House Of Spirits - Psychosphere


Year of Release: 1999
Label: Century Media
Catalog Number: 77228-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 46:46:00

This could be one of the most anticipated discs ever for prog metal fans - and at the same time become one of the biggest disappointments ever, depending on your particular taste.

After having produced Turn Of The Tide way back in 1994, in what is heralded as one of the all time greats in progressive metal, it looked for sure that House of Spirits would only produce one disc and then call it quits. It's no secret that Olaf Bilic, the mysterious and obscure singer for HoS is a hired gun, and it appeared that he jumped aboard the HoS wagon to produce his finest performance yet and then call it quits with them as well. When news broke out in early 1999 that Century Media was going to release a new House of Spirits disc, metal fans scrambled to find truth or consequences by digging in every hole to find some news about this much anticipated disc. Well, it's out, but I wonder if the disappointment will spread as fast as the excitement did when everyone either hears this disc or gets their eager mitts on it without even flinching to find out if it's worthy of purchase or not. Under most circumstances, the Olaf Bilic fans (myself included) would immediately plunk down the cash on a new House of Spirits disc as anyone would a Roy Khan or a Midnight fronted disc.

Alas, after gratefully receiving the disc, but trying not to get my hopes up too much, I hit the PLAY button and hoped for the best. I can tell you right up front that this disc is no Turn Of The Tide in quality or style, although remnants of ToTT can be found all over the disc, just not jammed into any one area. The band has changed guitarists, style, and looks in favor of a more streamlined, modern, 90's sound. Try to imagine some of the past changes that favorite bands have made for the better or worse Queensryche, Superior, Dream Theater, Conception, in which those bands almost completely left what their previous efforts sounded like and went for a more modernized 90's sound. House of Spirits have done exactly what those bands have done, including cutting off the old locks of long hair in favor of a more Metallica-ized, short haircut look of the 90s. This all may not upset the overall balance of your love for this band, but I can honestly admit that, while I don't look for duplications of music in a band's subsequent release, I do look for a similarities in quality and identity from previous releases; however, when a band changes direction this drastically, it is very difficult for me to warm up to the new style of music, especially when it sounds like just about every other band that's trying to make some radio waves. It's a huge letdown to these ears, but it may bring some smiles to many others who don't mind and welcome a change such as this.

THE STYLE

There is no doubt that this is House of Spirits. If you think back to Conception's Flow (a disc I actually love), you knew it was Conception, especially because Roy Khan was at the helm, and here you know it's House of Spirits from the opening note of music, and even moreso when Olaf opens his mouth. Gone are the long, epic tracks that were so prominent on Turn Of The Tide and in their place are shorter, more accessible, modernized versions of House of Spirits tunes. At a mere 46:00 in length, and the songs averaging a pitiful 3:30 - 4:30 each, the band crams in 12 tunes (do the math) of basically the same song over and over again with some added vocal processings and strange background choruses that make you think the songs are all different. I would say that 3/4 of the songs are alternative, modern rock styled tunes, with a mere 2-3 songs just closing in on that Turn Of The Tide style, but never staying within that sound for very long. It's as if the band either wants to tease by heading there, or the band just wants to tread in that water just long enough to get an intro started and the move on into new, uncharted territory. The band also throws in some sci-fi, techno, alternative, or whatever else you can classify these keyboards sounds as, into the music as well to give it that "electronic" sound that is found all over the disc. Ironically, the title track, "Psychosphere," is an instrumental, the last song on the disc, and sounds like it was a missing track from Turn Of The Tide. It could have been the last song off Turn and really closed that disc out with a bang. Instead, it leaves me wishing the band had at least made more of the disc sound like this song, which is truly where I believe House of Spirits' identity lies. Most of the way, we're treated to some basic, very streamlined, modernized melodic metal, as if the band were writing strictly for the radio. The music is very tedious, and fails to evoke emotion within. There are few moments of heaviness, if any, and it appears that the bottom end of their original sound is missing, too. Instead, there are plenty of radio friendly songs that sound just too calculated and contrived to mean anything more than just a short, 3-minute burst of a song with the hope that a radio-friendly audience picks up on it.

THE BAND:

Ironically, the band remains intact except for the original guitarist, and I wonder if this was the key to the massive change.

Olaf Bilic - vocals
Benjamin Schippritt - guitars
Martin Hirsch - bass
Jorg Michael - drums

The players who created that huge sound are back in force, complete with some semblance of earlier HoS sound, meaning that they've managed to re-create the ambient nucleus sound that makes up their underlying tone, and I imagine that the new guitarist was a previous fan of House of Spirits as he really does have the riffs down to a science, only they are being put to a much different song structure.

As the music is pretty basic in structure, it's hard to find a standout amongst the crowd, although Olaf is in super form, and I?ll go on record to say that if I wasn?t an Olaf disciple, I?d probably abandon this disc to the shelf, but his amazing approach to vocals keep me from doing so. Even our beloved Jorg Michael, whom you know from several other monster bands, does not stand out here as he really has no room to move about and let loose with this basic music. You get the feeling that a drummer like Michael must do this in his sleep, and even though his playing is immaculate, it just seems so wasted on music this basic versus what he is used to doing. Even Ben Schippritt, the new guitarist, doesn't bring much life to the music. The guitar sound is what drives this music - then, and now. HoS was never about showmanship, but in creating a "classy" sound of metal that remained in your mind and heart long after you put the disc back on the shelf for a bit. It was never about soloing, shredding, or faster than light riffs ... it was always about the guitar sounding as melodic as possible, and with a warmer-than-fire approach that just engulfed the listener in beauty. On this disc, it's just a matter of verse / chorus / verse with maybe a hint of a solo thrown in, but nothing to write home about. It's as if the guitarist was just going through the motions. Martin Hirsch, who is responsible for the signature House sound, as he produced and mixed the disc, really is the only instrument that actually stands out, and for me to notice a bass player as the major standout says something. Martin can be heard clearly and accurately, and on both HoS discs he has stood way out because of the great recordings, and this time it?s no different. At least he tries to add some riffing and some semblance of interest in the music as he throws in many a bass riff that shows that he is into the music. Overall, the band doesn't have much room to work within the short, uneventful songs.

