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Zero Hour: A Fragile Mind

Much time has passed since Zero Hour's undisputable masterpiece The Towers of Avarice. The Tipton brothers are back with their third album along with long-time drummer Mike Guy. There is a newcomer on board, however. Original vocalist Erik Rosvold has been replaced by Fred Marshall who had lots of Zero Hour fans, myself included, anxious, since Erik Rosvold was an integral part of the Zero Hour's unique sound.

Well, Fred Marshall puts all worries aside easily. He has a strong voice, great control, and rich delivery. Moreover he was involved in the songwriting, adding his lyrics and vocal melodies with good results. He does sound different than Rosvold, as he seems to harmonise a lot with his own voice, and moves around in his range continuously. Granted his voice may not come off as original as Rosvold's, Fred Marshall is certainly one of the main reasons why Zero Hour's A Fragile Mind differs from their previous releases. The harmony vocals on "There for Me" are sure new additions to their songmanship, with distinct emphasis on melodic vocal lines. I personally think Marshall's delivery is uncannily similar to Roy Khan's earlier work with Conception and the last Kamelot album, even though Khan isn't mentioned as an influence on their website. The vocal melodies on the complex "Destiny is Sorrow" are amazing, punctuated by sweeping harmonies and atmospheric keyboards. Each song displays another aspect of Marshall's impressive vocal range. He sounds dark and evil on "Brain Surgery", a shorter piece filled with a manic guitar run hidden beneath ferocious bass and power drums, while "Twice the Pain" features great contrast between his softer fragile tone to a more extreme type of voice with thick layers of vocal harmonies. This song also has a very Towers period sound to it, perhaps because of the way the guitar riffs build and Troy's navigating a wicked bass line through labyrinthine passages. I love the vocal melody at the end, maybe Marhall's most effective moment on the album.

This album finds Jasun Tipton making use of more keyboard work, which I assume is to give the album a warmer presence compared to its predecessor. The music is still technical, but borrows more melodic elements in both defining the blueprint of the songs and the vocal style of the new singer. Some of the tunes are accented by moody keyboard sections to match Marshall's deeper vocal register, but they quickly segue into a massive wall of sound courtesy of fluid guitar runs, pounding bass, and forceful drum fills. Troy Tipton's staccato bass and Mike Guy's odd-metered drum beats on "Losing Control" reach their apex when Jasun throws in a bunch of palm-muted guitar riffs into the mix. The two instrumentals also show the band's two most extreme sides. "Somnecrophobia" is brutally heavy, encompassing the band's love for polyrhtmic Meshuggah riffage and Jason Becker meets Death Machine flow in composition. "Intrinsic", on the other hand, is the diametric opposite. It is heavily keyboard-filled with Troy Tipton's bass taking the lead. The song quitens down near the end and dissolves into a long spacy dissonance with various sound effects sealing it. The most critical song is certainly the 12-minute title track, bound to be compared to their previous epic "Demise and Vestige" off The Towers of Avarice. This song is quite different though. It has a slow acoustic build-up with expressive vocals up until 4:00 minutes and then expands upon a somewhat jazzy bass solo that eerily reminds me of Michael Manring. To make things more adventurous, Jasun Tipton lays down a soaring guitar theme over the piece whilst Fred Marshall sings multi-octave hitting melodies. The piece is finished off with Jasun exploring whimsical Egyptian scales on the guitar, rendering it a very solid musical statement on the band's part.

Dino Alden is certainly one of the most amazing producers in the world. He impressively engineered, mixed and recorded the album with vivid bass and drum separation and a very massive guitar sound. Hearing in advance that the new album would be done by Alden was proof enough that it wouldn't disappoint. This band should continue to work with him eternally. Also the album was mastered by another genius Alan Douches (Dillinger Escape Plan) and Travis Smith was once again there to provide the artwork, which reminds me of a cross between the previous Zero Hour and Gordian Knot's Emergent. One of his best works indeed. A Fragile Mind, along with the new Sieges Even, was my most anticipated album of the year and it proved more than amazing to these ears.

