Paramount is Sieges Even's second album from their recent song-based era. The band embark on a similar sound experiment to the one they displayed on The Art of Navigating by the Stars, but on this platter, they present us individual songs rather than a single theme, while also incorporating some newer elements and creative ideas into their songcraft.
The addition of Dutch vocalist Arno Menses to the band's lineup has certainly paved a new way for Sieges Even. Now they are unafraid to go into directions they would have never risked a decade ago. While it may forever be argued as to which album from the recent period is better, there is no denying that Arno Menses provides a much more confident delivery on Paramount compared to the previous disc, bringing to the table more mellow material as well as AOR-influenced ideas. The vocal melodies are a lot more 'poppy' in that they have a gripping overtone and are wrapped by beautiful harmonies, and they are rarely challenged by technical guitar and bass arrangements, unlike their older albums.
Utilising lots of modern sounds and synthesizers, the album opener "When Alpha and Omega Collide" unleashes a hypnotic synth line in its intro, before Alex Holzwarth's rolling drum battery enters the piece, becoming the instant highlight. His tone, his timing, and his unique style of drumming make this song one of the best drum performances of the year, alongside the first song on John Macaluso's solo album, except that "When Alpha and Omega Collide" doesn't possess the same immediacy. Rather, it comes to the fore upon repeat listens, but I assure you it's so amazing that you will want to hear this album just because of the drumming. The crunchy guitar work during the heavier moments is quickly replaced by clean-toned acoustic guitars and Menses' echoic vocalizations (listen carefully to discover a wealth of nuances in the mix), which are amazing in and of themselves.
Although some have claimed that this disc is a bit heavier than its predecessor, I beg to differ. While it contains some heavier guitar work in some places, overall it's cut from the same cloth as The Art of Navigating by the Stars. Actually it features more prominent use acoustic guitars courtesy of Markus Steffen, whose understanding of melody and arrangement remains unrivaled in German prog. Even the slightly heavier stuff such as "Tidal", driven by a solid guitar attack and manipulated vocals in its first half, boasts plenty of mood-intensive passages, filled with discreet keyboard effects and acoustic guitars. I love how a fat bass figure takes the lead atop repeated synth melodies while atmospheric sound collections waft across the body of the song. And to top it all off, there is a unique acoustic guitar solo at the end.
"Eyes Wide Open" is a testament to the band being open to different styles since Menses' arrival. This is an AOR ballad, carried by a nice melody and an infectious chorus. It is determined by multiple backing harmonies and Menses' lead part that stands out, creating an internal dialogue in a way. While this may be the most accessible Sieges Even song to date, it still brings forth a jazzy bass guitar and shiny cymbal splashes in its middle part.
The use of conflicting moods is successfully achieved on the somewhat politically spirited "Bridge to the Divine" and the faster-paced "Leftovers". The former piece is focused on heavy synths and eerie percussion defined by a happy melody, but the serious narration at the end documenting the surrender of Japan is a total surprise to the song's flow. "Leftovers" maintains a similar aesthetic, as the lengthy drum part and conscious rock sound are contrasted by Menses' incredibly emotional singing, only to be replaced by a grumbling bass and crashing guitar combination.
Bassist Oliver Holzwarth shines best on "Duende", a track presumably developed around his creativity. On "Iconic", he inserts some cool finger-picked fusion-style playing before delving deep into funk-rock atop 80's pop-rock vocals with rich shades of synthesizers. Similarly, "Where Our Shadows Sleep" is chock full of chiming bass arpeggios and Menses' finest vocal delivery on the album. His singing oozes warmth and confidence from start to finish, and the arrangement is superb. Check out the buried vocal bit that resurrects during the song's calmest acoustic section. Also, the last two minutes of this track are arguably their most progressive moment, with cool Maiden-ish bass throbs and guitar accents.
"Mounting Castles in the Blood Red Sky" is essentially Siegen Even's instrumental piece, but it features excerpts from Martin Luther King's well known "I have a dream" speech. However, this track is utterly important in that it highlights Markus Steffen's unique songwriting abilities. Much like most of the album, his echoic acoustic guitar work builds to a wonderful climax during King's most powerful statements. Backed by a low bass drone, the piece occasionally gains speed and tempo at the most unexpected junctures. It has a truly dream-like feel, which is goosebump-inducing indeed.
The title track is a psychological study in dreams and nightmares, populated with myriad soundscapes, spoken parts, and great dynamics. At times, it evokes Fates Warning's Disconnected in that it forges a strong atmospheric arch utilising modern samples and tense silences. However, that's where the similarities end, as the song also features a terrific saxophone accompaniment in its second half. This is one of the most perfect songs they have ever penned.
Paramount is also the band's most accomplished album from a production standpoint. Mixed by Kristian Kohlmannslehner, this is not only the best-sounding Sieges Even album, but arguably the best production of the year. The mix is clever, allowing sharp details to pan from left and right speaker, and the dynamic range is frighteningly good. I won't even mention the bass and drum sound captured on the album -- other bands could only dream of attaining this sonic punch.
Never before did Sieges Even conceive such a unified record, complete in every respect. From songwriting to thought-provoking lyrics to excellent production and melodious flow, Paramount remains in a league all its own. It took me much longer to digest it than the previous album, but now I'm inclined to dub it as a stronger work overall.
- When Alpha and Omega Collide
- Eyes Wide Open
- Where Our Shadows Sleep
- Bridge to the Divine
- Mounting Castles in the Blood Red Sky