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Ricochet: Zarah - A Teartown Story

At first spin, this is a very good record. With subsequent spins it just gets better, and German quintet Ricochet's history of playing together for 10-years is very apparent.

Ricochet's second album (not counting demos) is a concept piece that tells the story of Zarah, an inner-city girl with an awful life, misunderstood by friends, and abused as a child. She murders her father and eventually commits suicide in jail. Yet at the end there's a glimmer of hope and the understanding that life goes on. Yet rather than sounding morbid the songs project a tone of questioning, and of anger. It's deep rather than dark, yet very powerful. The story line is advanced by several of prog's standard tools - a children's playground, heavy breathing masking a tempo shift, footsteps and a creaking door, a distant muted scream, a 2-minute silence near the end, the Floydian "Great Gig In The Sky" section in the last track, a brief radio announcement ... clichéic perhaps but they're brief and they do the job.

Musically, Zarah - A Teartown Story falls somewhere in the middle of progressive metal, neo prog, and hard rock. The sound is in the same genre as label-mates Cryptic Vision. Or imagine a cross between Threshold and Arena - or perhaps a more symphonic version of Queensryche. In fact during the power ballad "Silent Retriever" you mind may trick you into hearing strains of "Silent Lucidity". Ricochet's sound is melodic and thankfully the performances emphasize emotion over flash, sentiment over technique. There are plenty of great chops and there's no shortage of technique, but your lasting impression will be of the more pedestrian sections, the soulful guitar solos, the wailing appeals in the excellent vocals, and the strong but usually simple piano and keyboard lines that lend the piece its rich texture.

The strongest single element on Zarah - and certainly the most immediately impressive - is Christian Heise's singing. It's in an upper mid-range with perfect pitch and wonderful range, and a similar timbre to Arena's Rob Sowden. Listen to "Final Curtain" in which he starts in a strong low voice, and progresses flawlessly through to very a well-controlled higher pitch. Heiko Holler's guitar work is also impressive, and the tight interaction among the instruments across the diverse compositions is at the state of the art in hard-edged prog.

It's hard to pick any standout tracks. The album runs over 72 minutes and there are enough common elements among the 9 songs that - along with the unifying effect of the story line - it plays like a well crafted, contiguous piece. The two power ballads "Final Curtain" and "Silent Retriever" are among the better in the breed, three of the songs are epic pieces ranging from 9 to 19 minutes, and the instrumental "Disobedience" is impressive in its ability to keep your interest through its 6 minutes. Production is very good, the cover art is simple yet eye-catching, and with the obvious help of their new label ProgRock Records, the whole package is put together with a refreshing touch of refinement.

Ricochet won't win prizes for the most imaginative music, but there are no weaknesses to this album and it will enjoy a very wide appeal. Well recommended.

Track Listing:
01. Entering The Scene
02. Teartown
03. Disobedience
04. Silent Retriever
05. Cincinnati Road
06. Caught In The Spotlight
07. Final Curtain
08. The Red Line
09. A New Days Rising

Added: July 23rd 2006
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Related Link: Ricochet's Web Site
Hits: 6593
Language: english

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Ricochet: Zarah - A Teartown Story
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-07-23 07:43:41
My Score:

This is one of the most overlooked prog albums of 2005 and 2006. Even the most dedicated prog fans seem to have dismissed it. It's either too light or ballady, or not progressive enough. And they may be right to a certain extent: Zarah - A Teartown Story is neither the heaviest nor the most ground-breakingly original piece of work. It is, however, incredibly well-written and infused with lots of European prog elements that should please many a listener, if they decide to give it a couple of careful listens.

The album actually covers a pretty wide range of the progressive genre. The opening keyboard notes of "Entering the Scene" suggest a search for neo-classical statements, bringing to mind the likes of Marillion and Arena, as well as indicating what you are listening to is a dark concept story. The title that follows, however, at nearly ten minutes, is a totally different beast. It is thick with crunch-filled guitar riffery, awesome synth melodies and excellent vocals. Singer Christian Heise (their new singer) has a voice that recalls greats like Superior's Michael Tangermann (think Ultima Ratio) and DC Cooper (particularly his style on his solo album); it is deep and expressive and exudes a lot of emotion, matching the overall dark feel of the track, which eerily shares a common path with the material on Tad Morose's Sender of Thoughts. The song features narrated sections, melodic guitar solos, extensive keyboard work, and plenty of texture.

