Artension - Forces Of Nature


Year of Release: 1999
Label: Shrapnel
Catalog Number: SH1124
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:09:00

When Artension first hit the scene with Into The Eye Of The Storm, they were met with many reviews about being hard rock, the 90's version of Deep Purple, Rainbow, etc....but there was no mistaking that the band was special, and had the talent to write a monster disc. The guitar chops were there, the vocals top notch, and the next coming of Keith Emerson on keyboards in the 90's whose sound leads the band through neo-classically driven melodies highlighted Artension's debut, yet people ( including me ) cried out for a heavier approach on the next outing. The band heard the cries of the people, and created Phoenix Rising, which won the hearts of the original listeners and more. With a heavier, epic, keyboard shredding approach, the disc easily found it's way into many a CD player and anticipation grew again for their next disc, Forces of Nature.

The band seems to have stepped back some again on this one; they've changed the bass player and drummer and tailored the heaviness, the keyboard chops, and the pounding beats of Phoenix Rising in favor of a more streamlined version of Artension lying somewhere between the two previous releases. The epic sounds of songs like "Phoenix Rising?, ?Valley of the Kings? and others have been replaced with more laid back, song oriented tunes minus the heavy keyboard shredding that the band had become known for.

The production is a bit drier than Phoenix Rising, maybe causing some of the laid back sounds I am experiencing. It appears that the hard rock approach of John West's solo discs are starting to seep it's way into Artension discs, almost as if he and Vitalij have come to a compromise between their respective tastes; and this would make sense seeing how they both write all of the music for the band. I've had the disc now for weeks, and I can't seem to take to this approach to their music, and I am starting to miss the epic sounds they laid down on PR .........

THE BAND:

Vitalij Kuprij / keyboards
John West / Vocals
Roger Staffelbach / Guitars
John Onder / Bass
Shane Gaalaas / Drums

Vitalij Kuprij is now well known throughout the metal community as being one of the best, if not the best, keyboard player in town. His incredible ability to re-create a style on keyboards that are usually left to super guitarists have now become the trademark of Artension sound, and have catapulted him to godly status amongst musicians worldwide. On Forces of Nature, he's forgone the lightning quick chops that made up the previous discs in favor of a more streamlined, laid back approach. It appears that maybe his sound was overwhelming the overall sound of the band and someone decided that he should tone it down a bit. I do know that many people found his shredding to be a bit monotonous along the way, and although I don't agree, I can understand their point on that. Too much of any one instrument is never a good thing, and I'm sure that the band didn't want to become a showcase for Vitalij, and his solo discs speak for themselves of you want a TOTAL keyboard feast fit for a king..........

John West has also found himself a place amongst the vocal gods with his bluesy tone but amazing ability to hit high notes that even dogs can't hear......for those not in the know, John sounds a lot like Joe Lynn Turner ( ex-Rainbow ) only with a higher range. His ability runs from singing soft, slow passages, to incredibly high notes that you wouldn't think could emanate from a voice as bluesy as his. Still, on Forces of Nature, he seems to be reverting back to HIS solo discs, which were pretty much hard rocking showcased tunes for this amazing voice. I had hoped that he would venture on into the metal territory but he seems to be very happy in his corner of the music world.........

Roger Staffelbach has the unlucky task of having to play guitar in the shadow of a super keyboard player. One who could easily play rings around most guitar players on his keyboard, but Roger steps up to the plate and hits a home run. A super player in his own right, the biggest complaint about him was that he wasn't loud enough on Phoenix, a compliment that says a lot about his playing considering the company he is in. He does turn it up quite a bit on this disc, and has come into his own right as a great player and it's great to see a player with this much talent opting to stay in a band where he can't always let loose, but brings the metal crunch and shredding solos that we all know and love very well in our music.

John Onder and Shane Gaalaas are more than competent players themselves, having replaced superb players from the last Artension disc. Both have the undaunted task of having to play around two classically trained players and they pull off their task very well. Onder keeps up well with the guitar histrionics, and Gaalaas can do the slow, pounding beats and then suddenly switch to high gear and let loose on the double bass runs on the speedy neo-classical tunes. Kudos to both of these guys - they've got some serious talent surrounding them, and they've walked in and performed superbly.

