Sieges Even sure took the roundabout way to releasing their first live album. Abandoning the run of the mill progressive metal band's dedication to the Foghat Principle ("Your fourth album should be double live"), the German quartet is just getting to release one of their live shows on the 20th anniversary of their debut release. That may come to a surprise for many listeners who discovered the band when their post-hiatus lineup released their premiere Inside Out release in 2005. That album, The Art of Navigating by the Stars, and last year's Paramount, represent eight of Playground's ten tracks, and with good reason. Abandoning many of their technical metal trappings, the band truly came into their own with the recruitment of vocalist Arno Menses and the sudden mellowing out of guitarist Markus Steffen. Hearing "These Empty Places" a taut and anxious track from their early 90's incarnation back to back with the recent cut "Duende" puts the changes in high contrast. Sieges Even now seems to be playing their own style rather than letting the conventions of progressive metal dictate where to place the notes, even though they can still rock out hard, as the mid section of "Unbreakable" proves beyond a doubt. Steffen's new reliance on arpeggios rather than riffs opens up much space for Menses' charismatic pipes and Alex Holzwarth's active bass. These aren't your grandfather's arpeggios though- they are more comparable to prime era Alex Lifeson than conventional background chord fare.
The show is paced very well, from the opening strains of "When Alpha and Omega Collide" to the build and climax of "The Weight." The closing sections of the latter are truly stunning with tight instrumental sections suddenly turning into an endearingly impromptu sounding wordless coda. Those who don't quite appreciate the production of their studio albums still won't like their live sound. They favor a very clean picked guitar tone for many sections which sounds brittle in a live environment. Also, the crowd noise sounds very distant, which seems to be a missed opportunity as the band is playing for an adoring crowd. If you are looking for a proper primer on a truly resurgent prog-metal band, their last two albums are highly suggested, but if you are already a convert I can think of few better ways to whet the appetite for another album by Sieges Even.
1. When Alpha and Omega Collide
4. The Waking Hours
6. These Empty Places
9. The Lonely Views of Condors
10. The Weight