Aeon Zen – Transversal

Transversal Album Cover Art

Aeon Zen – Transversal
Layered Reality Productions
Release Date: 21/09/2021
Running Time: 30:03
Review by Beth Jones
10/10

I’ve always been one for being unfashionably late to the party – I take it way past fashionably late, and into the realms of looking like a bit of an arse! This was certainly the case with my transition from being spoon-fed Jazz and Classical music, to discovering the world of Rock and Metal for myself. I didn’t even discover Queen until just before Freddie’s passing, and have spent many days since berating my tendency to be a little slow on the uptake, thus missing out on seeing them in full flight.

The subject of today’s review unfortunately looks like it’s going to be another one of my unfashionably late occasions. Aeon Zen have been serenading the world of Progressive Metal since 2008, but up until this point, I have never heard their music. Yes…I am a damn fool. Especially as this new album, “Transversal”, is to be their final album, closing off the project forever…

They have designed this album as a way for them to go out with a bang, rather than just fade away, and oh how it does that. Structured as 10 movements of an overall piece, Aeon Zen have created a body of work that looks back and reflects on their career, and brings everything full circle (a nod to this theme is also given in the album cover artwork). And what a beautifully perfect circle it is.

Featuring ex Aeon Zen guitarist Matt Shepherd, and ex-DragonForce keyboard player Vadim Pruzhanov, this album is a masterclass in Progressive Metal, and indeed musical technique and composition in general. Full of soaring and catchy melodies, classical orchestration, and choral harmonies, it paints a decadent and emotive musical picture full of so many layers that nothing I have to say will do it even the remotest bit of justice…However, I will try my best.

Opening with the first movement, ‘I: Twilight’, the mode is set with atmospheric synth and strings, and beautifully harmonised vocals, all of which grow and swell to a climactic point featuring sumptuous guitar work, and insane cross rhythms. Then, dropping back, it prepares the stage for the dawning of ‘II: A New Day’. In stark contrast, this begins in a spikier fashion, with staccato strings and timpani featuring heavily, alongside more fantastic guitars in harmony. This movement is driven by classic elements, making it a very cinematic piece. Simply stunning.

‘III: Chase The Sunrise’ shows us the real technical prowess of all the musicians here. It is fantastically prog, but with catchy hooks, and huge riffs. This theme continues throughout the album, as it gathers pace, and becomes more frenetic and full-on.

‘V: Force Of Fire’ is a powerful movement, giving way to a tense and intense minute in ‘VI: Lines Redrawn’, which also features a quite frankly epically delicious bit of guitar work. This is then instantly outdone by the opening Guitar and synth work of ‘VII: Purgatory Rechristened’, which could have been written by Beethoven. And this blistering movement just keeps getting better and better, teasing and exciting all my synapses. Holy hell, this album is something else!! This is what all music should sound like! It should be the law.

‘IX: It Ends As It Began’ is the penultimate movement of this mesmeric work, and it does indeed begin to close the gap on the circle, drawing from the rest of the album, in pace, rhythm, and harmony.

Darkness falls on the album with the final movement ‘X: Forever’. Beginning with cyclical piano in a minor key, it maintains the pace, and expansiveness, but begins to bring things down. It goes without saying that it’s entirely beautiful, and perfectly formed. It draws heavily on classic influences again, and comes to a close with just piano and voice…

And now I’m exhausted, but in the best possible way ever. I’m not entirely sure if I breathed throughout any of that half hour of absolute musical ecstasy. One of the best works I have ever heard, without question. But this is very bittersweet. Tinged with sadness…I’ve only just found this miraculous band. Does this really have to be the end?

I: Twilight (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. I: Twilight
02. II: A New Day
03. III: Chase The Sunrise
04. IV: 10.000 Eyes
05. V: Force Of Fire
06. VI: Lines Redrawn
07. VII: Purgatory Rechristened
08. VIII: Twilight Reprise
09. IX: It Ends As It Began
10. X: Forever

LINE-UP:
Rich Gray – Rhythm; Lead; Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Andi Kravljaca – Lead Vocals
Alistair Bell – Lead Guitar
Steve Burton – Drums

Guest Solos:
Vadim Pruzhanov (ex-DragonForce, Solo) – Keyboard solo in ‘III: Chase The Sunrise’
Matt Shepherd (ex-Aeon Zen) – Guitar solo in ‘IX: It Ends As It Began’

Choir:
Alistair Bell, Clay Dean, Alyce Gray, Rich Gray, Iris Van ‘t Veer, Tom De Wit

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Beth Jones and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped
Layered Reality Productions
Release Date: Digital: 4/12/2020 – Physical: 15/01/2021
Running Time: 81:07
Review by Beth Jones
10/10

Professional music performance has always been, on the face of it, a glamorous and grand work of theatre, stage-managed to conceal the chinks in the armour, the cracks in the greasepaint, and the flaws and fears in the body and soul of the performer. And we accept that. We take what we see under the stage lights as reality, forgetting that, behind that performance, is a person. Flesh and blood like the rest of us. As susceptible and scared as we are. Few, though, have the courage to admit that, especially if that flaw is a hidden condition, which may not be obvious to others, on first glance. This is a subject that a lot of us at Ever Metal hold close to our hearts.

Why am I telling you this? Why have I gone into some deep and meaningful spiel so early on in a review? Because this review is about an artist who has laid bare his own biography of illness, in the shape of an album, and a glorious album it is too.