The instrumental "Disobedience" is a statement to the band members' technical prowess. It is a successful fusion of thick drums, heavy guitar chords, Middle Eastern synths, and big bass; and strangely carries with it the recklessness of Pain of Salvation's Entropia period. Not that the song is anything similar musically, but Ricochet are clearly torch-carriers of the European prog scene and I could honestly recommend them to fans of Superior, Pain of Salvation, Arena, Novact, and so on. Considering the ballady "Cincinatti Road" (that's how it's spelt in the booklet), aside from the awesome acoustic guitars and heavy synths, the lead guitar production is dangerously similar to Carisma's 1825 album, a minor melodic prog hit in Europe; while the constant shifting from heavy to slow and back to heavy are musical traits that often characterize the current Threshold sound. Keyboardist Bjorn Tienemann (also of Kingdom Come) is an exceptionally talented player whose style does evoke Threshold's Richard West; but Tienemann is also deeply rooted in the neo-prog scene considering his dreamy playing on the eighteen-minute album finale "A New Day's Rising", complete with female backing vocals, flute and strings, acoustic passages, and pianos.

More on the atmospheric front, Tienmann also produces weird effects on "Caught in the Spotlight" to match the ever-present darkness of the storyline, which is basically about a sexually and physically abused girl named Zarah who eventually murders the tormentor and then takes her own life in prison. Zarah's mentally disturbed nature also stems from her fears in the past and lack of integration with society (Wolverine's The Cold Light of Monday anyone?), but the overall flow of the album is maintained throughout, as the story is relayed by different protagonists (i.e. "Teartown" is told from the perspective of a policeman). The music is rarely interrupted by inappropriate sounds or spoken passages, which can be quite annoying if done carelessly. Heiko Holler's guitar work on both "Caught in the Spotlight" and the one that ends the otherwise laidback cut "Final Curtain" is stunning. That said, the album's most progressive rendition has to be "The Red Line", starting with piano and a heavy guitar/bass drive and finishing with a majestic instrumental firework. Heise's vocals are truly soulful and inspired as well, much as the rest of the album.

It is a shame this disc is slipping in under the radar. There are various factors for that. It came out at a time when lots of the bigger prog acts were releasing albums and the casual fans had never heard of Ricochet before to be tempted to give them a try. I honestly can't see how anyone who is into melodic metal that, at times, borders on neo-prog and progressive wouldn't enjoy this. Strongly recommended.

Ricochet: Zarah - A Teartown Story
Posted by Steve Ambrosius, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-03-19 16:56:45
My Score:

Somewhere between the story telling of IQ's Subterranea and the mellow-dramatic Robbery of Murder by Salem's Hill, you will find Ricochet. ProgRock Records have released the bands second album Zarah – A Teartown Story. This concept album tells the short and painful story of an abused girl who strikes back and finally commits suicide while in jail for killing the perpetrator. I could tell you I got all of that from the lyrics, but I would be lying. Like Dream Theatre's Metropolis II, the plot is always present, but not really something that you can follow.

So putting aside the story temporarily, Ricochet play a hard-edged progressive rock with driving bass and drums setting the tone while Christian Heise sings his story around one guitar riff after another. Keyboards are present, but this is definitely a vocal and guitar based album. Ricochet fill every available gap with sound, reminding me of Pepper's Ghost. There just isn't any room to breath on this CD (yep, I almost used the word bombast). The hard driving rhythms will remind many of Fates Warning, but the songwriting just isn't as solid.

The instrumental "Disobedience" is probably the highlight of the CD and could be a crowd grabber when played live. "Cincinnati Road" and "A New Day's Rising" are also progressive songs that flow and change and will keep the listener's attention. "Silent Retriever" and "Final Curtain" are the two weakest tracks, probably necessary for the story telling, but with cliché songwriting.

I know this band has been together for 10 years and have tried to develop a unique style, I just get the feeling at times that it is a little paint-by-numbers. Much of the sound is within the ballpark of Riverside's Out of Myself, but where I found myself going back to those tunes, these just seem to flow through me, although I fully enjoy the CD, Zarah never quite reached that next level. But still a solid effort the will appeal to most metal-edged progressive rock fans.

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