THE PRODUCTION:

I found the recording of this disc to lie somewhere between the dry sounds of Into..., and the crispness and clarity of Phoenix. It doesn't seem to be as epic sounding and reverb-laden this time out, and a more natural sound has resulted. Personally, I like the big, boomy sounds of the snare drums pounding out songs like ?Phoenix Rising?, and the reverbed chorus effects used on the keyboards back then. Here, the drier sound takes over, and some of the cavernous sounds are lost as a result.

This is not to say that the sound is muffled or lost, as this disc sounds incredibly clean. I just think that there were less effects used overall to give it that epic, cavernous sound like on the previous disc.

As on all Artension discs, the vocals reach out and grab you instantly, and well they should. When you have a voice like John West, you have to be heard. Any engineer in their right mind would make sure that this voice stands out and is heard, and that it is. The keyboards obviously stand out as well, and again, it's probably impossible for any engineer to keep the keyboard sounds out of reach when you have a player like Vitalij. The keys are full once again, and during solos you might even say that the keys may be too far up in the mix - those synth runs need to be slightly de-treble-ized as the sounds can get quite shrill at times, but this will not affect any keyboard lovers out there and the sounds are certainly welcome.

We wanted more guitar sound - and we got it. They've cranked up the guitar some DB's, and the crunch is even heavier than the last outing. The guitars are even more clean and crisp than before, and someone did turn the DB knob to the right during the recording process. The drums sound superb, but I do have a complaint; the kick drum is just not heavy enough. Every piece is clear and precise, and hi-hats, cymbals, and even my achilles heel in prog metal, the weak snare drum is nowhere to be found. Instead, the snare is full, rich and booming. Yet, I find myself wanting just a bit more punch in the kick drum, especially when the old double bass gets a rolling. It's a minor complaint, and a preferential one as I use a subwoofer and it doesn't get a good workout as much as it did on Phoenix Rising.

The bass is just a bit lacking as well - not enough punch for my taste. Listen to the song ?Phoenix Rising? and hear thick, thunderous bass. That's what I'm talking about. Here, the bass seems to lose some thickness and thunderage - something I love in my prog metal. During track #7, an instrumental, there is a small part where the bass is played alone, and it almost seems as if Onder jumps up from behind a barrier and plucks a few keys and ducks back down behind the barrier. It sounds meager compared to the rest of the instruments and seems to be lacking in other songs as well. Again, minor complaints from an otherwise superior recording.

THE COMMENTS

I need more of what Artension gave me on Phoenix Rising. The epic songs - the thunder - the shredding keys. Something seems to be missing here although I can't put my finger on the exact item. Hell, it's quality Artension, it's just a bit more laid back than PR, with less of everything that made that disc great. If you take some of the hard rock song structures of Into, pair it up with the great vocals on Phoenix, and cut back on the keyboard shredding, crank up the guitars some, then you have Forces of Nature. It basically lies between the two previous discs in terms of content and style. One thing is for sure; John West is a super vocalist. I didn't care much for his solo discs because of the hard rock nature of the songs, but his singing is absolutely amazing. He's got the passion, the range and the voice to add class to any band out there - he obviously loves the neo-classical sound overall, and his bluesy style adds an interesting flair to the neo surroundings. If you want to hear where the roots lie for John and Vitalij, I highly recommend their solo discs, especially Vitalij's discs if you love keyboards......

Forces of Nature is a well done disc and any Artension fan will enjoy it. Whether or not you love it depends on your tolerance for the hard rock, song oriented approach versus the epic, pounding approach of Phoenix.


Tracklisting:
The Forces of Nature (6:29) / Ride Like The Wind (5:10) / Behind Your Eyes (7:24) / The Truth (5:00) / Tall Ships (6:07) / Shape Shifter (6:16) / Wild Trip (3:42) / Guardian of the Hunt (7:05) / Lost Horizon (7:09) / You Are My Heart (Ode to Autumn) (2:47)

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: September 1st 1999
Reviewer: Larry "LarryD" Daglieri

Artist website: www.vitalijkuprij.com
Hits: 951
Language: english

  

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