Move over, Nexus; there's something about red-hot Chile. A relatively new quintet from that South American country, Matraz practically dropped down from the sky onto the Teatro del Estado's stage and wowed everybody with their headlining set on Day One of this year's Baja Prog festival. Matraz plays a familiar style of retro-influenced symph-prog sans the fluff and naiveté of other similar, female-fronted acts, and they do it quite well. With only two remaining original members and a five-year lapse since the band's last release, Gritaré is surely a firm step in the right direction.
Gritaré is Matraz's third album — 1999's Tiempo is predated by an earlier mid-90's release that seems to be currently unavailable. Heeding the warm reception afforded to bands like Atempo, Nexus and Supernova, keyboardist Diego Aburto and drummer Marcelo Stuardo sought to make the switch from male to female vocals: enter the lovely Loreto Chaparro, a vocal instructor whose automatic charisma is matched by a set of brass pipes and multi-octal range. Bassist Jorje García and guitarist Claudio Cordero were also tapped; with this new recording, Matraz may officially have one-upped the aforementioned bands. Being a Chilean group, all vocals are in Spanish, and even non-speakers of that idiom may find themselves reading along in the lyric booklet. A trio of varied mid-length songs, two instrumentals and two epic-length, dramatic pieces constitute one hour of exciting, energetic detachment.
"Gritare" (I will shout) is a logical first track that displays Loreto's emotive delivery and the band's chops (and there are plenty). Loreto's even been compared to Dio when shifting her voice to its gruffer alter-ego; that might be overstating it, but she does spice things up, comparably. Aburto and Cordero aren't another Wakeman & Howe nor Banks & Hackett — their influences are a bit more eclectic, and the song is roughly divided between parts pastoral, fusionoid, and metallic. García and Stuardo sound like they've cleared all the hurdles and gelled into a solid rhythm section. "REM" isn't too far-removed from an Al-bandaluz-styled Cast instrumental, well-stocked with louder and quieter moments, legato and fortissimo piano, and no dearth of fiery guitar leads. Opening and closing with a lilting vocal section, "Sangre Derramada" (Spilt Blood) is a classy mini-epic that juxtaposes legato piano chords and arpeggios against a banshee of a wailing guitar solo — the track is mostly instrumental. "Trazma" (an anagram of Matraz) is an uptempo cut with a swanky synth intro & solo; next to the title track, it's also the best showcase for Loreto's voice, who even achieves a decidedly feline quality in one bar that's simultaneously enticing and (mildly) astonishing.
Matraz reins in the energy a bit on "Cóndor," beginning with a bass solo by García, and moving on to a terrific piano solo by Aburto. Then it's on to the monarch piece, the eighteen-minute "Sobreviviente" (Survivor), which was very well-received at Baja Prog. The band launches into the most aggressive exhibition on the entire album after an all-electronic intro and five-minute setup — exhilarating! Stuardo finally feeds some heavy coal into the fire with a heavier-handed style and powerful fills (and a few subtler accents, as needed). As the other members match successive levels of power and tempo, so does Loreto, who amps up with a much huskier delivery. This reviewer could easily handle another epic on the same order!
From its intriguing cover artwork to the sonic explorations contained within, Gritaré is already one of 2004's best releases; symph-prog fans need this, and lovers of aggressive, dramatic female vocals will want to investigate further. This is something very, very special. A live DVD release would also be most welcome — my fingers are crossed.
1. Gritaré 7:47
2. Redención 6:17
3. REM 4:20
4. Sangre Derramada 11:39
5. Trazma 5:46
6. Cóndor 6:28
7. Sobreviviente 18:33
Total time: 60:58