Track Listing

  1. Intro
  2. There for Me
  3. Destiny Is Sorrow
  4. Brain Surgery
  5. Losing Control
  6. Twice the Pain
  7. Somnecrophobia [inst.]
  8. Fragile Mind
  9. Intrinsic [inst.]

Added: November 23rd 2005
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Zero Hour website
Hits: 7288
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Zero Hour: A Fragile Mind
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-11-23 09:46:49
My Score:

Chalk up another winner for US progressive metal band Zero Hour. After the dense and complex The Towers of Avarice, the band parted ways with singer Erik Rosvold and brought in Fred Marshall to take his place. The results are a slightly different sound for Zero Hour, perhaps the band is heavier here on A Fragile Mind, and in some ways they don't bludgeon the listener with technical instrumental parts. Still, the quility of the music is of a superior level, something that Zero Hour has maintained throughout their career. "Thinking mans heavy metal"? Certainly, but it's not all about metal here, as fans of aggressive progressive rock will certainly find lots to love in these grooves, especially in the lengthy title track and the two instrumentals "Intrinsic" and "Somnecrophobia".

While there is a lesser reliance on keyboards this time around, guitarist Jasun Tipton and his brother, bassist Troy Tiptun, both perform at magical levels here, both playing in a busy yet highly structured and melodic nature which helps add to the full sound of Zero Hour. In addition, drummer Mike Guy is an agile and talented player, proving to be the perfect foil for the Tiptun's gymnastic assaults. Marshall's vocals, while different from Rosvald's, mesh with the style of the band perfectly, and he also wrote most of the lyrics to the songs.

Zero Hour is slowly starting to make a name for themselves, and I'm guessing it won't be long before they are mentioned in the same breath as bands like Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Pain of Salvation, and Symphony X. Alongside Andromeda and Stride, Zero Hour are the band to watch.

Zero Hour: A Fragile Mind
Posted by Michael Popke, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-11-22 15:55:55
My Score:

The American progressive-metal band Zero Hour has always been a brutal force. Before the band knocked metal on its ass with 2001's dark and demanding concept album The Towers of Avarice, the California quartet led by twin brothers Jasun (guitar) and Troy (bass) Tipton 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. But it was reissued and retitled Metamorphosis in 2003 by Zero Hour's label, Sensory. That album owed much more to Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Symphony X and at least a half-dozen other progressive-metal bands than The Towers of Avarice, which to this day lacks logical points of musical reference.

In a savvy move, A Fragile Mind, Zero Hour's third album, bridges the gap between those first and second discs. The music is often heavier than ever, but the band has toned down its technical precision in favor of more vibrant melodies. New vocalist Fred Marshall uses a James LaBrie/Daniel Gildenlow vibe in replacing original singer Erik Rosvold. After the pointless six-second "Intro," the band unleashes "There For Me," a tour-de-force that along with songs like "Brain Surgery," "Twice the Pain" and the astonishing instrumental "Somnecrophobia" proclaim that A Fragile Mind is anything but a fragile record. "Destiny Is Sorrow" finds the band using harmony vocals, a rare treat that would be a welcome dimension to future material, and a few quiet, sonically fuzzy moments (the atmospheric and lovely instrumental "Intrinsic" and the epic title track, a moody ballad that moves in and out of smoldering metal mode) provide refuge from the aural assault.

One or both of the Tipton twins wrote all of the music on A Fragile Mind, with Marshall contributing most of the lyrics. That collaboration appears to be working, as these songs are among the most accessible and far-reaching in the Zero Hour catalog which consists of a trio of records that seeks to redefine modern progressive metal.

» Reader Comments:

Zero Hour: A Fragile Mind
Posted by Anonymous on 2005-12-12 20:41:13
My Score:

Great album and a great job on the review. Thanks Murat...

Zero Hour: A Fragile Mind
Posted by Hawk on 2005-10-23 09:21:53
My Score:

A fantastic album from one of my favorite bands. Zero Hour has progressed again! And thats rare in a genre full of copy cats. Hats off to the band! ,,/

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