First up is the song “Mercurial,” and almost right away I hooked. The song starts with an extended build with a synth effect with the music pounding in the background, building to a higher pitch that never really gets too shrill, as if something out of a Science Fiction movie from the eighties. This mixes some excellent faster paced Progressive Metal that has a commanding vibe to it and additional haunting riffs going on further back that often sound like extended solos, carrying along that aforementioned atmosphere nicely, as well as harmonic mid-ranged music that just feels easier to take in than its charging counterparts. The song never quite heads into heavier territory though, which works out in the end, allowing the listener to be taken away by the tone of the music at all times, which is something I really appreciated with this one.
Next I was greeted with “The Ultimatum.” This is definitely more of a hyperactive song, focusing on speed in many of the main riffs, though utilizing melodic aspects here and there to give off a grounded vibe. Around a minute and a half in, the chords take on sort of a keyboard distortion, ushering in what seems to be another in a long string of impressive guitar solos. I actually really like the toned down melodic elements, as they have more substance than the rest, though the slow, ballad-esque guitar solo around the three minute mark really contests that due to the emotional feel that section, and the following slower segment give off. The closing definitely returns to the Science Fiction landscape once more for a chugging, yet somewhat restrained sound. It adds a bit of hostility to the mix, contrasting the emotional environment that was just incorporated, but it feels largely out of place from the rest of the song.
“Escape Velocity” starts off pounding with a really fast guitar solo performed over it that quickly shoots into some simpler chords and held notes. This is about how the rest of the song plays out. It isn’t too bad considering the furious pace in the background. Once again there is another slow passage that seems to come out of nowhere, but it’s in no way as emotional as “The Ultimatum.” There is a bit of a tone like it, but just not as impressive, and is short lived. The transition here also feels a bit sudden compared to to the rest. It’s still a good song by any means, though not the greatest in fluidity.
“Tragedy and Harmony” is the first song on here to include vocals, but sadly they really do kill the experience. The music itself is a pretty consistant faster pace at the start, slowing down around the half-way point and mixing things up until the very end. The singing is handled in a higher, more nasal performance. A lot of the solos have been toned down to being respectable shorter lengths in the proper emptier bridges due to their presence on this recording. The song itself carries that digital atmosphere others had well, but in a subtle manner, largely thanks to some synth effects that crop up more like a crackling effect, but high tech. It isn’t the most engaging song, but it feels rather elloquent for the Progressive Metal style, and an interesting departure from the rest of the album. I don’t really plan to return to it any time soon, but maybe later down the line it’ll crop back up in my skull, or at least won’t feel like hitting the skip button.
Finally I’m wrapping things up with “Requiem for the Living.” I admit I’m going into a bit of overtime, actually having walked away to finish this article at home instead of the previous location. Again, we’re back to an instrumental driven song, and the material here still isn’t the most spectacular, but the additional guitar work instead of the nasal, often uninspiring vocals better suits this release after hearing “Tragedy and Harmony.” The song is generally mid-paced, and some of the solo chords are pretty intricate, but far from what the earlier offerings presented the listener. Instead, we find an emotional pull in the music again through somber music through much of the track, eventually wrapping up with a chugging breakdown-styled approach towards the end. It sounds pretty good, though it does get a bit old, but at the same time the chaotic, rather Science Fiction sounding material comes off way too familiar, and with good reason: It’s been done on many songs before.
To say that I’m still anxious to hear Plains of Oblivion in full is just a bit of an understatement. Don’t confuse that statement with great enthusiasm, as after the last two songs the desire has died down a little bit compared to when I had only heard the radio edit of “Surrender.” Many of the songs I heard were quite impressive, but as time went on I could pick up on a pattern with many songs, and I didn’t like that at all. I’m skeptical this will end up with a score of nine or above when I get to the critical review, but as for a personal experience with the first half of it, Jeff Loomis does perform some good material. I also threw these files on while I was in the car on my way home, experiencing the first few songs again that way prior to sitting down with “Requiem for the Living” to wrap this entry up, and I did find it to be some good travelling music as well. So, on a personal level, this one has a good amount of potential going for it, and I definitely want to say it’s worth keeping an eye out for at this point in the game.
Article based on digital review material provided by Century Media Records.