Almost immediately it becomes clear that Gravity Rain has gone in a somewhat different direction musically. As opposed to the sleeker sounding material of The Shining Silence, where every performance seemed to have been highly polished at some point to have a notable shine, Artifacts of Balance stands a little more on the dirty side in comparison. The digital audio quality is still evident, but the final product sounds bulkier, taking away some of the crisp audio for the sake of a bass heavier production that often moves at a slower pace riddled with more of the alternative rock influence that had a subtle existence last time around. This isn’t to say the progressive metal tendencies have been abandoned outright. If anything, the final product simplified overall, cascaded with a much darker tone that has no problem changing things up at just the right time to assert a little dominance or even lend an eerie tone to an otherwise simplified performance.
A prime example of that would be “Sunfire”, a progressive inspired track rich with keyboards and bass guitar with a slower pace that shows the muddied shine in the rainy night sky setting of the performance that moves along fluidly with a hint of power metal grandeur in some of the hooks leading up to, and within, the catchy chorus. The near six minute offering takes its time, baring its modern rock fangs in the guitar solo prior to the Amorphis-grade folk tinged passage that immediately follows. However, it’s by that time the song does turn slightly, pushing more of a classically inspired piano presence by three-and-a-half minutes in that chills the air and leaves an unsetteling heaviness behind the shoulder of the listener, daring him or her to look over it as the music slowly becomes more ominous through the deeper hooks and cymbals that take a page out of Savatage‘s playbook.
Meanwhile you have “Join”, which often leaves you feeling a sense of familiarity. Right away the opening hooks will send a depressive tone right at the listener’s ear drums that oddly feels like a warm embrace. This is thanks largely to how the chorus and some other passages sound similar to Type O Negative‘s “Love You to Death” without Peter Steele’s signature deeper vocal structure, as well as carrying more of a stylish Dark Tranquillity keyboard presence. And then there’s “Let it Hurt”, which isn’t as depressing by any means, but stands as the only other contender to compete for the truly saddening title. This one plods along with glamorous eighties power ballad atmospheric undertones, complimented by the deeper rumbling of the bass guitar throughout, especially in the chorus.
[Note: The above paragraph is based more on my emotional interpretation of the two songs, which turns out to be wrong entirely. According to Danny, “”Join” is NOT a depressive thing AT ALL. The lyrics of this song are like the hymn to love and peace, and Let It Hurt on the contrary IS a depressive track.” I felt I should include this to clear things up given how I felt was essentially the polar opposite of what they are.]
But this darkened embrace is contradicted with the more upbeat and emotionally charged experience of “Dive”. The performance starts out with the richness of “Chaosweaver” by Scar Symmetry, and to an extent picks up that power once more later on. A good majority of the track, however, rings more like a Vertical Horizon composition with bouts of edge and prog thrown in for good measure. While it may seem like an odd comparison to make, it works out quite well, especially given Danny Klaven’s softer vocal style. Much of this can also be said for “M.A.D.”, though it has more of an empowering presence similar to finally getting over a loved one who wrong you, the aggression represented by the presence of the rasps (or incredibly over-modulated/distorted guitar chords) that appear in the chorus.
The one thing about Artifacts of Balance that does end up holding it back is the lack of variety. Yes there’s some upbeat performances, but for the most part it all carries a similar slower pace, crooning away with bulky recordings and powerful passages greatly aided by the keyboards in the background. While not a bad idea at all, some subtle differences other than a raspy snarl or two during “Closer” or “M.A.D.” to give a hint of intimidation or even a few more quicker tracks would have been greatly welcomed overall. Thankfully, Artifacts of Balance not only does it flow smoothly from start to finish (though admittedly gaining more consistency after a few songs), there’s enough “balance” in the material that it all does sound like the same thing rehashed, offering a unique experience for you to play in the rain or the solitary beam of sunlight from a break in the cloud formation. Gravity Rain do prove themselves to be a solid unit through this debut full-length album fans of the progressive genre will easily appreciate, not to mention many other walks of life in the music and metal world in general. If you haven’t heard this Russian act, now is as good a time to jump on as any.