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Album Reviews : Teramaze – Her Halo

By on October 27, 2015

436290This album would definitely have to be one of my most eagerly awaited releases for 2015. I guess one of the reasons for that is the the somewhat patriotic feel I feel towards the flourishing metal output of my home nation, Australia , and the other and more salient aspect is that this band manages to deliver astounding quality release after release at least from the point in time that the thrashing cracker ‘Anhedonia’ in 2012 when I first became acquainted with the group. The presence of the band is something more of a studio band even domestically so when I first managed to stumble across them as one of Nightmare Records’ new releases at the time, I was shocked and taken a back.

The band’s 2014 offering ‘Esoteric Symbolism’ is a record that has received long-lasting appreciation from me and upon its initial release it received a very glowing appraisal from me. While I think that after time the songs on that rather long 70+ minute album became a bit samey and the conspiracy theory lyrical themes became overbearing, it was an astonishing piece of modern Progressive Metal with many unique elements especially Dean Wells’ blistering, melodic leads and Brett Rerekura’s building shaking vocal timbre. As a genuine fan following the band, the departure of the vocalist filled me with a sense of ambivalence as to what the future may hold as I personally felt he would be a hard replacement.

Enter Nathan Peachey, a singer I first became aware of shortly after he was invited into the Teramaze camp and a preproduction/audition video to ‘ For the Innocent’ was put on YouTube for all to hear and to shake the doubts of the band being over after Brett left. It was clear that the trajectory of the band on some of the less thrash based songs on Esoteric such as my favourites ‘Bodies of Betrayal’, ‘Esoteric Symbolism’ and ‘In Vitro’ were hinting at more artistic waters and this first glimpse at Teramaze in 2015 was promising especially as a result of Peachey’s rich tones reminiscent of Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) and early 90’s LaBrie (Dream Theater). I was impressed and awaited this record with and open mind and heart. Luckily for me, the group must have been working to a very tight schedule because it really doesn’t seem very long since their last record was being played on loop everywhere I was.

The album begins with the ambitious 14 minute track ‘An Ordinary Dream (Enla Momento)’ which takes the listener through a variety of movements, many of which are exemplified by gorgeous piano movements and the dual vocals of Peachey and Wells. The acoustic passage that opens the album is delicate and sets up the entrance of the full band magnificently. The vocals hooks and choruses of this song make me want to start punching air in elation with the driving grooves and perfect inflections that make every nuance wired to your long term memory from even a few listens. “We believe we touch the sky” is in particular one of these magical moment. This shows the band’s development of songwriting and ability for performance seeing you new heights.

Whilst the guitar leads across the whole album are rather special, I feel like the slow solo that is played over the keyboards pads in this song isn’t Wells at his strongest which probably isn’t helped by the slightly dated keyboard tones. This is a very nitpicky view of mine and I am sure Teramaze fans old and new will find enjoyment in it, it just feels like one of the weaker moments lead wise on the record.

“If I could live in this moment, it would be too late to go back in time” – another highlight of emotional vulnerability. I think that this is something truly fresh that we haven’t heard from Teramaze before, in really exposing Dean’s vocals. I know he has always been very present singing almost all backing vocals in the past but he has one of those voices that is lacking the harmonics of a really strong lead vocalist but really bring that sheen and gloss to another singer with expert control and the perfect tessitura for metal and rocking BV’s. This is a bit on an exception and the calibre of his voice is allowed to shine expertly alongside Nathan’s. Quality track to till the very end featuring a very tastily used spoken word excerpt from what appears to be some psychological interview.

‘To Love a Tyrant’ is a hook laden, groove-driven powerhouse with lots of fist pumping riffs and fantastic songcraft; ear worm city. “I’d do it all again” that pops up after the second chorus sung in an upper range belt is a powerful emotional explosion to the song that builds to the fretboard wizardry of Wells with many delightful solos and some crushing bass tones laying the foundations thereunder. There is a tonally Sherinianesque solo that follows one of the hallmark solos of the record that unfortunately while great doesn’t live up to Dean’s execution but that in all honesty is a pretty hard to attain level. As a fan of keyboard layers in Prog and Metal adding to the otherwise guitar exclusive that are somewhat archetypal to the genre, I was hoping the keyboard layers would take Teramaze past what they’ve toyed with on ‘Esoteric Symbolism’, I’d say the added pad sections and a few piano lines offers more bang for your buck without being overbearing compared with the last album’s contributions which I may add are done to serve the song, relegated to the upper registers to avoid harmonic overlap with the guitars where possible and to add a clarity of harmony to the busy riffs where the tonality may not always be so apparent. There are some subtle Hammond organ bits that really boost parts of the song from great to excellent.

