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Neverland: Ophidia

Ophidia, the newest release by Neverland, is an exceptional entry into the symphonic progressive metal genre. While still very pretentious, bombastic and operatic (and with many cheesy moments), it's also full of catchy melodies, exciting timbres and dynamics which keep the listener intrigued. It holds a special place with me because it's a rare album in the genre that doesn't insist on giving you a headache.

The full name of the band is Dreamtone & Iris Mavraki's Neverland, which clearly cites the collaboration between the Turkish prog metal band and the Greek solo singer. They joined together to perform a few times, "…showing the classical music and metal's intersection, but more importantly, carrying the flag of peace as natives of two ever arguing nations." Feeling a special chemistry, they decided to go into the studio for an official album, calling the band Neverland. Ophidia announces that they make a good team.

"The Voice Inside" welcomes us to the album with a simple arpeggio and choir accompaniment. Soon a brief prophecy is recited by Mavraki before the music gains depth and speed, and a memorable verse is sung by Oganalp Canatan. This track is exactly how an opener should be; it packs a bunch with its passion and performance rather than its volume. It's engaging and fast, inviting us for the rest of the journey.

Blistering guitars compliment horns and a raspy, high voice (courtesy of guest vocalist Urban Breed) on "Silence the Wolves," a track that carries the 1980s metal sound of innovators Queensryche. The inclusion of an acoustic interlude is reminiscent of Symphony X (which is never a bad thing) and the guitar solos (of which there are several) are incredible. "Ophidia" combines electric piano and guitar riffs as Mavraki echoes in the background (with aggressive male vocals at the forefront). It has a Nightwish vibe. The poetic acoustic guitar and woodwinds makes the duet "Will of God" a very pleasant ballad (and a nice break from the intensity we've had thus far). The vocals become more complicated near the end, and it closes warmly.

"Invisible War" brings the heaviness back instantly and succeeds because of its shifting rhythms and intriguing guitar work. The vocals (courtesy of guest Jon Oliva) and melody are rather bland. There is a bit of pseudo Middle Eastern chanting, almost like we're listening to Orphaned Land. By contrast, "Places Unknown" brings some psychedelic timbres into the mix and it's more pop oriented (though still grandiose and heavy). The guitar solo is masterful and the piano plays simple chords at just the right moments. It's a wonderfully constructed track.

The keyboard opening of "No One Leaves the Hive" is similar to Dream Theater's classic "Learning to Live," but then a more direct verse comes in and severs the similarity. It's a hard rock sound, lacking the inflated production we've been given thus far. The keyboard shines again with its solo near the end. "Speak to Me" could be the album's single. Its melody is catchy and lyrically, it's a crucial moment in the story. The orchestration is subtle but very effective. Halfway through, the organ jams with the guitar, and it's pretty awesome.

Edu Falaschi is the third guest on the album, bringing a Bruce Dickenson quality to "Ashes to Fall." It's like Iron Maiden if they used less treble, and it's fairly generic. The instrumental section, here more than anywhere else, showcases how Neverland are probably better musicians and arrangers than songwriters, as the bass and guitar are allowed melodic solos, blanketed by strings. "Final Odyssey" opens with a hypnotic melody on keyboard, which is later shared with the guitar. It's the highlight of the song, although the rest of the production isn't too shabby either. Again, the vocals are nothing special.

According to the official site, "Forests of Hope" and "Dying Threads" are CD bonus tracks, but they come before the final song and since there is no other version I can find, I'll assume it's intended as part of the original album. The former is a short interlude into the latter, filled with sweet flutes and regal guitar. It's like a timeless folk song that 70s prog bands like Jethro Tull or Fairport Convention would've found and added a prog spin (which isn't done here…it's very basic). "Dying Threads" begins with the same instruments before allowing electric guitar and drums to take over. The chords changes signal that the end of the journey is coming, and the verse is quick and urgent. The keyboard solo at the end draws upon Keith Emerson.

Ophidia concludes with "Into the Horizon," an instrumental epilogue that's captivating. If this album were a movie, this track would be perfect for its closing credits. Various instruments take turns in the spotlight (including a brief piano piece and a brilliant acoustic guitar arrangement), and it's probably the most complex Neverland get on the album. So many bands substitute taste for virtuosity, but here (and throughout the album) Neverland mix both together very well. It's a great closer.

Neverland have surprised me with this release. I always expect this genre to be full of overblown vocals, double bass drums and suffocation (IE no dynamics so I can't take a breath). If you've read my recent review of Derdian's New Era Pt. 3, you'll know that I'm often correct about this prerequisite. But Ophidia manages to avoid this clichéd sound, giving us far more interesting music and catchier songs to keep us listening. It won't usurp my favorite Progressive Metal albums, but it's a surprisingly original and likeable entry.

Track Listing
1- This Voice Inside
2- Silence the Wolves
3- Ophidia
4- Will of God
5- Invisible War
6- Places Unknown
7- No One Leaves the Hive
8- Speak to Me
9- Ashes to Fall
10- Final Odyssey
11- The Forests of Hope *
12- Dying Threads *
13- Into the Horizon

* CD bonus tracks

Added: July 13th 2010
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2047
Language: english

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