Before Zero Hour knocked metal on its ass with 2001's dark and demanding concept album The Towers of Avarice, the California quartet self-released its self-titled debut EP in 1998. With a limited pressing of about 2,000 copies, the disc quickly went out of print. Fortunately, I own one. Now, thanks to Zero Hour's label, Sensory, the masses have the opportunity to hear this record – retitled Metamorphosis with new artwork by Travis Smith (Iced Earth, Nevermore, Opeth) and expanded by more than 15 minutes with two unreleased tracks ("Rebirth" and "A Passage") and a pair of original demos. The disc recalls elements of Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Symphony X, Power of Omens and at least a half-dozen other progressive-metal bands, but still sounds unlike anything on the metal scene five years ago. What's more, it sounds almost nothing like The Towers of Avarice, which remains a ferocious musical beast hell-bent on pushing prog-metal's boundaries.
In some ways, Metamorphosis is even better than The Towers of Avarice. Less technical, more melodic and just as crushing as that album, Metamorphosis clearly lays the groundwork for Zero Hour's future. Singer Erik Rosvold's voice already sounds mature – no unnecessary wailing here – and those music lessons the Tipton twins (Jasun on guitar and Troy on bass) took back when they were 12 years old finally pay off. Jasun, especially, pulls influences from such diverse musical extremes as Tool, Meshuggah, Pat Metheny and George Benson. Tempos change, voices converge, rhythms explode and a fanciful cacophony ensues. The intricacies of leadoff track "Eyes of Denial" and the epic tendencies of the five-part "Metamorphosis" signal that these guys can compete with the big boys. (Indeed, the band went on to play two ProgPower USA festivals and tour Europe).
If you haven't heard Zero Hour's music before, start here. If you have, this is still worth picking up. The extra tracks on Metamorphosis will help bide your time until the band's third album, De-Evolution is released.