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Sun Caged: Artemisia

Sun Caged's debut album was so amazing that the band found an immediate cult following upon its release. Its strong mix of classic prog metal with sprinkles of fusion a la Liquid Tension Experiment and wild, crushing riffage in the style of Meshuggah and Cynic established them as a very promising band. However, due to various problems, all members except guitarist Marcel Coenen left the band, mostly forming their own projects. So it took quite a while for Coenen to recruit new members, as all previous musicians were simply top-notch and very hard to replace. The search took long, especially finding a good vocalist, but finally, after almost four years, the second Sun Caged album is out.

Artemisia features American vocalist Paul Adrian Villarreal at the helm, and he proves quite different from the previous vocalist Andre Vuurboom. Whereas Vuurboom sang in a more conventional prog metal style on the self-titled debut, he was able to convey all kinds of emotions from fear to rage to desperation easily in a sound not too unlike Ray Alder and James Labrie. Villarreal has a much different approach to singing; he harmonises a lot more with his vocals, always backing himself up during the choruses and even pre-choruses. Also, he uses plenty of wordless vocal harmonies, mostly after drawn-out, mind-bending instrumental passages. That said, he tends to stay in a safe melodic range through most of the album, rarely opting for aggressive, off-the-wall phrasing. That's not to say, however, he isn't capable of these styles, as the brief yet thundering semi-growled vocal part on the instrumental "Engelbert the Inchworm" is more brutal than anything Coenen has ever released. Villarreal's vocals carry a nice warmth to them, which really come through on the more laidback parts and will therefore connect easily with fans of melodic prog metal who also like a good dose of musical dexterity.

Musically, the elements that perfected their debut album are still present, though in a slightly more refined context. This album isn't quite as in-your-face as its predecessor, which I believe stems from the contribution of the new members. Coenen's playing showcases more restraint, but he still does cut loose and grace the pieces with his amazing sweeps and tapping harmonics. On the first song "Lyre's Harmony", a track which does a good job introducing the new guys, Coenen doesn't jump forward until the ending when the piece calls for a guitar solo. It begins with deft keyboards, sparse and well timed drum beats, and some effect-laden vocal bits before crunching rhythm guitars and keys drive the song to its inevitable climax, giving way to sweet solo performances from each member: the bass, the keys, the guitars, and then it's Coenen throwing in a sweet tapping lick whilst Villarreal's vocals are doubled - it's a great ending.

"A Fair Trade" stands out for its catchy main chorus, but this is far from a conventional melodic metal song. The riffage here has Coenen's massive riffing on the debut, backed by sturdy bass, and ethereal keyboards. Rene Kroon has done the impossible by replacing Joost van der Broek, as he is equally competent and does a great contribution to this record. I especially love his vintage keyboard exercises, much like the one on "A Fair Trade" and "Blood Lines" recalling the masters of the 70's. On the former, he is followed by the bass and guitars respectively, but it's again the lead solo at the end that complements the awesome vocal melody. The last couple of seconds of the piece are pure jazz: improvised guitar work is surrounded by a sweet keyboard patch.

The Meshuggah-styled riffery of "Unborn" is pure, unadulterated technical prog and will disprove anyone who thinks Sun Caged has softened up. While this album may not be as heavy as the debut, the heavier parts on this one totally slay. The tight drumming by Roel Van Helden (this guy is amazing!) and intricate bass lines plow through odd-time signatures only to be capped by Kroon's tasty synth dynamics. The soloing on this piece is beyond what the human mind can grasp on first listen, and Villarreal's wordless vocal melodies perfectly solidify this masterpiece. On the ballad "Afraid to Fly", albeit a bit long, and the melodic "Painted Eyes", the vocals are central, even though both tracks do contain nifty instrumentation. "Afraid to Fly" could actually also be on Coenen's previous solo album Colour Journey.

"Diaologue" constantly moves from heavy to slow, and the transition riff in between the sections is a lot like Pain of Salvation circa Entropia. Once again with lots of harmonised vocals, the keyboard solo is another highlight. Also worth mentioning is the sitar playing by Coenen's former Lemur Voice band mate Barend Tromp, lending the stomping track a somewhat eastern vibe, also thanks to the rhythmic percussion.

Like Aghora, another band whose sophomore album took years to see the light of day, Sun Caged are back, though slightly different than before. Fans of melodic prog such as Dali's Dilemma or Threshold during Extinct Instinct should grab this album immediately. The production is amazing, very warm and crisp, and the melodies are certainly going to appeal to many a listener. If you really like the heavier material on this album, you need to check out Freak Neil Inc., the band of former Sun Caged bassist Rob van der Loo, and for darker material there is always Andre Vuurboom's new band Sphere of Souls, both of which are also on Lion Music.

