Artension - Phoenix Rising


Year of Release: 1997
Label: Roadrunner
Catalog Number: RRCY 1058
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:19:00

Normally, when I do a review of a disc that is exciting me, I like to write about it as soon as possible. Sometimes that can lead to quick judgements, but the excitement of the moment prompts me to sit down and shout it out as soon as it hits me. However, in this case, I have had this disc for some time without feeling the need to immediately write about it. My theory is that by doing this, it sort of has an anti-climactic effect in that once I say my piece, there isn't much more to be said afterwards. So, with that said, I have to say that I have been savoring this moment for quite awhile, cuddling up with this disc day in and day out. It's in my car, on my main system, and in my car at every chance I get. This has not happened in a long while, and it's great to have discs come out that have this effect.

I've had Artension's first release, Into The Eye Of The Storm now for a good long time. It is a good disc, but one that borders itself on the hard rock style in places, and doesn't have the staying power of a serious metal disc. This is understandable as well, for this band contains probably one of the best keyboard players on the planet, in Vitalij Kuprij. It's easy to say that about anyone, but in this case, I would find it hard for anyone to dispute this after hearing this guy play some chops, whether it be on the piano or the organ or synthesizer. The band is also keyboard-driven, in that the keyboard is the main instrument of the band, laying down not only the melodies, but also functioning as the soloist as well. Yes, there is a guitarist, but on the first disc it is basically all keyboards. The guitarist pretty much stood in the background and layed down a nice rhythm base. I pretty much liken the disc to a Rainbow meets Deep Purple in the 90's. A basic descriptor, but in the ball park.

Enter Phoenix Rising. Everyone is pretty much expecting some more keyboard-driven pyrotechnics, shredding key solos, and more of the same right? WRONG!!!!! As I said, the band's first disc is actually very good, but not heavy enough to please most metal heads. In between recordings, something has happened to this band. My guess is that some or all of the band members listen to Symphony X. I'll bet that they also listen to Angra, Yngwie, Rainbow, and on and on and on..... someone either inside or outside of this band felt that Artension can play serious metal like the aforementioned bands, and keep the keyboards out front as well.... How do you say this can happen? Isn't metal guitar driven? Scorching solos? High pitched vocals? Thundering bass? Double bass runs? Can a band with a keyboard virtuoso be a serious metal band? Check out what Phoenix Rising is all about ......

THE STYLE

As I've said, Artension is a keyboard-driven band that pretty much stays within a neo-classical sound while laying down some different, creative melodies while doing so.... the songs are very diverse on this disc, paying homage to the speed of Angra, the thunder of Symphony X, the basics of Rainbow and generally anyone else who has created some interesting, serious music ..... however, Artension goes beyond just re-creating the chops and licks of other bands. This band can write songs.... you name it, epic, ballad-like, speedy, bluesy, anything you want this band gives you. Sure, the keyboards have been the focal point of this band, but this time out, the chores are shared by all members of the band while the keyboard wreaks havoc around them.The guitar is much more up front, more crunchier, the drummer is pounding away more, and allowing the double bass to run wild this time out. The bass is much more evident as well, pounding out the backing notes and just about collapsing a stereo system while doing so.... and, to boot, this band not only boasts superior musicians, but they also boast one of the best singers around in one, John West. More on John later. All in all, this band has turned up the thunder quite a bit, and this disc shows it.

THE PRODUCTION:

Stellar beyond stellar. When the opening organ notes to "Area 51" start this disc, you know it's going to be one super sounding disc. The organ just screams from the speakers, and then is quickly followed by the drum / bass combo. The thunder cometh. Every single instrument is brought meticulously to the front of the recording, so that the listener has a clear understanding of what each one's role is within the music. This is no easy feat for a soundman who has to reckon with the fact that the 5 musicians in this band are all virtuosos and just needing to be heard. Well, it just so happens that the keyboard player and guitarist had a hand in recording this baby, and rightly so. They know how to bring each instrument out to the front, without coming at the expense of the other players. Of course, the keyboards are so pristine and clear that it's not to figure out why keyboards make music sound so much more pretty.... yet, somehow the other instruments are right there along the side the driving force, and each member shines through on this disc in sonic glory. The most interesting part of this disc, to me anyway, is the fact that when you have a brilliant recording such as this, would the vocal production suffer? No WAY !!! John West is heard as clear as a bell, and every single word that he sings can be heard loud and clear, including the harmonized parts. This is sonic joy people, and all the stops were pulled out to make this disc sound the way it does.

