Scribes of Fire's Zauberer is a promising, self-produced, progressive metal debut. At times exciting and enthralling, it contains some less interesting passages and rough edges: nevertheless, overall, a positive start to their recording career.
The band hail from New York City and their soundscape reflects the grittier parts of life in an asphalt jungle. Citing a large number of musical influences form both the metal and classic progressive rock past, it is notable also that amongst the credits on the CD sleeve is Phillip K Dick. The sleeve's art work gives you the last clue you need as to the general soundscape that you will be facing should you be tempted to venture into their land. Scribes of Fire are Dan Kunfirst (drums), Ben Abelson (vocals), Phil Salvagione (guitars) and Adam Castro (bass).
I love the band's description of their own music: "The resulting music evokes images of the electric fury of a great storm and the desolation that follows Salvagione's virtuosic guitar work utilizes the full spectrum of his instrument, from the familiar density of low-end chords to oddly satisfying melodies . Behind this, Dan Kurfirst's drumming shapes the music with a pulse that constantly makes itself known, articulating a rhythmically dictated melodiousness.
Abelson's vocals retain the edge of the band while guiding listeners through their journey. His voice assumes many characters that are expressed through the honesty of his imaginative, seeking lyrics, which affirm the harmony of darkness and light that rests at the core of the band's vision. Adam Castro fills out the sound with thunderous combustion, all the while maintaining a keen sense of funk and a strangely efficient balance between deep-pocket thumpage and serene melodies that live in the high register."
I'm sorry to repeat so much of the band's own blurb but don't you just love that? That description is worth virtually one ranking star on its own!
Now for the uncensored bit. Whilst I can resonate with some of the band's own descriptive words when I listen to their music, not all of it rings true. Their soundscape is quite sparse in some ways; it's quite a raw unprocessed sound, from my perspective not a million miles from Wishbone Ash Pilgrimage era, and it can be very appealing, particularly so (and it does happen on Zauberer) when all four guys really hit top form at the same time. On Zauberer this happens most consistently when they are moving at pace, which is the predominant tempo. However, there are also many quieter, slower passages and, whilst these can be good, they are less consistently so. On "Ship of Fools" in particular there is a quiet passage with no musicality whatever, coming after a section where Adelson's vocal performance loses its way, and it's a killer for the song, a double-crime because it's the opening number and should really be wowing the listeners.
In general I would say that Scribes of Fire's weak link is Adelson. You've read from the band's own description how his "voice assumes many characters". Well, they do: problem is that it comes across as unsatisfactory. Listening, I couldn't tell whether he was trying to sing or growl, it occasionally sounded as if he was caught in two minds himself. His vocal performance is most satisfactory at pace on a number like "Demon Dust" when he just forgets about the characters and sings. I would say that if the band want to persevere in this style and go on to win a recording contract then Adelson will need some vocal coaching. Sorry guys, but I can't say better than that.
Zauberer does improve after "Ship of Fools", even the slow sections becoming more interesting as soon as they appear on "We Can Build You", a fine song on the prog metal/rock border that sports some exciting guitar work from Salvagione. Thereafter, whether at pace or quietly exploring musical nuances, the quality remains high, albeit the question mark that remains over Adelson's performance.
Overall then, it's a promising debut, and worth a sample listen for you fans of progressive metal, but the guys have some thinking to do before that recording contract comes along.
1) Ship of Fools (8:54)
2) We Can Build You (8:30)
3) Distance (6:39)
4) Pink Lagoon (7:59)
5) Demon Dust (9:46)