Tom de Wit, better known as TDW, is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer, film maker, and all-round interesting chap, from Amersfoort in The Netherlands. His music as TDW, and with the band Dreamwalkers Inc, is essentially really great progressive metal. This new TDW concept album, “The Days The Clock Stopped”, explores the mental and physical battle he had with himself, and medical science, in his late teens, upon being diagnosed with a physical condition that nearly took his life. In a change from his normal path, rather than exploring deeply emotive stories through characters, he drew on his own experience to create this work, which makes it personal, and thus, very, very real.

The album starts with ‘Crashscape’, an instrumental piece which begins as a soundscape of whispered thoughts, a heartbeat, and melancholic piano and single violin. It quickly descends into a pacey and tortured overture, driven by percussion and discordant strings. Is this the point of diagnosis, and the tumultuous emotions that that brings? I think probably so, given the next track ‘Clockstop – Insight X’ explores the first moments after diagnosis, and the fears that brings. The opening line ‘…and all the things I knew are now long gone…’ tells a story in itself.

There’s an interesting pulse that runs through this album. Be it a heartbeat sound effect, a drum rhythm, or an underlying sound effect of medical machinery, it displays many things. Foremost, and most obviously, life. But also, monotony, fear, anger, frustration. And I feel this is explored in track 3 ‘Code Of Conduct’. We hear a distant spoken word uttering ‘…now, can you in your own words describe why you’re here?’ Those of you who have seen many medical professionals will be collectively eye rolling at these words, and the utter frustration of telling another professional your story, and preparing to be looked at with those condescending eyes, and spoken to like your physical condition has somehow removed our power of logical and intelligent thinking.

These frustrations, fears, and physical and mental pain continue to play out through the album, but in such a beautiful and powerful way that it is absolutely impossible not to be drawn in by it, and walk every step of it.

Track 4, ‘Clockstop – Insight 2’, holds another brilliant lyric which speaks so much truth – ‘I can’t remember when this began’. And ‘I can’t remember the life that I had’. A few simple words summing up a feeling perfectly. Another superb track.

Track 5, ‘Sleepless Angels’, begins with a solitary piano, soon joined by synth rhythms, again with hints to medical mechanics. It’s in a major key, too, which is a change to most of the album so far. It’s quite tranquil, possibly a lucid dream, with some lovely vocal harmonies, but always with the revisited pulse. It builds in the middle into an epic and surprisingly uplifting melodic aria, with an incredible guitar solo. It comes back down at the end to a solitary piano, and a heart monitor sound effect, which leads us into ‘The Pulse’, a piece that is starkly contrasted to the dreamlike reality of the previous track. Staccato and a minor key control this piece, and the terror is reaffirmed. Tortured vocals, heavy guitar, and thumping percussion soon take over to raise the fear levels, but if you listen carefully, you can still hear the metronomic sounds of the operating theatre monitors.

It’s so hard not to give you a blow by blow of this entire album. But I’ll reign myself in here, for the sake of your sanity, and mine! The album pretty much continues in this brilliant vein throughout. Musically, Tom has a superb voice – tender but crystal clear, with a rich and powerful tone. The guitar work, along with the bass, and vocal harmonies, are intricate and rhythmic, and the percussion is impressive throughout, commanding many cross rhythms, and speed, with ease. For me, the sound of TDW here is Dream Theater at their best, crossed with Devin Townsend, and then some extra twiddles. I don’t have a favourite track. It’s impossible to separate them.

This album, for me, has everything. For a start off, it’s supreme orchestral prog – already a winner. But it’s dark, deep, and meaningful, and musically it is superbly arranged, produced, and played by extremely talented musicians. It’s less of an album of individual tracks, more movements of a complete work, so listening to it in its entirety is a must, as it tells such a story. I absolutely love it, and I have not got a bad word to say about it. I just wish I’d heard it before I wrote my top ten releases of the year review, because it would have been right up there (maybe I can cheat and put it in 2021’s review of the year, as the physical copy isn’t out until January…damn, did I say that out loud?!). Stunning album. And, if you buy the physical copy, you’ll also get a DVD documentary about the making of the album and Tom’s back story that inspired it. I’ll shut up now. Buy it…

TRACKLISTING:

01. Crashscape (instrumental)
02. Clockstop – Insight X
03. Code Of Conduct
04. Clockstop – Insight 2
05. Sleepless Angels
06. The Pulse
07. Clockstop – Insight 3
08. Death And Her Brother Greg
09. No Can Do
10. Clockstop – Insight 4
11. Epilogue – A String Of Repeats
12. All We Could Do (CD Only Bonus Track)

LINE-UP:
Tom de Wit – Lead Vocals, Rhythm & Lead Guitars, Synths, Orchestrations
Rich Gray – Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals (Aeon Zen, Annihilator)
Fabio Alessandrini – Drums (Annihilator)
Remco Woutersen – Cello solo parts

Solo’s per song:

#4 – Marco Sfogli (Solo artist, James LaBrie, PFM & Icefish)
#5 – Daniel Magdič (Prehistoric Animals, Ex-Pain of Salvation)
#6 – Koen Romeijn (Detonation, Heidevolk)
#8 – Chris Zoupa (Teramaze)
#9 – Andi Kravljaca (Bioplan)
#9 – Matthew op ‘t Einde (IDEK.)
#9 – Luca Di Genarro (Soul Secret)
#10 – Norbert Veenbrink (Dreamwalkers Inc)
#11 – Lennert Kemper (Dreamwalkers Inc)

Choir members:

Laura ten Hoedt, Cailyn Erlandsson, Nicole de Ruiter, Iris van ’t Veer, Rikke Linssen, Stan Eimers, Ron Brouwer, Rich Hinks. Abraham Sarache

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Beth Jones and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.