Track Listing

  1. Lyre's Harmony
  2. A Fair Trade
  3. Unborn
  4. Blood Lines
  5. Painted Eyes
  6. Engelbert the Inchworm
  7. Afraid to Fly
  8. Dialogue
  9. Departing Words
  10. Doldrums

Added: May 8th 2007
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Sun Caged website
Hits: 7320
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Sun Caged: Artemisia
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-05-07 19:21:37
My Score:

It's been a while, but Dutch guitar wiz Marcel Coenen has finally re-assembled Sun Caged for their sophomore release Artemisia, another spectacular display of progressive metal firepower. Along for the ride are vocalist Paul Adrian Villarreal, drummer Roel Helden, keyboard player Rene Kroon, and bassist Roel Vink, finally making the line-up complete. If you liked their stunning debut, chances are you will really dig Artemisia, although there are some subtle differences. The album overall is slightly less heavy, and the songs here lack that immediate "hook" factor that so many tracks were graced with on their debut, but the end results are still noteworthy, especially from a purely musical perspective. Villarreal has a good voice, and fits the music well, but rarely moves beyond a soaring, melodic upper mid-range. You'd almost want him to break out every so often and either really scream or throw in a gruff passage or two, but in reality he's a solid vocalist. Listen to his shimmering pipes on the symphonic & melodic "A Fair Trade", accompanied by Kroon's tasty keys and the tight rhythm section. Coenen batters the listener with some wall-o-crunch on tunes like "Unborn", "Bloodline", and "Departing Words", and gets into some splendid proggy fusion with Kroon on "Engelbert the Inchworm" and "Dialogue".

While the end result is a release that is lighter on the crunch factor and doesn't have as many memorable melodies (at least not on immediate spins) as the band's debut, the progressive and symphonic nature of this one is kicked up a notch, delivering plenty of complex, jaw dropping guitar, keyboard, and rhythm parts that will boggle your mind. Depending on your tastes-metal fans might be a tad disappointed, but prog fans might really be in for a surprise-will determine your enjoyment factor. Either way you look at is, this is solid stuff from a super talented prog-metal band that deserves wider recognition.

Sun Caged: Artemisia
Posted by Butch Jones, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-05-07 06:46:49
My Score:

Founding member & guitar phenom, Marcel Coenen is back with another incarnation of the Dutch Progressive Metal band, Sun Caged and serves up their latest CD, Artemisia. 10 tracks of mystery, progressive odd time signatures and guitar virtuosity. Four years after the first Sun Caged CD and a new line up is in place, but the vibe of their debut CD is still very much intact.

Artemisia is a concept record of sorts, delving into the recurring themes of pain and loss, while searching for understanding, strength and the demands of the real world. Coenen and co., paint a great musically landscape, while letting the lyrics serve as a guide of sorts, through the mystical land that they have created. "Lyre's Harmony" is the CD opener, and is very much an old school Sun Caged track. Very syncopated, very progressive, Marcel Coenen leads the way as your journey with Sun Caged begins. Twisting and turning, with great vocal melodies and furious musical sequences is what you will find throughout Artemisia. Check out the scorcher "Unborn", as a prime example.

The production of Artemisia is top notch. All things guitar being the focal point of Sun Caged, it comes as no surprise that the guitar is prominent in the overall mix. A good thing, indeed! All instruments come through loud and clear and there is no "muddiness" present. The drums cut through everything like a razor and push the band into uncharted territory.

Artemisia is a complex record featuring new sounds and directions being explored than on the Sun Caged debut, all while keeping the past very much in sight. Guitar maven, Marcel Coenen, delivers a bright performance throughout this CD. Shining on almost every track, from the lied back interludes to the all out Riffage that he has become known for. Coenen does not disappoint!

And now the down side. 8 of the 10 tracks clock in at over 6 minutes long, with the longest being over 9 minutes long. The musical interludes that Sun Caged constantly explore are interesting, to a point, but you find yourself wondering where that point is. Some of these songs seem long in length merely for the idea of being long. At times, the songs don't go anywhere and they seem that they would have been better suited as a 4 minute song. But that being said, Sun Caged is a Prog Metal band that explores the exploration, so I guess there is a method to their madness, but they make you wonder at times.

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