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Zero Hour: Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond

Following Zero Hour's indisputable 2001 masterpiece The Towers of Avarice, we had to wait four years for a follow-up. Sadly, by then, the band had parted ways with their amazing singer Erik Rosvold and had hired Fred Marshall for the A Fragile Mind sessions. In many ways a combination of the band's first two discs, A Fragile Mind saw the band utilising heavier keyboard work and a stronger focus on melodic vocal lines. That, of course, meant less guitar crunch and technical arrangements. I still stand by my opinion that A Fragile Mind is a very strong effort, but with the replacement of Marshall with former Power of Omens vocalist Chris Salinas, it was perfectly obvious that their next release would be a step forward in a heavier and more aggressive direction.

Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond will be a huge surprise to those that discovered Zero Hour on their previous disc, but those who love Metamorphosis and especially The Towers of Avarice will rejoice. The band is back in action full force. Keyboards are almost non-existent; the music is once again formulated by the Tipton brothers' unmistakable rhythms and Mike Guy's forceful drum beats. Chris Salinas is a very different singer than both Rosvold and Marshall. Coming from the Geoff Tate school, I was curious how he would fit in Zero Hour's style. The songs on this album have definitely been written with Salinas in mind. Salinas not only wrote the lyrics for most of the songs together with Troy Tipton, he also has excellent vocal harmonies and melodies on this disc. However, don't go expecting he is constantly screaming or doing high register singing. On the contrary, this is easily his most versatile vocal performance ever.

On the first two songs, "Face the Fear" and "The Falcon's Cry", the new Zero Hour sound is successfully introduced. Filled with chaotic bass and smashing rhythms, "Face the Fear" is highlighted by an incredible drum performance - perhaps Mike Guy's best in his recording career. His timing is so precise and tone so solid that it forms the backbone to the Tipton brothers' ferocious rhythm syncopation and Chris Salinas' powerful delivery. Moving from thunderous guitar passages to calm acoustic sections allows Salinas to showcase his spoken and whisper-like singing as well as his unique vocal phrases. As the music seethes and the guitars pick up momentum, Salinas shifts into agressive screams to enrich the dynamics. However, the song is far from single-minded aggression, as it's broken up by nice arpegeggiated acoustic sequences and chiming cymbal work. At the very end of the piece, when Salinas sings the line "The end is here" atop a dreamy melody, I get goose bumps, and I am convinced Chris Salinas is the future of Zero Hour.

"The Falcon's Cry" is arguably the best prog song of the year. Its brutal riffage and solid bass lines strung across thick drum beats continue through the song's first half until an invigorating vocal section arrives. Salinas sings the lyrics in a way only the likes of Keith Sudano and Daniel Gildenlow could manage; his tone is deep and confident, almost mechanical. However, when it comes to one particular line, he shifts to an extremely melodic and emotionally damaging tone, saying "The water runs the falcon cries" only to return to his calm, withdrawn tone. It is simply awe-inspiring that he is capable of alternating like this in the blink of an eye. Also, his "Something's gonna die!" screams and the tenacious bass accompaniment throughout the whole song are spectacular.

The two instrumentals "Embrace" and "Zero Hour" underscore the Tipton brothers' compositional skills. "Embrace" is almost entirely acoustic guitar-driven, and somewhat recalls the material on Jasun Tipton's solo album. However, the recording is a lot more advanced, highlighting the doubled guitar work where the melody is draped over beautiful acoustic chords. Strangely, I have to think of Jason Becker when I listen to Tipton's playing; his warm and expressive playing is totally unique though. On "Zero Hour", Jasun is joined by his brother and the duo create harmonic brilliance, merging icy electric leads and big, angry bass notes. Replete with unexpected chord progressions and an enchanting bass solo, the piece takes on a slightly fusion-inspired flavour at the very end, which is sublime.

On the heavier front, the title track is perhaps the heaviest song they have composed. The riffing is merciless - and perhaps makes a nod to their material on Towers - and the drum and bass playing rumbles violently, plowing through the whole seven-plus minutes. Plenty of staccato riffs a la Meshuggah and dramatic vocals, which are significantly higher than the other songs, dissolve into idiomatic silences before Jasun Tipton unleashes a sick, terrifying electric solo. You have never heard him shred like this before. Likewise, the last song "Evidence of the Unseen", perfects the band's crude brutality, churning out waves of distortion and discordant guitar effects. The pulsing drum beat only serves to thicken the whole sound, rendering it unbreakable. The ending of the song is particularly striking, as the bass and guitar tandem thunder endlessly, up until the last second when Salinas simply remarks: "You are the evidence of the unseen."

