Thursday, December 1, 2011

Timesailor - Once Upon A Time (2011)

Rooted in the country of Turkey, progressive metal band Timesailor do not lack ambition. One look at the album artwork, and you can be certain that you are about to embark on a journey through time itself, one that you may never return from. Boasting a group of musicians that could bring down the sky with their deft hands, it would also be a safe bet that you will be impressed more than once. But a few crazy riffs does not a classic album make, and on "Once Upon A Time," you are left to wonder what could have been.

The first eight tracks share a common thread, making them each a piece of the "Dreamwalker" story. Beginning with a sweetly played piano and a spoken word passage, a female voice lays out the scenario of creation and change in "The Experiment." But as a flurry of wild drums and distorted guitars enters, we change into "Nightmares Of The Past." The separate layers of instrumentation are ever changing, with elements coming and going seemingly at will. A tremendous bass line is the constant, the engine that drives guitars riffs aplenty. Both male and female voices combine in a rich vocal harmony, almost a rock opera in scope. Things calm down as "The Gift" begins, seeing the return of that light piano melody. The drums carry a synchopated tempo, punchy and thunderous. The wail of a guitar enters and exits, before an eruption of voice and chords. The keyboard work brings to mind some of the best of Yes, Dream Theater or Deep Purple. The track is short, but powerful all the same.

Part three, called "Time To Rise," is a longer affair, allowing for multiple tempo changes. It begins with clean guitars and a vocal duet tangled together as one. Drums enter, alongside a crisp bass. Clean strummed chords break down into distorted chugging and riffs. Orchestrated string and synthesizers provide a suitable backing to the track, building a platform to deliver passage after passage of melodic clean vocals. The guitar work gets far more intricate and in depth as the song progresses, allowing for short bursts of solos. Chanting vocals over dense chugging sections form an interesting and well suited contrast. The much shorter "The Change In Him" is a simple acoustic ballad, with guitars and a solemn female voice. It fades, and gives way to "Last Warning" which sees a far more electronic buildup. But here is where the story takes a turn. The lyrical content and vocals dominate the rest of the track, focusing on the nuances of the story, rather than the music itself. Unfortunately, it becomes overbearing, trying to force too much into too tight a space. The real shame is that, overshadowed by the vocal missteps, the keyboard led background is as deep as the sea, with layer upon layer forming a beautiful harmony. It isn't until the final moments that it is allowed to shine through.

The sixth part, "Out Of Control" does not suffer from the same ailment. This is a realization of the dream, with ripping guitars leading the way. The battery of drums is astounding, rocking you to your core. The term "progressive metal" could easily be defined by this outburst of musicianship and structure. Constant changes in speed will make your head spin, while you do your best to break down each individual element at work. Piano becomes intertwined with guitars, bass is in a battle with drums. Without a vocal element, this is a near flawless track. "Broken Bonds" follows suit, taking an opening acoustic riff and slamming it to the ground with a devastating explosion of distortion. But, once again, the vocal delivery falls slightly flat, distracting you from the dynamics being formed in the background. The male vocal, at times, comes off as whiny, while the female vocal is stunning but lyrically hampered. The music is strong enough to carry a lackluster vocal pair, but it simply shouldn't have to. The final piece, "Redemption," concludes the story of Dreamwalker, in stirring fashion.

The remaining tracks, separate from the previous saga, suffer from similar downfalls.All three have an impression array of musicianship, but are sorely lacking in the power of the vocal performance. "Flow" has a brilliant merger of drums and keys, tied together in a web of guitar riffs. The punch of each drum stroke is uncanny, leaving me wondering how big a kit was used in the recording process. Flurries of double kicks and high speed fret work will leave you dizzy, just in time to be soothed by a piano outro. "S.T.E." sees more of the same dynamic playing, leaving no doubt that Timesailor have the talent to craft intriguing progressive metal songs, time and again. Being left to fend for themselves, each instrument finds a home, sharing the spotlight without struggling for power. The album closer, "The Voice Within," may contain the strongest vocal performance on the album, one that actually adds to the overall sound, rather than becoming a hindrance. A few more songs of this nature could make for a great EP.

There is much to be celebrated on "Once Upon A Time." The song structure is fantastic, and each individual track stands on its own merits. The production values are stellar, and the mix keeps the feel very even. Where Timesailor seem to fall short is the consistent misuse of vocals, often taking away from the overall sound of the album. Whether it be through overuse of harmony, or simply lyrical issues, these faults are glaring, but easily repaired. Based on the amazing display of instrumentation, I would venture to say this isn't the last story this band has to tell.


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