Athena - A New Religion?


Year of Release: 1998
Label: Rising Sun Productions
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 48:09:00

Athena is back, with a long awaited disc. Only this time, they're sporting a new sound, a new singer, and a new look. A few years ago, Athena released a disc called Inside the Moon, and few were lucky enough to find this disc and own it. I called the disc the Italian version of what Dream Theater sounded like mixed with a New Age feel. The music was excellent, almost like DT's When Dream & Day Unite set to New Age melodies, if that makes any sense. While the guitars were crunching away, and the drums were double-bassing their way through the songs, the keyboards were lush and setting a background of spacy, atmospheric, New Age sounds. It was an interesting combination, and one that would have made that disc one of the best Italian prog metal discs to come out at that time, except for one thing, the singer. He was plagued by "The Italian Curse", and was whiny, tinny, unfit for the music, and anyone who owned this disc felt this way. Thus, the disc pretty much went unnoticed except for fans of Italian, symphonic, prog metal who go through extreme measures to find these discs. A few years later, Athena re-enters the scene with a new disc, and to our surprise, is sporting one of the best singers in prog metal, Joe Terry, or Fabio Lione to Italian fans. Normally, having his name on the marquee is a sure bet that a disc is going to be great, so when his name appeared on this disc, I didn't hesitate a moment in buying it as soon as it was released. Can it live up to the anticipation?

THE STYLE

This disc is totally different from the approach that Athena used on their first disc. Gone are the DT stylings, gone are the New Age emotions, and gone is the tinny singer. In it's place are a combination of a lot of sounds that current bands sitting on the top of the prog metal heap are using; I'm hearing shades of Labyrinth, Rhapsody, Stratovarius, and many others. Unfortunately for Athena, they sound like they are trying NOT to sound like these bands, but end up doing it anyway. With Joe Terry having sung in Labyrinth, a very unique sounding band that uses plenty of time changes, weird key effects, and strange uses of neo-classical sounds, it's no wonder that a few songs sound like they just came from a Labyrinth disc. With Terry having fronted Rhapsody, an epic, speed metal band that used an orchestra to help get those songs across, there are songs that certainly sound like they just came from a Rhapsody disc. Add a neo-classical song straight out of the Stratovarius camp, and Athena has one, diverse sounding disc on their hands. Is it enough to please fans ? Well, it depends on how much you DON'T want to hear any of the aformentioned bands, and how much similarities you are willing to put up with. However, don't be fooled, because just when you think that Athena doesn't know who they want to sound like, they throw in about 4-5 songs that DON'T sound like anyone, and I imagine that this is where their true sound should belong. It doesn't work however, and those songs end up being nothing more than a hassle that requires a quick hit of the Fast Forward button to get you to the next song. There certainly are some killer songs here, maybe some of the best Italian prog metal songs to emerge recently along side of heavy hitters like Zen and Helreid, but it's disappointing to have to program the tracks you want to hear, or sit there with the remote in hand ready to press buttons. For the record, I'd say that anyone into a combination of Labyrinth and Rhapsody will have no problem with this disc. It's heavy, crunchy, at times a bit "poppy" if you will, and sometimes just downright strange, but it's this combination of diversity that prog fans really go for, and this disc could well be someone's favorite release of the year.

THE BAND:

I didn't go back and compare names as to who was in Athena years ago, but in looking at the names of the players, I do recognize most of the names from memory and I'd say that most of the band is still in tact and playing better than ever. Something sparked this band into playing some heavy, punchy, speedy prog metal rather than the laid back, lush sounds of Inside The Moon. My guess is that the addition of Joe Terry sparked some kind of fire inside these guys, and I'm sure that this would happen to any band.

The band consists of Joe on vocals, one guitar player, bass, drums and keyboards. I'll start with the keyboards, as I do notice a huge difference in the role that he plays this time out. On the first disc, he was more of a factor in the sound, giving it the overall New Age feeling that I described earlier. This time, he is pretty much in the background and in the shadow of the guitar player, who has kicked it up a notch this time out. The guitarist has cranked up the DB's, decided he wants to be the driving sound behind the music, and his playing his incredible. While not taking on the normal leads that many players feel they have to use, this guy seems content to show his diversity rather than his ability. He's got a nice crunch, and this should be heavy enough for anyone who has to have that crunch in their music. The bass player is also taking a stand this time out, and has decided that straight ahead bass lines are not the way to go in prog / 1998, and at any time throughout the disc, you can hear him pecking away freely aside from the guitarist. It's almost like having two guitarists in the band. The drummer is the standout to my ears. I'm not sure if this is the same drummer or not from before, but if he is, he has gone to the school of "how many double bass runs can I do in one song" thought. If he is not the same drummer, then that explains the change in drum style. Either way, this guy is smoking.

