Andromeda received mixed reviews for their previous album, The Immunity Zone. Some of their older fan base felt it lacked the progressive mindset of albums like the artistically well crafted II=I or the more balanced Chimera, which blended their instrumental dexterity with more melodic tenets. The Immunity Zone showed signs of a band willing to expand into different territory, toning down on both the progressive side and complex arrangements, and replacing them with more straightforward songwriting traits.
In a similar sense, the new album sees the Swedish band further delving into their stripped-down style, presenting us with tunes that are musically less complex and lyrically more audacious. No previous Andromeda album stood out for its lyrics this quickly. Many of the songs are driven by a political slant, often angrily directed towards politics, corrupt governments, and also committing crime under the guise of religious freedom. That perhaps explains why the heavy-duty opening riff of "Stay Unaware" quickly loses its impact, with lyrics addressing "the puppet we elect" or "False Flag," loaded with voice-overs from Barack Obama's "war is sometimes necessary" speech.
Although used as a powerful production device, the use of voice-overs on some of the songs might turn listeners off. Obama's speech totally defines the entirety of "False Flag," one of Andromeda's most experimental songs complete with an electronic undercurrent and a Tool-like drum performance by Thomas Lejon which strangely recalls a mix of Dream Theater's "The Great Debate" and Sieges Even's "Mounting Castles in the Blood Red Sky" (with Martin Luther King's speech used for dramatic effect in an otherwise instrumental cut). A similar production technique is used on "Chosen by God" which sees vocalist David Fremberg applying a subtle yet intensely melodic edge to the song's chorus, possibly in order to provide contrast to the voice-overs.
Fremberg's performance is uniformly amazing; he delivers the lyrics more like an actor on this disc. The chorus of "Lies 'R' Us" is one of his best yet, and it particularly works with the slowed-down riffing which makes a bigger impact. On "Antidote," the curious vocal mix saves a mediocre song from going downhill: the way Fremberg's vocals fade out and come back during the powerful solo piano interlude ends the whole album on a high note thanks to the wonderful guitar arrangement in the finale. Both guitarist Johan Reinholdz and keyboardist Martin Hedin put in a very restrained performance, with unison solos saved for the most pivotal moments. The interplay on "Stay Unaware" is short but all the more powerful for it. Reinholdz' bluesy licks that permeate the ultimately catchy "Lies 'R' Us" and "Play Dead" (again with voice-overs at the end) shift the songs into more rock territory, but his heavier staccato riffing is also present in the mix: the intro of "Preemptive Strike" suggests this is going to be the heaviest Andromeda disc only to evolve into very fluid, expressive guitar lines with a slick and warm guitar tone.
Hedin's use of myriad sound colours throughout the album still makes him one of progressive metal's finest keyboardists. The synth solo on "Asylum" is the whole song's creative highpoint, given it starts off as an experimental piece with tons of sound manipulations, odd beats, and then morphs into a heavy, pulverizing monster with riffs cutting through the mix violently. His synth tone selections on "Survival of the Richest" carry the piece into the album's darkest realm where the vocals become the highlight of the whole album.
That said, although the album is a grower (it took me many listens to appreciate it), it does not maintain as focused a flow as the band's earlier albums, and some songs do make my mind wander away. The 7-plus-minute ballad "Go Back to Sleep" is one of their least interesting songs: it meanders way too much and, unlike other tunes, Fremberg lacks the powerful vocal melody to carry it all the way through. Some of the busier instrumental passages could have been extended rather than keeping everything so stripped down and 'concept'-oriented, but this will obviously change from listener to listener.
No Andromeda disc is a disappointment. They only have great and good albums, in my opinion. This one falls into the latter category.
- Preemptive Strike
- Lies 'R' Us
- Stay Unaware
- Survival of the Richest
- False Flag
- Chosen by God
- Play Dead
- Go Back to Sleep