Monday, February 25, 2013

Odd Dimension - The Last Embrace To Humanity (2013)

There is a lot to like about Odd Dimension, as we found out in June of 2011. Their debut album for Scarlet Records, "Symmetrical," was one of the first to turn us on to the deep seeded talent of the Italian metal scene. With a combination of power metal structures and a progressive twist, this five piece bent and wound their way through track after track with what seemed like a can't miss formula. But with frontman Manuel Candiotto still finding his range and place in the pecking order, there were holes to be filled. But after two years of touring, most notably with power metal superstars Rhapsody Of Fire and gateway drug Dragonforce, the band has returned with their sophomore album. An ambitious concept album about the alienation of mankind, "The Last Embrace To Humanity" picks up where we left off two years ago, in hopes of taking their sound to a new level.

Much like their previous efforts, the entire foundation rests on the keyboard work of Gabriele Ciaccia, illustrated clearly in the opening moments of "The Unknown King." The clarity of the production work at this early stage is even more impressive, with each booming kick drum shaking the walls like thunder. All of the instrumental pieces fall into place rather quickly, leaving only Candiotto to hold his own. To his credit, there are vast improvements to be heard almost immediately. Both tone and delivery are stronger than before, allowing for a balance between vocal and instrumental. The perfectly off-timed beats of drummer Federico Pennazzato set the stage for a great battle between Ciaccia and guitarist Gianmaria Saddi, one that plays out over the last half of the track. There is a Dream Theater-like groove in the beginning of "Under My Creed," a track which could be seen as the maturing of a band, or one doomed to repeat past mistakes. Candiotto remains strong when he sings within his range. At times, though, he pushes too hard and sounds strained and uncomfortable. Pinned against a backdrop of delicate keyboards and guitars, it almost exacerbates his flaws. What is happening behind him is a show of pure strength, a band at the top of their game. The musical portion surrounding the six minute mark is evidence of that, giving you plenty of fodder for head banging or hair swinging.

If you hadn't been convinced of their prowess to this point, Odd Dimension give you a taste of the versatility they possess on "Dissolving Into The Void." Ciaccia exhibits some of his best keyboard work here, with nimble fingers tickling the ivories. For some reason, his playing makes it an easy showing for Candiotto, who delivers a strong performance often driven further by bending guitar strings and squealing harmonics. But it is the keyboard work that steals the show, ending in a wild solo. In an odd but welcomed decision, Secret Sphere vocalist Michele Luppi guests on "It's So Late." As his voice commands the track, the harmony formed between he and Candiotto is not only encouraging, but down right excellent.They complement each other so well, melding their separate tones and styles into a give and take of vocal beauty. The down side to the song is that in turning it into a vocal driven duet leaves the instrumental feeling a bit flat, with very little of that explosive tone you've seen before. Unfortunately, this new found sensitivity carries into "Another Time," which could pass for a modern country or classic rock song at its opening. It becomes the rare use of a ballad following a ballad, something that does little to help momentum. The only standout is the synthesizers and piano work scattered throughout, but mainly buried.

Thankfully, "Fortune And Pain" sees the band return to the raucous, hammering form. You are given a healthy dose of distorted chugging in the opening minute, with Pennazzato continually impressing in his heavy handed but surgically precise drum fills. The track does slow to a crawl, however, a point in time where bassist Gigi Andreone gets to show his mettle. With Candiotto reduced to a whisper, the band launches into a prog metal bridge section that finally seems to reignite the fire lost in one too many calm moments. Ciaccia and Saddi exchange blows again, adding fuel to the flames. That raging blaze is quickly cooled as the down tempo and mellow "The New Line Of Time" comes through your speakers. Acoustic guitars take up a lot of the air space here, with things remaining t a simmer, rather than spilling over into a full boil. That honor is left for the album's closing track, the seven minute stomping "Far From Desire." Despite all of the lost momentum and moody ballads, the band manages to salvage things one last time, allowing everything to hang free and loose. machine gun snares and rolling double kicks drive the track forward, while light synthesizers occupy the background. The coming together of space age keys and distorted guitars is long overdue, waiting until halfway through the final track to emerge. The breakdown section, starting just past the four minute mark, is everything right with this album, condensed into a few sporadic movements.

From one album to the next, it is easy to see old problems get solved, or new problems created. Odd Dimension had a small checklist of issues to be addressed after "Symmetrical" was released, mainly focused on their blooming frontman. Candiotto displays a great deal of improvement throughout this album, particularly in his ability to find his place in the mix itself. And while he still has a way to go before he can be included in the same breath as some of the elite progressive power metal frontmen in the world, he is on his way. Unfortunately, something as simple as the order of the tracks becomes a stumbling block on the album, making the second half an up and down ride where the downs outnumber the ups. By stacking the more melody driven, ballad-esque songs at the end, it leaves the album feeling uneven and stilted. Whether or not that will trip the average listen remains to be seen, but it is enough to question whether "The Last Embrace To Humanity" was the right choice.


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