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Songs of the Exile (S.O.T.E.): Reasons

This is the fourth album from the Dutch prog-metal/neo progressive styled trio. The opening chords announce a clear influence from Rush, Queensryche and early Dream Theater. This is reinforced by the high register, strained vocal performance of guitarist Gerton Leijdekker. It's a well-crafted concept album with added vocals and keyboards making for a richer mix than the standard power trio.

Each song reflects the band's interpretations of a date in time, not in any obvious sequence but with a regular theme of ageing and mental impairment. Opening in confident, flowing style, the Marillionesque, percussive keyboard motif presents a background for the lengthy lyrics and doomy guitar chords of 1980 (Reason). "2005 (Alone)" presents a gloomy outlook of coping with the slow death of a dementia suffering spouse. The complicated lyrics are interwoven with welcome instrumental breaks and tracks as the singer's voice is somewhere between James La Brie and Ozzy Osbourne (the latter especially so on 1953) and not particularly easy on the ear. It must be said that this is due to the intensity of delivery rather than any failing on the singer's part.

The lyrical density is experienced full force on the 8 minute long "1953 (Countdown)" where all three band members play supplementary vocal roles in this angry self analytical reflection on ageing. Compositionally this track is reminiscent of Queensrvche circa Promised land. Another calming instrumental made up of languid guitar and keyboard washes separates this particularly complex number from the prog-metal instrumental of "1962 (Too)" which opens with doom-laden church bells, some nice synth work and a heavily reverbed pair of lead guitar tones. There are plenty of tempo changes in the piece but always with that threatening, slightly atonal edge to the music which is a hallmark of the album.

The vocals return in the first part of "1965 (Breath of Life)", a gentler song starting on acoustic guitar and wispy, flute-like keys where Gerton faces his most challenging vocal exposure in the absence of the big metal envelope beneath him. He does it well however, moving almost to a Mr Doctor (Devil Doll) approach to bending and stretching the words. On the use of the track's title phrase, the metal riffs return and the song moves up the gears, firmly back into Queensryche/Dream Theater territory. The second part of the composition is a tasteful instrumental piece for crystalline steel stringed acoustic guitar and symphonic keyboards.

The album closes out in the last quarter as it started with the greater complexity of "2000 (Vaguely)" repeating the pattern set up in the first quarter of the album on songs such as Alone and Countdown. "1960 (One)" has a particularly engaging bass riff which possesses most of the song structure, while the vocals are delivered without always having too much regard to the imposing beat. "1964 (Tree)" is another lengthy instrumental juxtaposing some fine acoustic work with electric guitar and a more melodic bass line. Occasional flutters of prog-metal riffs pepper the work. The final, epic, track returns to the ageing and loss of mental facility theme with a not so soothing message for us all, and especially those of us in the second half of our lives for whom the problem can be very real all too soon, whether among parents or ourselves. It is a complex arrangement switching form pensive acoustics to power chords and discordant guitar attacks and a degree of neo-prog sensibility at times in the more melodic sequences with space given for some tasty guitar breaks.

This is a highly organised album where the band have given a lot of thought to the structure of the music and the need to blend complexity with simplicity, melody with the underlying dissonance of the themes involved. If you can get past the testing vocal style to the intelligent lyrics, you will find a lot to enjoy on this release.

Track Listing
1. 1960 (Reason)
2. 2005 (Alone)
3. 1949 (Lacrimosa)
4. 1953 (Natural)
5. 1993 (Countdown)
6. 2007 (Wind)
7. 1962 (Too)
8. 1965 (Breath of Life Pt 1)
9. 1965 (Breath of Life Pt 2)
10. 2000 (Vaguely)
11. 1960 (One)
12. 1964 (Tree)
13. 1997 (Change)

Added: November 10th 2008
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2352
Language: english

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