as his melodies are reduced to basic meter, standard fare yelling and being too far back in the mix. Except for the title track, there just are no interesting melodic structures going on here, just paint-by-numbers songs and lyrics that do neither the band or singer justice. His vocals are way overprocessed in this as well. In each song there is some kind of distortion or flange effect taking away a bit of the human factor. Without that, there is no feeling. Where Eric Rosvolt excelled at phrasing and gut-wrenching emotion, we have here a lifeless string of words sung with little conviction.

I have little doubt following up The Towers Of Avarice is a monumental task and that anything they put out would be unfavorably and unfairly compared, but I did expect more. The band has definitely not settled for one particular style releasing three albums with vastly different feels and sounds. I just don't think this current album is the direction they needed to go. There are some great metallic moments on this album with huge chunky, pounding riffage and occasionally some well done interludes and passages, but you'd also find those on the new Disturbed album. A Fragile Mind has much more in common with 10,000 Fists than with other prog albums release this year. The talent in this band is obvious. Of that there is no question. What is in doubt is the direction they took in the four years since their last album. If everything mentioned above was calculated and done with purpose, then more power to them. If the above was accidental and the results settled for, then they should have taken even more time to refine it and release it. I will continue to listen to their first two albums with shock and awe, though I am in mourning. The old Zero Hour is dead.

Intro / There For Me / Destiny Is Sorrow/ Brain Surgery / Losing Control / Twice The Pain / Somnecrophobia / A Fragile Mind / Intrinsic

Jason Tipton - Guitar and Keyboards
Mike Guy - Drums
Troy Tipton - Bass
Fred Marshall - Vocals

Zero Hour (1999)
The Towers Of Avarice (2001)
Metamorphosis (2003) (reissue of s/t debut)
A Fragile Mind (2005)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: November 29th 2005
Reviewer: Scott Pierce
Artist website:
Hits: 1533
Language: english


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