I can't complain about any of the playing, it all sounds incredible, and it's actually inspiring to see a band change their style and crank it up to show their true ability or diversity. This is what Prog s all about anyway, right ? For the record, I'm putting these guys right up there with the best players that Italy has to offer the prog metal scene.

THE VOCALS:

This should be easy. A simple "Joe Terry is great" statement could be written here and everyone would agree hands down, and I could move on and stop boring you to death. However, and this blows my mind, this is actually where I'm having trouble dealing with the disc as a whole. Granted, most of the songs are killer songs, but there are about 4-5 songs that I spoke of that I must hit the forward button on the remote, and it's because of Joe's style of singing that's bothering me. I've called Joe one of the best singers in Prog Metal today, and I still stand by that. It's hard to hear this guy sing and think that many people don't even know who he is. It's also hard not to call him one of the best when you hear him due to his outstanding voice. For those not in the know, Joe sounds like no other singer in prog metal. To compare his voice to anyone else wouldn't be fair to either party. I can't even think of who he sounds like to do that ... maybe he has the vocal tone of Roy Khan when he sings in a mellow tone, but when he kicks in, he takes on his own distinct vocal tones and it's just awe-inspiring to hear him singing. However, someone must have been preaching to him about how great he is, or maybe he is tired of being just "great", and now he feels that he has to "experiment" with his voice, as in doing some piercing screaming, or doing some aggressive singing that takes the beautiful tone from his voice and makes him one irritating, average yeller that we've all heard before. Whatever it is, it's ruined those 4-5 songs for me. The guy has it all, tone, beauty, range and ability, and there's no doubting that he is one of the best in the business. I guess it's like when your favorite singer suddenly feels like singing Death vocals, you get that sinking feeling and your ears just won't put up with it. Joe isn't singing death, but he certainly is changing his voice for a few songs, and to these ears it's painful. On the other hand, it's plain to see why Joe is the man when he is able to change to a different style at will. The guy remains one of my favorite singers in prog metal, and it's going to take more than a few irritating songs to knock him off the throne.

THE PRODUCTION:

Isn't this an Italian band? Aren't the majority of Italian Prog Metal discs recorded poorly? Well, lately, lots of Italian bands are realizing that sound is very important to fans, and Athena shows that superior sound can be achieved. The production on this disc is one to be proud of, and it was actually produced by the band along with 2 other gents. Someone in Italy found the right equipment to use and made this one sound absolutely perfect. I can't complain about a thing here, and I still wonder why there is so much diversity in sounds between Italian bands. Maybe adding Terry also produced some recording savvy as Labyrinth and Rhapsody sound wonderful, who knows? Whatever it was, it's a winner. From the crystal clean vocals, to the crunchy, crisp guitars, to the punchy bass, to the pounding drums, this one is a treasure to the ears. The keyboards are clean as well, and the balance between the instruments is damn near perfect. My hats off to whoever found the secret of good sound on this disc.

THE COMMENTS

For those of you who are more forgiving in the vocal department than I am, and like Joe Terry as a rule, have no fear and buy this disc. For anyone who has never heard italian prog metal, and wants to break into that sound, this is as good a place as any to start. The disc will appeal to a wide variety of fans, including those of Labyrinth and Rhapsody. I actually had a bit of a hard time getting past those styles, and I almost branded the band confused because they didn't know who they wanted to sound like, but overall, after many listens, I've decided that the band does have it's own sound, and when you add musicians from another band, there has to be some influence from the past.

To be honest, those 4-5 songs where Joe is experimenting with his voice are keeping me from deeming this disc absolutely great, and as I said, some of you who are more forgiving in that dept may still find this disc amazing. If you can get past the song where Joe sounds like he is singing something off of Conception's Flow, complete with that voice processor, then you will love this disc. it's got crunch, punch, diveristy and most of all, it never stays on the same path, changing styles with just about every song. I have no choice but to give this disc the thumbs up for what it is, but I felt that I had to bring out exactly what is keeping me from calling this disc great. It took some time for me to accept some of the odd sounds, and I still hit the Fast Forward button on at least 2-3 songs, but at 48:00 long, there is enough to keep me happy otherwise. Good luck with this one, I am curious to hear what everyone thinks in time.


Tracklisting:
In The Beginning (0:38) / A New Religion (5:31) / Soul Sailor (4:13) / Apocalypse (4:44) / Every Word I Whisper (3:43) / Dead Man Walkin' (3:47) / My Silence (6:45) / Secret Vision (6:15) / The Keeper (3:30) / Twisted Feel (5:20) / Not Too Far (5:38)

Musicians:
Fabio Lione - vocals
Simone Pelligrini - guitar
Alessio Sabella - bass
Gabriele Guidi - keyboards
Matteo Amorso - drums

Discography:
Inside The Moon (1995)
A New Religion? (1998)
Twilight Of Days (2000)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin IT

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Larry "LarryD" Daglieri

Hits: 747
Language: english

  

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