Antares - Choking The Stone

Year of Release: 2001
Label: self-released
Catalog Number: C08568
Format: CD
Total Time: 44:12:00

It seems as though The Netherlands' Antares can't decide whether they want to be a prog rock band or a prog metal band. And while this indecision seems a little awkward for the first track, the band settle into a fairly balanced groove by the second track. The band seem well aware of this COR angle they've taken (that is, center of the road, so as not to be confused with middle of the road -- MOR -- which already has its own associated definitions and impressions). On their website, they describe themselves as "Symphonic neo rocking progmetal." While there are times where, musically, they sound like Dream Theater, vocalist Han Uil has a voice that is found more often in the UK prog scene. Though certainly much less accented, Uil reminded me often of fellow Dutch band For Absent Friends. And I suppose if you took elements of FAF, and of Jadis, IQ, Grey Lady Down, etc., mix in that Dream Theater/prog metal influence, and a dash of the US prog sound (Echolyn, Tristan Park, etc. with their touch of Americana) ... you have the right elements of this mix. And you know what, for the most part, it works.

Which means the band were successful in their intention, as one finds, digging deeper into their website: "In the year 2000, Januari 15th to be precise, five Dutch musicians from the province Groningen got together to play as a spin off of 'The Frigus Project'. Not agreed upon a musical direction, it soon came clear that it would be a blend of symphonic rock, progressive metal and sing/songwriter style. Antares is not based on any band, but comparisons can be made with bands like Arena, Jethro Tull, Marillion, IQ, Camel, Spocks Beard, Yes, Dream Theater, Toto & Van der Graaf Generator." Yes, I'd agree. All this gives their rock an edge, gives their metal some softer textures to play with, and gives them sound that will appeal to fans of both styles.

There are so many little moments that I find impressive. The vocal performance on "Circle Of Keys" is terrific -- that highly emotional, warm style of James LaBrie. Uil's voice glides along ... this is the track that truly sells you on the album, though each of the album's 6 tracks are very good. The band is a little loose, but that can be tightened up on their sophomore release (as of March 2002, they've got 70% of that written). On the title track, there are points where Uil made me think of Garth Brooks. Yes, I really said Garth Brooks. Imagine, if you can, Brooks imitating LaBrie... (okay, with the hat and western shirts, it makes for a very strange image). That all goes out the window about eight and half minutes in, as we get Arena/Marillion prog rock with a metal edge.

If you're still with me ... where the prog rock element comes in is in the guitar playing of Klaas Pot, which is only slightly Rothery-esque. Gerwin De Weert's keyboards are very warm, especially those piano like tones that open the album with "Ragamuffin Rag-And-Bone-Man." Quite a lovely beginning ... but then Pot's guitar slashes across this with a screech, Sander Zoer powers in with drums, and Joroen Spanjaard helps set the otherwise laidback pace with his bass. This track is like Dream Theater added Bruce Hornsby (who seems to be a recurring theme this month) on keys and let Clive Nolan produce the results. About a homeless man, there is an ironic cheeriness to this track, mainly evident in the rhythmic pattern of the title which appears in the chorus.

For a brief second, one thinks of Golden Earring with the "Radar Love"-like bass lines that open the lyrical "Letting Go." They are a subtle part of the mix ... but wonders if not a little nod at their countrymen. There's a bit of a Marillion influence in the keys during this track, before the whole track opens up a bit to remind more of Jadis.

As I was listening to this album at work, I scribbed down the note "Berlin" whilst listening to the opening music to "Ethnic Cleansing" (the track itself opens with a news soundbite). While my notation did not refer to the city but rather the band, whose siren-like sonic effect in "Metro" appears here also, though altered -- it could just as easily have refered to the city. That is: Berlin - > East Berlin - > Nazis - > Hitler - > Jews. As one gathers from the song title, the subject of this track is very dark and it is. The specific theme of the song tries to come to some sort of rationalization as to why such a thing could happen: "Maybe you've never known love / Never taught the meaning of mercy / Maybe you've been born that rough / Ignorant 'bout your own idiocy." And maybe that's drawing the line from point a to point b a little too simply... or reveals in the protagonistist (the "character singing"), someone who can't believe that there are some humans (regional location aside) who could be that evil without some environmental cause. I guess you get into the nature versus nurture argument if you examine this too far -- we won't here.

Middle-Eastern flute like tones set an equally dark, funereal mood for "Half Of The Mirror." I don't know if Uil was thinking of "Ozymandius" (the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley), but reading the lyrics to this track, I certainly did ... in a very broad way. There is a similar theme contained within both, even if there isn't a direct correlation -- vanity. "Circle Of Stone" is a solid, hard rocking piece. On "Choking The Stone," the title track, there is one element that bothers me, and that is where the tom (I think it's the tom) lies in the mix. To up front and kind of flat sounding...well, more like the sound a flat tire makes going over bumps...kinda hollow and dead. (This is the one thing I didn't like about Vanden Plas' The God Thing, too.).

Okay, how can I not like this band -- both keyboardist de Weert's and bassist Spanjaard's favourite albums list includes Marillion's Misplaced Childhood. But, that aside, I like this band anyway. They are off to a great start with Choking The Stone.

Ragamuffin Rag-And-Bone-Man (6:50) / Letting Go (6:28) / Ethnic Cleansing (5:33) / Half Of The Mirror (9:51) / Circle Of Keys (4:17) / Choking The Stone (12:33)

Han Uil - vocals, guitars
Klaas Pot - guitars
Gerwin De Weert - keyboards
Jeroen Spanjaard - bass
Sander Zoer - drums and percussion

Choking The Stone (2001)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin NL

Added: June 2nd 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 893
Language: english


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