The man of steel has returned to earth, and I’m not referring to the movie flip with Superman hitting the cinemas very soon, but the king of metal with pipes of steel, also known as the mighty Lance King, sitting on the throne of one of this worlds most well-known progressive metal flagships, the record label company Nightmare Records. He has maybe found and recruited his strongest weapon yet by the name of AEON ZEN to his already magnificent fold of warriors of steel counting prog acts such as Teramaze, Cloudscape, Warnot and too many to mention here. Try thinking of a child of the legendary progressive maestros Circus Maximus, Opeth, Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Symphony X and Devin Townsend, and then you can imagine this child’s divine power. That’s AEON ZEN. With this “fresh blood” on board his flagship, the king is ready to unleash his most deadly weapon to date, and conquer the attention from the progheads all around the globe.
The mastermind of Aeon Zen, 24 years old young multi-instrumentalist Rich Hinks is a man of many musical talents, and I would gladly eat my right arm to become such a gifted talent as Mr, Hinks, who’s musical skills are composing, songwriting, producing, guitarist, bassist and singing. I envy the genius mind of this guy, who is blessed by the metal gods, and so should you, if you have the spirit of progressive metal pumping through your veins like I have. Alongside him we find his trustfully allies Matt Shepherd on guitar, Steve Burton on drums, Andi Kravljaca (Silent Call & ex-Seventh Wonder) on vocals, and to quote Darth Vader, the circle is now complete, with Shaz added as the last member to the crew of highly talented musicians, filling out the position as their new and hopefully permanent keyboardist, relieving his predecessor Cristian Van Schuerbeck.
Both previous albums featured the guest appearance by many prominent and well-known metal singers from within the field like the vocals of Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind) and Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), and there is no exception to that rule with this release. When Rich announced that he successfully convinced three new guest vocalists Jonny Tatum (Eumeria), Nate Loosemore (Lost In Thought) and Atle Pettersen (Above Symmetry) to join him on his latest adventure, my eyes were filled with tears of joy. Again he outdid himself with a powerful upgrade to his already impressive line-up of musicians, so my expectations are set on the highest bar for this prog album.
With already two highly acclaimed full albums under their belt, which was released independently, “A Minds’s Portrait” from 2009 and the sophomore album “The Face of the Unknown” from 2010, they’re gearing up to unveil their latest and third contribution to the prog metal scene entitled “Enigma” and their first for Lance King & Nightmare Records. So please put on and fasten your safety belt, and prepare yourself for a musical rollercoaster into the mysterious and breathtaking universe of “Enigma”. Nine songs, if not counting the two bonus tracks only available on the CD version, will portal our minds to the Enigma and it’s a powerful concept album running nearly 47 minutes of playing time, though it feels like our stay in Rich’s universe of melodic progressive metal sounds is way too soon left behind us. From the beginning of our journey with the atmospheric instrumental opener “Enter The Enigma” until our final destination with the heavier closure song “Downfall” our ears are bombarded with many different moods and tempo changes layered beautifully over the complex song structures created by Mr. Hinks. Every song is floating seamlessly to the next one, and it’s all perfectly glued together with the reprises of the themes that are presented throughout the journey. Each of the nine songs is still very distinct and unique, creating a very versatile listening experience that will keep the attention of your ears, and it’s inevitable that you will lose sense of time when you feast on this delicious and well-prepared meal of prog metal. Now you are “warned” our fellow reader…
Some of the most memorable highlights presented to my metalbrain through this epic
journey and still haunting my mind, is the aggressive, brutal and very dynamic “Divinity” with it’s odd rhythms and tempo changes coming like bullets from a machine gun, complemented perfectly by Rich’s “Opeth-ish” upfront growls, and the high pitch nodes by Atle and his wingman Jonny. Another precious gem is the mature ballad song “Seven Hills” with the soaring and emotional vocals of Jonny Tatum and Andi, being on top of their game, accompanied by master Hinks on saxophone. Next on my list is the groovy and very heavy “Turned To Ash” followed up by the complex, melodic, groovy and heavy tune “Warning” that should satiate even the hungriest fan of Devin Townsend. The second last song “Eternal Snow” must not be forgotten either, with its beautiful piano tones and its mesmerizing melody & harmony, the shining moment of Nate’s voice with his versatile and controlled singing style, a perfect contrast to the very angry and growling Mr. Hinks in the last part of the song. The ending song and grandiose “Downfall” is a perfect goodbye to “Enigma”, and reprises the main theme for the last time. Wrap all nine songs into a brilliant, crystal clear and thick production, thanks to the capable and magical hands of Rich Hinks, and Aeon Zen’s latest release “Enigma” should be a sure winner for any proghead out there.
As with the first and second album, having multiple singers may make this album a bit hard to digest at first for some listeners, but it's definitely worth the effort. It will become less of an issue especially with the stellar performance of each musician, so give it time to grow on you, and it will reward you with some of the most unforgettable moments in prog metal history.
This year has perhaps only just been kicked off, but “Enigma” is with certainty already one of 2013’s absolutely best and most breathtaking listening experiences you can feed to your ears, and a candidate to this year’s best progressive metal album.
01. Enter The Enigma
02. Artificial Soul
04. Seven Hills
06. Turned To Ash
07. Still Human
08. Eternal Snow
09. Downfall + CD ONLY BONUS TRACKS
10. Survival (Bonus Track)
11. Time Divine 2.0 (Bonus Track)