Pain of Salvation got all of the attention in progressive-metal circles a few years ago with the release of The Perfect Element (Part 1) in 2000. But around the same time, Sweden's Andromeda quietly put out an equally eclectic, genre-stretching record called Extension of the Wish, which was full of crescendos and decrescendos featuring a singer (Lawrence Mackrory) who signed on without having heard neither the band's music nor its lyrics.
Now the band that takes its name from a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere returns with II = I, as well as a full-time vocalist (David Fremberg). The result is a more complete and effective album laced with complex yet subtle melodies, organic yet lethal rhythms and a distinct something's-happening-here vibe that you get from precious few other albums in the genre these days. II = I covers lots of musical ground, usually in the same song. Many of these nine tracks take listeners through a whirlwind of soundscapes within just a few minutes. For example, Andromeda begins "Two Is One" and "One In My Head" with a soft lead vocal sung over a pretty piano, recalling mid-period Queensryche and Dream Theater. Soon enough, though, both songs pummel with thick and heavy passages. Other songs, such as "Mirages" and "Reaching Deep Within," skip the pleasantries and get straight to the dirty work.
The heavier side of Andromeda isn't surprising, considering the band is the brainchild of guitarist Johan Reinholdz, whose other gig is with Swedish thrashers NonExist, featuring former Arch Enemy singer Johan Liiva. That said, II = I will likely not appeal to pure headbangers, nor will it fill a void for listeners in search of the lighter side of progressive metal. But it does fit nicely into a genre that remains on the brink of redefining itself. Andromeda's next move will be crucial.