Metal Review – Steel Prophet: Omniscient

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Metal Review – Steel Prophet: Omniscient
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Steel Prophet: Omniscient
Power Metal, Progressive Metal
Cruz del Sur Music
July 8th, 2014
Release length: 01:04:30
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Steel Prophet is one of those Power Metal groups that have risen so far in their career despite being grossly overlooked by the general Power Metal masses. This is largely due to the band being credited as one of the pioneers of the Progressive Power Metal movement. Their mid-eighties era saw three demos released, but it wasn’t until 1995 that the band signed with Germany’s Brainstorm Division Records to unleash their debut full-length album The Goddess Principle, as well as it’s follow-up Into the Void (Hallucinogenic Conception). 1999 saw them jump onto Nuclear Blast Records roster for their most acclaimed offerings like 2000’s Messiah and the following year’s Book of the Dead. After issuing 2004’s Beware through Massacre Records, a huge gap of studio silence similar to the years following their 1989 demo before finally landing on Cruz del Sur Music to break the silence and unleash their eighth full-length effort, Omniscient. But is this effort a noteworthy return to the sound that influenced an entire genre, or is it just a very busy tribal-influenced acid trip?

First of all, there has been a lot of talk about certain members coming back, which should be addressed first. According to the accompanying press release, Steel Prophet‘s original drummer John Tarascio and former guitarist John Paget have returned, both coming back at the same time apparently. While this is good news for long time fans of the group, this announcement in no way impacts this release. Omniscient was recorded before this change up occurred. The members involved in the studio were composed of active members during and after the release of Beware. This ensemble includes founding guitarist Steve Kachinsky Blakmoor, veteran vocalist Rick Mythiasin, guitarist Chris Chleyer, bassist Vince Dennis (Obscene Gesture, former Tourniquet) and drummer James “Jimmy” Schultz (Carebellion, Psychosis).

Aside this (possibly) being the last Steel Prophet album for James Schultz and Chris Chleyer, Omniscient also finds the band diving back to the roots that helped establish the Progressive Power Metal movement, especially in North America. Not only does this effort show the band basking in plenty of Progressive ideas and foundations, but also ends up a conceptual album. This recording is based on an original Science Fiction story Kachinsky himself wrote, much like their 1999 album Dark Hallucinations which was based off Ray Bradbury‘s book Fahrenheit 451. The band has even gone so far as to hire German artist Timo Wurz to create the album’s artwork, as well as additional images for the booklet that accompanies the release to help the listener further understand how the story plays out. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this review, these panels were not made available to me, so I can’t really comment on them or how effectively they help you understand what’s going on. But, just knowing this bit of information does help to put Omniscient as a whole into perspective, especially when jumping lyrical themes and some of the tracks that can sound incredibly busy.

“Trickery of the Scourge” starts off rather dark, signalling an impending alien invasion that wants to take over Earth and all of mankind. Aside some brief bridging effects on the guitars, it’s your standard bass-heavy brand of Power Metal in the vein of Iron Maiden that finds the guitars and somewhat nasal vocal approach setting up an epic sensation to the main verses and chorus that perfectly fits the plight illustrated in the tale’s abrupt start. “911” throws back to this bleak world with deep chugging riffs that push panic into the already tense song that looks back at the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. Towards the end you can notice buzzing on the bass guitar that can trick you into thinking your speakers are going. This actually happens from time to time, and seems to represent the alien ships or great unease. Not only does this make up much of “1984 (George Orwell is Rolling in his Grave” along side loud distortions, but also the start and additional segments of “When I Remake the World (a Key Flaw).” This one also throws some vocal effects into the mix that can be a bit obnoxious when layered at the three minute mark, but it’s the drumming that ultimately stays with you. The pattern utilized most of the time, though most noticeable around the four minute mark when the solid guitar solos begin, brings in a hint of tribal influence that acts as a precursor for what’s to come a little later.