THE VOCALS:

In short - it's Olaf Bilic. Amazingly, for such a basic, uninteresting disc, Olaf manages to shine like he did on Turn Of The Tide. His amazing, classy voice is still intact and clearer than ever. For me, it's the difference between shelving the disc and trying to go back and appreciate the disc for what it is. On the negative side, his voice has been processed over and over again, and it's really wearing thin listening to a great voice like his get processed through so many effects, including that "alterna-box" that so many bands are now using. If you thought that Olaf doesn?t like to hear himself harmonize, you're in for a treat as you'll hear him layered during many passages and although those harmonies are somewhat processed, it's about time we've got to hear him doing some cool harmonies. I was beginning to think that he didn't like the sound of his voice and nixed any plans to use vocal harmonies to any extent. His voice, for those who have never heard Olaf, is sort of like a lower toned Geoff Tate. Try to imagine what Geoff Tate would sound like several octaves lower, and with a lower range voice. It's truly a marvelous sound, and no one in the world sounds like Olaf.

THE PRODUCTION:

While it's no Turn Of The Tide in sound, this disc is once again a tribute to some serious mixing board knob tweaking. I consider Turn Of The Tide to be one of the finest metal recordings ever produced, and I've taken the disc with me on several speaker-hunt journeys and I've had many a salesman ask me where to get the disc to use as a reference. Psychosphere doesn?t quite reach the plateau of sound that Turn did, but there can be no major complaints from the sound of this one either.

The major two differences in sound are

1) The super bottom end (bass) recording on Turn Of The Tide was one of the most punchiest booms I've ever heard. I took Turn Of The Tide with me to test some subwoofers and many failed the "House" test. Here, the bass is present, but not in the heaviness and pound factor as on Turn. The bass here is accurate, and it appears that the emphasis was placed on accuracy moreso than on punch. While the bass is super clean and crisp, it lacks that deep pound that Turn did.

2) The drums have a much drier sound than they did on Turn. On Turn, the drums took on a cavernous, reverbed sound that echoed throughout the room with each hit of the snare drum. Here, the drum sound is much more natural and less forceful than on Turn. It's this dry sound that somehow takes away from that epic, regal sound that they achieved first time out.

The guitars are more distorted and drier than on previous efforts, and I believe that it's here that the overall sound suffers. On Turn, the guitars had a huge, once again cavernous, sound to them and they rung out in the room with every chord plucking...... here, the guitar just gets plucked and the sounds seems to stop dead in the water.

The vocals are way up in the front of the mix, as well they should be, and although you'll need the lyric book to follow all of the lyrics (a tiny accent and forced vocal melodies contribute to this), Olaf is even more up in the mix than he ever was. His voice, stronger than ever, rings out with every word and most of the time you can hear what he is saying except when forcing the lyrics into the music.

It's more of a comparison than a complaint, and most bands would love to sound as good as this disc sounds.

THE COMMENTS

I'm down on the disc - not so [much] in the fact that this doesn?t sound like Turn Of The Tide because I've said that I don't expect or want a band to follow their initial chemistry with each outing, but I do expect that a band at least produces quality and interesting music, especially after releasing a monster disc, and Psychosphere just doesn?t quite sound like House of Spirits at their best. The obvious radio sounds don't do a band like this any justice, and it's almost heartbreaking to hear these simple, 3-minute alterna-songs coming from a band whose name brings praise from any prog metal fan. Sure, hints of greatness abound on the disc, but these moments are few and far apart, and it only makes you feel angry that you know the band can do it again, but just won't in favor of producing something "different." The originality patrol will have a field day with all of this, and they may even like this disc, but for those who expect more from House of Spirits, and who thought that they might get some quality music from the band, you might be somewhat disappointed. It kills me to talk this way of a band that I've always touted to up and coming prog fans as essential for collections, but I'd have to think twice before recommending this disc outright without giving some explanation. I'm more disappointed in the direction the band has chosen to go in than maybe I am in the actual music, but I always refer to Superior when I try to show a band that has deviated from a classic, signature sound and taken it to different areas of style. It?s certainly not a negative thing, especially when we want the bands to progress; after all, it's progressive music, right? As I close out the review, and I listen to the title track, "Psychosphere," which is the last song on the track and an instrumental, I immediately think that the band still has that atmospheric, emotional, instant-loving sound, but they chose an alternate path and I don?t think it's one that many will appreciate after owning the never-tire-of-listening Turn Of The Tide.


Tracklisting:
Take Me To The Other Side (3:20) / Back On My Own (4:31) / History Is Repeating (4:36) / World Full Of Pain (5:07) / Voices (2:18) / Voice Of My Heart (3:24) / Save The Secret (4:36) / Time Is Drawing (3:44) / Oblivion's Night (3:43) / Dark & Light (4:34) / Back At The Double (3:29) / Psychosphere (3:24)

Musicians:
Olaf Bilic - vocals
Benjamin Schippritt - guitars
Martin Hirsch - bass
Jorg Michael - drums

Discography:
Turn Of The Tide (1994)
Psychosphere (1999)


Genre: Melodic Metal

Origin DE

Added: August 1st 1999
Reviewer: Larry "LarryD" Daglieri
Score:
Hits: 1020
Language: english

  

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