It is strange how you can like an album so much with each passing year. Usually it works the other way round. You pick up a record, you love it, you keep playing it for months and then you need to take a break. When you revisit it a while later, you may still like it, but it no longer excites you as much as it did the first time. With Divine Regale's first and only full-length piece Ocean Mind (they released an EP titled Horizons in 1996), things have been different. I obtained this disc years ago, maybe in 2000 or even 1999. I liked it fine, but thought it was nothing special. Then, especially in the last two years, I came to realize how amazing this album really is. Each passing year has revealed its brilliance and brought out the depth of their lyrical content. I got used it to it and now consider it one of the finest debut albums ever.
If Queensryche had put out a record between Empire and Promised Land in 1992 or something, it would probably sound like Ocean Mind. Obviously each member of Divine Regale were huge fans of this band, but there is also a good dose of Fates Warning to be heard here, mainly in the way the drums were performed, not to mention the darkness factor. The album has the melodic side of Empire combined with the highly progressive side of Promised Land. The production, however, makes this a bit different. It's quite claustrophobic, which may be the reason why I couldn't get into it right away. Then there is vocalist Dwight Hill whose voice is quite reminiscent of Geoff Tate in his prime, but perhaps an octave lower. He also seems to bring Ray Alder to mind on some spots. Mainly he prefers to stay in a safe mid-rage vocal style rarely going too high or low. He does come up with some excellent vocal melodies that need to be studied hard though. Just check out the vocal melody at 2:18 going up to 2:27 on the ballad "Leaves" where he truly shines as a singer. "Underworld", taken from their Horizons EP, displays Hill's incredible range during the chorus. He literally steals the show on that track.
With two axemen, Divine Regale has a pretty solid guitar tandem consisting of Daniel Elliott and Gary Leighton. Although very well equipped technically, neither guitarist goes too far with 'noodling' or so-called technical virtuosity. They both know their place and always serve the songs. There are plenty of guitar solos though; the title song features both players trading off guitar runs and it's done really well. When one of them lays down a textured riff alongside the bass, the other player provides a nice contrast with his smooth and fluid solo. It really helps bring the song a new dimension. Melodicism is blended with progressiveness throughout the entire disc and never sacrificed for the sake of heaviness or commercial appeal. Keyboardist Jason Keazer doesn't enter the songs too often, but when he does, his contribution is immense. I really dig his tone; the solo on "Ocean Mind" is right up there with the keyboard stuff on Zero Hour's debut (played by none other than Matt Guillory).
Queensryche comparisons pointed out, "Shadowed Words Forgotten" easily kills ANY Queensryche song as far as darkness is concerned. This is more in the vein of Fates Warning and the kind of songs they've explored on APSOG and onwards, but with a more concise approach employed. None of Divine Regale's songs are as long (most of them are within the 4-5 minute mark with the exception of their last one) or structured. The interplay during the mid-section here strangely reminds me of Eternity X's The Edge masterpiece so I willingly embrace the resemblance. "No Part of This" has a killer opening riff with agile melodies and Awake-like keyboards (Keazer shines here!) and impressive rhythm work. Halfway through the album, "Leaves" gives the singer the opportunity to showcase his talents, not necessarily his vocal range, but his expressiveness. In such a context, Hill proves to be a great singer and the back-up vocals really lift the chorus. More piano runs with Mark Zonder-like cymbal work continue to impress the listener. The song closes with a nifty guitar solo that could sit well on any pop song, but it is so well written, played, recorded, and produced that you can't help smiling. This solo is in diametric contradiction to all those other prog/tech metal bands who simply try too hard to impress, yet can't pen a true song to save their sorry lives!
I discovered on "Horizon", alas many years after buying this disc, the awesome bass line that made my jaw drop. This song has a happy feel to it where each instrument impresses: the guitars, keys, drums, etc. However towards the end of the song I get lost in the song cause the bass is so wild. It's so adamant, so powerful, so stubborn, so compelling! Amidst all those beautifully composed melodies, it refuses to compromise and continues to throb and throb and throb! Once you hear this song, you can't help searching for the bass in each and every other track you hear. Unbelievable. "Cry to Heaven" is a number ala Dream Theater's Images & Words with a key intro and another Eternity X kind of unison solo. I bet none of these guys even listened to Eternity X but damn I can hear it! "Underworld" has this weird beginning, and as soon as it goes off you want the song to explode, to rock, to hit. You wait for its climax to come up and blow you away and after two minutes the eagerly awaited chorus arrives and erupts into a damn catchy wall of sound and sears through you. There are so many brilliant moments here. On the sparse opening of the 8-minute epic "Forever Changing Winds", all of the players get in on the action, one by one, playing the same riff/melody in different keys (another brilliance of Eternity X) but once again it is the bass that pushes the song forward through its cluttered style. Both guitars play their melodies with sparse and delicate keyboards running with them before giving way to an acoustic solo. It's almost too good to believe. Definitely a great finale and a great record. Ocean Mind is not really original. It isn't breaking new ground either. However, it's without doubt one of the most terribly underappreciated Prog Metal albums of the 90's. It's a shame this band is no more.
1. Ocean Mind
3. Shadowed Words Forgotten
4. No Part of This
7. Cry to Heaven
9. Forever Changing Winds