THE BAND:

The only word that comes to mind when describing this band is VIRTUOSO. Every member is something of spectacle, and it's great to see so many skilled musicians coming together and creating a unified sound as this. You would think that someone would outshine the other in a band like this, but this is not the case. Each member has his turn to shine, but in the end it's the overall cohesiveness of this band that prevails. I could go and on about the keyboard player, especially since I am a big fan of keyboards in metal. Suffice it to say that if there are any better than this guy, it would be scary. Think of what Keith Emerson would sound like in a real metal band. The guitarist is another shining part. Last time out, he was put back a bit in the mix, but it was clear that his talents were being wasted. This time, he is up front, crunching, heavy, neo-classically injected, bluesy, jazzy, snazzy and downright awesome. The crunch is on, and the guitarist is responsible for it. For those who like that crunching guitar sound in their metal ala Symphony X, look no further. The drummer has also let loose this time out, and the double bass runs are in full force. Covering all styles, the guy seems to beat all of this mixture out effortlessly. The bass player Kevin Chown, is renowned for his playing ability, and is well known in the prog metal community. He shows why he has a reputation for being one of th best bass players on the planet. The singer, John West, is in a league of his own.

THE VOCALS:

When I first heard John West sing on the first Artension disc, I immediately thought "Joe Lynn Turner meets Graham Bonnet".... John has the clean, polished, vibrance of Joe Lynn Turner while maintaining the sometimes gritty, aggressive approach of Graham Bonnet. He certainly sounds more like Turner, but for some reason his aggressiveness reminds me of Bonnet, along with that famous vibrato of his. This time out, John is making a statement. There is no doubt in my mind that John can sing just about any style of music given to him. From the soaring metal songs like "Area 51," "Into the Blue," he belts out the tunes with ease, sometimes seeming to hold back with ease as not to take center stage away from the overall sound. The heavier, aggressive songs like "Phoenix Rising," "Valley of the Kings", John shows his magnificent range; one that I did not know existed. Try singing along with him on the chorus to "Phoenix Rising" and see what I mean. His voice does not give any hint that he can hit these high notes the way he does, it is astonishing. The ballad, "Goin' Home," shows John's softer, mellow side. In between are some bluesy-based tunes that he seems to enjoy singing as much as he does on the heavier tunes. The guy is simply nothing short of amazing. My next disc purchase will be John West's solo performance called Mind Journey. I have hard time thinking that he could do better as he puts on quite a show for Phoenix Rising. Put this man on my favorite all-time singer list.

THE COMMENTS

The short version is that I am floored by this disc. I am amazed at the talent level of this band, the diversity of the music, the ease at which they tackle several styles of music, and the fact that they have turned up the volume to a level that belies what they did on their first disc. I love it when the doors of metal swing open and bands like Artension come blasting through and play music as good as this. Fans of Symphony X, Angra, Rainbow, and others of this nature are sure to take to this disc as well...... they have really mixed it up to please all kinds of fans. Also, if you want to hear some serious keyboards in your metal, this is one of the ultimates in that area. The bottom line is, when a band turns on the power the way this band has, it's scary to think that they might have been holding out on the last disc, and that there may be even more inside them on their next outing. How and if they can top this one remains to be seen. For now, this disc came to me at the beginning of 1997, and I can't think of a better way to have started off the year than with a powerhouse of a disc like this. So far, it has become one of the most played discs that I own, and it doesn't show any signs of letting up. If you don't like keyboards in your metal, give this one a whirl and maybe see the light. If you like keyboards in your metal but want it heavy, grab this one now. Any way you look at it, this one is a winner.

Also released by Shrapnel (SH1111)


Tracklisting:
Area 51 (7:30) / Through The Gate (6:43) / Valley Of The Kings (8:47) / Blood Brother (4:44) / Into The Blue (4:59) / Phoenix Rising (7:45) / Forbidden Love (4:52) / City Is Lost (7:38) / Goin' Home (6:08) / I Really Don't Care (2:13)

Musicians:
Vitalij Kuprij - keyboards
Roger Staffelbach - guitar
John West - vocals
Kevin Chown - bass
Mike Terrana - drums

Discography:
Into The Eye Of The Storm (1996)
Phoenix Rising (1997)
Forces of Nature (1999)
Machine (2000)
Sacred Pathways (2001)
New Discovery (2002)
Future World (2004)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin VA

Added: July 1st 1999
Reviewer: Larry "LarryD" Daglieri

Artist website: www.vitalijkuprij.com
Hits: 619
Language: english

  

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