Track 3, Her Halo does what it should given it is the eponymous track. It is a summary of everything the band is about at this point in time. Whilst I would say it is one of the most pedestrian only in the sense that it offers middle of the road catchiness, tenderness and technicality compared with the rest of the album – I think this meets its brief and delivers a catchy song with AOR sprinkled lickage in the chorus which in less capable hands would have not been as successful. It is reminiscent of what I would expect would be the natural progression from an ‘Images and Words’ Dream Theater should they have continued their writing style into 2015. Awesome track and a great choice for a second single. Peachey changes some of his vocal delivery especially in the filtered sections to offer Damian Wilson levels of vulnerability.

The lead single and one catchy S.O.B., great song with great hooks and is paced perfectly. In some of the lower vocals, Peachey is a little bit pitchy which I wish was massaged a bit given the hyper production of the rest of the release. This probably won’t be noticed by many and it’s no slight on the vocals, more so a reflection on the unrealistic expectations of music critics in the 21st century including myself. Peachey shows that he is quite chameleonic vocally on this track with his tone sounding rather different in his lower and upper registers. Not an issue for me but definitely noticeable as there is a warmer Karevik tonality in his lower registers and a far thinner yet equally palatable Jacob Hansen like vocal tone up high. I did feel that the the huge alternate picking lick before the choruses was a little bit overkill but that kind of thing when done in moderation is the kind of thing that will leave a shit eating grin on a prog enthusiast for months so it’s perhaps a smart marketing move on behalf of the band.

For the Innocent – the first song I heard on the record and probably my favourite. The melodic phrasing of this is just impeccable. The chorus “We all must have a purpose, a life that we must own, instead I fight for nothing and only exist to we fall” is hooky gold. One hard adjustment and I am almost past it is the difference in the verse layering compared to how it was originally released from Peachey’s audition video which I probably listened to 50 times, is a bit difference and even down to Peachey’s English/Australian pronunciation of “chances” kind of throws me. I’m clutching at straws here but this is the subjective side of music anyhow and little things like that can bug me. The riffage and drive to this song is impeccable and this is definitely one of my favourite progressive metal tracks. It has everything in mountains, class, finesse, catchiness, heaviness, and a drama and importance not regular found as such.

Although I am very much into technical guitar, I find I am usually not much of a fan of instrumental shred tracks. Trapeze is my least favourite track but it still displays phenomenal musicianship, just not as enjoyable for me.

Broken sounds like a Dream Theater ballad. A gloriously cheesy yet heartfelt and melodically advanced ballad. The interweaving harmonies and their accentuation of suspension and resolution are amazing. The harmonised monster solo is perhaps a little out of place compared with what one may expect but it works and it is a masterfully executed piece of ammunition in the songwriters toolkit that makes this every bit as successful as any of the aforementioned Prog Lords’ ballads.

Delusions of Grandeur is a mighty slab of melodic metal which is probably most reminiscent of the melodic tracks on Esoteric Symbolism. Everything comes together from the ‘Divine Wings of Tragedy’ acoustic sections to emotive vocalising Nathan, beautifully woven bass lines and stadium tom beats. There are some definite capital P Prog moments on this track which have me chuckling in delight but these are married with tasteful grooves with enough gusto and grit to humanise the experience. A cool and dark ending to a stunning record.

The rhythm section while not stealing the foreground frequently does exactly what it should do provide amazing support to the feature instruments of guitar and vocals. There are some shining drum parts and certainly adept bass counterpoint all throughout the record and both Dean Kennedy and Luis Eguren prove their worth to this exciting ensemble.

The production is top notch and despite Jacob Hansen’s mix and master, it is not too sonically different from Wells’ previous work with the band. I think the varied songwriting really allows the different instrumental and especially vocal timbres to shine. The sound is modern and squashed about what you’d expect for 2015. There is no impact to the dynamic range in a tedious way for me at all. I only wish that some of the acoustic parts were a little more direct sounding and as equally double tracked as the rhythm guitar work.

For all the shred and small little very pedantic issues which I usually with albums that are really scraping the tip of the iceberg in terms of perfection, this is such a rounded album which is hitting home runs on every track. Probably my favourite album of the year so far and there has been some exceedingly tough competition this year from bands such as Tesseract, The Dear Hunter, Caligula’s Horse, and Trivium to name a few. This album will make you nod and possibly give up playing guitar, but if my recommendation is anything to go by, it’s worth the risk.