“The Tree of Knowledge” is one of the first to reassert that sensation. The song starts off rather upbeat with more of a Pagan inspired spiritual “mother earth” atmosphere throughout that Sting could only dream of putting together. There are layered vocals once more in the chorus, though they seem slightly off in timing. At first it seems odd but the tribal elements appear once more around two minutes in with a hint of Stoner Rock quality, as if intoxicated and watching a Native American rain maker or African tribe members dancing around a flame in celebration or honor before the infectious music and solid solos kick in. “Oleander Deux” also uses that type of rhythm to create a truly uplifting performance with a rich Progressive Rock foundation. The easy going music also acts as a nice segway between the themes of Heavy Metal and the Devil to Aliens and former President Nixon, making the leap between the two topics a lot less jarring.

“Aliens, Spaceships and Richard M Nixon” seems to swift the protagonist of the tale away inside the belly of an alien space ship while referencing the events of Roswell, New Mexico in 1974. There are times where the lyrics seem to hint at devices being implanted and Richard Nixon either being on board or recreated by these beings somehow. This is where the music itself becomes rather dismal with some thinner chugging at a mid-tempo pace that isn’t too impressive but gets the point across well enough. That slight weakness in the music also shows up on “Through Time and Space.” While the cleaner passages will immediately make sense, it will take a bit for you to understand why it is actually necessary to maintain that approach to create a lighter astral environment, as if along side this character soaring through the cosmos as things are pointed out or discussed along the way. The pace often does pick up according to observations and thoughts narrated, returning to the soothing melodies of the chorus once more that establish the similar mood you will find on “Funeral for Art.”

But then you have the other end of the spectrum with “666 is Everywhere (The Heavy Metal Blues).” This one does end up a bit questionable in regards to where it fits in this story. One could argue that it’s a tyraid on the overuse of Satan and Hell in Metal today, a point many fans of the genre are starting to share, or you could look at it as being more of a preachy song geared towards pushing for more positive Christian symbolism in the various styles and branching away from such damning beliefs. Regardless of how you look at it though, there’s no denying this song is just a fun experience after the first minute and a half of introduction that branches from church organ style hymns to a marching drum beat. The bridges have some nice technical notes that help build towards the energetic chorus that is easily the most melodic piece of the entire album. There’s also the band’s cover of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” While it isn’t as gleeful an experience as the previously mentioned track, or even as powerful as the original, it does offer a decent amount of closure. The music tries to get as close to the initial performance as possible, and so do the vocals. Unfortunately the range just doesn’t compare to the powerhouse that is the late Freddie Mercury, even coming off sillier than they are meant to be when reaching for the higher falsettos Rick should have no problem hitting.

Obviously there is a lot to talk about when it comes to the new Steel Prophet album, but in the end the positive far outweighs the negative. Trying to figure out what’s going on, following the story, or even piecing together how everything works without the aforementioned panels or even the lyrics is pretty rough. In fact even with those notes you may still need a number of spins to wrap your head around everything to make it all come together. Most of the time the music flows from one track to another smooth enough to make sense, like with the first few tracks and “Aliens, Spaceships and Richard M. Nixon” to “Funeral for Art.” There are times where decisions on distortion or bass levels, cover songs or sudden shifts in topics and themes make little to no sense, dividing these solid intertwined performances as if a serious intermission or excuse to break away from the plot to have a little fun, both of which do yield some pretty good results at times. But in the end, even if part a doesn’t really fit into slot b, there’s very little that will make you groan about coming back for another round. Fans of early Steel Prophet will definitely find plenty of joy in dissecting Omniscient and its story, embracing the return of the band to their roots while anxiously awaiting to see how the returning members will direct this change of pace on the next album.

01. Trickery of the Scourge – 4:25
02. When I Remake the World (A Key Flaw) – 5:19
03. 911 – 6:16
04. Chariots of the Gods – 4:26
05. The Tree of Knowledge – 3:59
06. 666 is Everywhere (The Heavy Metal Blues) – 6:15
07. Oleander Deux – 1:21
08. Aliens, Spaceships and Richard M. Nixon – 5:07
09. Through Time and Space – 6:10
10. Funeral for Art – 6:34
11. Call It Katahdin – 1:22
12. Transformation Staircase – 4:02
13. Bohemian Rhapsody – 6:11
14. 1984 (George Orwell is Rolling in his Grave) – 3:03
Initial Pressing Score: 9/10

Steel Prophet
Steel Prophet

Digital review copy of this release provided by Cruz del Sur Music via Clawhammer PR.