There is also a great acoustic ballad on the album. "I Am Here" finds Salinas returning to his Geoff Tate circa Empire and Promised Land phase, singing passionately and relaying very personal lyrics. Needless to say, this track is vital in that it bridges the band's busy, complex instrumental frenzy and the album's breathtaking finale.

Dino Alden is quickly becoming the most amazing producer in metal. Anything he touches turns to gold; and his work on Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond is no exception. Sonically, this album has more of a Towers vibe happening, but some of the warmth of A Fragile Mind has also been carried over. The best thing about it is that you can still discover a whole new range of dimension when listening to it at rather low volumes. When cranked up, however, the CD will become all the more rewarding and powerful.

It seems I cannot praise this album enough, so I'll sum it up. This is the best release of the year. It has surpassed Vanden Plas' Christ 0 for me and found its place in Zero Hour's never-disappointing catalog.

Track Listing

  1. Face the Fear
  2. The Falcon's Cry
  3. Embrace
  4. Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
  5. Zero Hour
  6. I Am Here
  7. Evidence of the Unseen

Added: October 26th 2006
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Zero Hour website
Hits: 6894
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Zero Hour: Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-10-26 17:41:03
My Score:

From the sick unison guitar & bass extravaganza that opens up "Face the Fear", there should be no doubt in anyones mind that Zero Hour are back and ready to claim the throne as the most powerful and complex progressive metal band on the planet. With former Power of Omens vocalist Chris Salinas in tow, the band sounds bigger, badder, and better than ever, with a renewed hunger of a group that is just starting out and ready to make a name for themselves. In this instance, Zero Hour has already been around the block a few times, but damn if Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond isn't one of the most impressive prog-metal platters to come out this year.

First of all, Salinas' Ray Alder/Geoff Tate inspired vocal delivery works wonders for the band's style, giving them an even more polished and majestic sound than you could possibly imagine. Gone are the smatterings of keyboards, replaced with an almost brutal extra wall of guitar, bass, and drum thunder, all perfectly in synch with each other as the trio of the brothers Jasun and Troy Tipton plus stellar drummer Mike Guy weave one intricate yet melodic line after another. This is thinking man's progressive metal, no doubt about it!

On "The Falcon's Cry" the band crank things up a notch, led by Salinas and his high pitched wailing, who soars over the pummeling rhythms and jackhammer guitar riffs from Jasun. Like your prog ultra-complex? Look no further than this piece! The band slows things down on the brief instrumental "Embrace", before pounding you into submission again with the relentless barrage that is the title track. Prepare to have your jaw slowly slide off your face down to the floor with this one, that's how intense things get here. And they don't let up there, as the instrumental "Zero Hour" mixes complex metal with jazz-fusion (Liquid Tension Experiment meets Spastic Ink meets Behold...the Arctopus anyone?). Next up is "I Am Here", a melodic and atmospheric prog rock piece (with a great vocal from Salinas) that leads into the crusher "Evidence of the Unseen", a brutal number with Jasun Tipton laying down loads of bombastic riffs and dizzying lead fills.

I'm speechless, and chances are you will be too. This had been a fabulous year for progressive metal, with stellar releases from Vanden Plas, Into Eternity, Mercenary, Scar Symmetry, and now Zero Hour, who quite possibly could have just topped them all.

» Reader Comments:

Zero Hour: Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
Posted by Karl Jones on 2006-11-11 05:04:44
My Score:

Wow! Another incredible release from Zero Hour. Chris Salinas' dynamic vocals really suit the style of apocalyptic prog metal that these guys play, even more so than the excellent Power of Omens. The guitar, bass and drums provide a wall of sound, but remain clear and very well produced.The tracks are all very powerful until things slow down with the brilliant ballad "I am here". This is the type of album that just keeps getting better the more times you play it. Brilliant!!

Zero Hour: Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
Posted by Anonymous on 2006-10-15 16:21:46
My Score:

Holy shit Murat!! Awesome review! My compliments bro'.

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