Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Menahem - Angels and Shadows (2008)
Menahem was a king of Israel whose name means "consoler" or "comforter". He "took office" in the 39th year of Azariah's reign over Israel, and ruled over Samaria for 10 years. What little is known about King Menahem has been summarized in 2 Kings 15:14-22 in the Old Testament of the Bible, an account that is reportedly taken from the Hebrew Book of Deeds. Menahem wasn't a nice king. He conquered several territories during his time as the "Commander in Chief" of the forces of Israel, and apparently to his credit is "ripping open pregnant women", which according to historians was a barbaric practice that was generally associated with pagan cultures, not someone who was supposed to be ruling over an Israeli territory.
So why on earth would a band who sings very heart-felt messages of the love of God and His mercy & grace choose to name themselves after that king? Perhaps they didn't - perhaps they're taking after the Hebrew word instead, seeing themselves as a "consoler" or "comforter" of His people, giving them a message of hope. Or perhaps it's both: consider their message of hope & light something that believers in the Word of God can take comfort in, but perhaps also be reminded of the ever-present sin nature we're all born with and the terrible acts of violence & evil done by God's chosen people, and by those associating themselves with His name (or worse yet, in His name) to keep us humble & mindful of the fact that we are truly blessed to serve a God who has forgiven us of those trespasses.
Whatever the case may be, this Menahem is a progressive metal monster from Brazil whose mission is two-fold. Firstly, to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through music. Secondly, to give progressive metal fans something to sing about. Menahem came storming, seemingly out of nowhere, to put forth a debut effort that is nothing short of breathtaking, and something that deserves to be listened to & lauded by the metal community. Seldom does a band have all the elements in the right place like this and execute everything so well that they can record a debut with as much attitude, presence, and musical chops as what these 6 Brazilian men have done.
"Intro" is the obligatory intro track with a quick build-up of piano, synthesizer and effects, then a ascending guitar riff that fades in & introduces the intro riff of the title track. The title track comes roaring out of the shoot with a fiery guitar riff & odd time signature that immediately tells you what you're in for - smoking progressive metal. Right off the bat you are assaulted by thumping basslines (audible, no less!), heavy guitar, on-point drumming, and then keyboards accenting the melody line. The verse has a nice clean guitar effect with some good drum & cymbal work, an underlying bass riff, and some cool keyboard effects. The 2nd half of the verse brings the metal again, and Lean van Ranna's melodic-yet-screaming vocals filled with urgency & passion. The chorus is anthemic, and has a nice layered harmony vocal to accent the melody line. Great descending keyboard lines as well in this section. The guitar solo just exemplifies the great musicianship contained herein, and the trade-off between lead players is great, with 2 different styles blending very nicely. After a short bridge section with some cool drum & cymbal fill and a bit more soulful solo work, the chorus comes blowing back with some nice vocal acrobatics by van Ranna. I like how the main riff transitions the song to an abrupt end as well. "Escape" pulls no punches and immediately starts up with a complex riff/drum combo, and more thumping bass and keyboard lines. Great double-bass work to transition into the verse, with a cool keyboard line that has a staccato effect to it. Vocally, it's a bit gritty here to convey the lyrics more effectively, and the fast riffing transitions into the melodic chorus well. I like the simple lyric in the chorus as well - it really conveys the message of the song well. Post-chorus is great with a nice "church organ" sound and some slight "tunnel" effects on the vocals, as well as some cowbell (more cowbell!) in the mix. After the 2nd run through the chorus, we have a nice bridge section with some funky bass work, cool drum & cymbal interplay, and some great keyboard work interplay with the guitar riffing. A short but sweet solo accents this bridge with some fretboard and an awesome dual-guitar riffing exercise prior to going back to the chorus again to close out the song with style, then a nice soft keyboard fade-out. "New Chance" opens with a nice clean guitar picking rhythm, a keyboard fde-in, and a nice drum rhythm with subtle bass line. van Ranna's vocals here are more tender, with a bit more dynamic than before, and then the metal comes in near the 1-minute mark. Van Ranna's accent actually enhances the vocal delivery here, as it gives it a unique feel to it & gives the lyrics a bit more "shape" then they might have if they were sung by a native English speaker. Back to the balladry for the 2nd verse, and more metal in the chorus again with an epic feel to it, complete with layered & effected background vocals, big symphonic keyboard sounds, and just an overall "large" sound to it. Once again, exemplary solo work here that really complements the feel of the song but still shows off the talent of the player at hand, striking a nice balance between showmanship and songcraft. Great piano work to transition after the solo back into the chorus. Very emotional vocals & more epic sounds (complete with "bell" effect) bring the song back to the winding clean guitar rhythm found at the intro. I like how the guitar trails off a bit into its own thing at the end - nice touch.
"Promise" starts right into the thundering riff, drums and bass. Cool keyboards, and a nice "phase" effect over the top of the riffing to transition into the verse. Once again the drum rhythms provide a nice off-kilter time signature going on, and I like the key transition into a slightly disharmonic vocal for the in-between section, which works well. Nice harmony vocals going on in a bit of the 2nd verse portion, and great multi-tracked melodic vocals for the chorus. I can't say enough about the riffing consistency, and the fantastic drum sound here. The keyboard is a tad less present here, but there in the background providing that nice extra layer. The solo near the half-way mark is great, and has some awesome dual-lead action mixed in there. Again, very flashy solo, but in the context of the song it makes sense and doesn't go on so long that you get tired of hearing it. The bridge is cool with brief funky bass and drum/cymbal interplay, then into a cool keyboard solo with some great drumming & riffing to back it up. There's also a nice section of bass & drum work with some layered vocals in there sans words to spice things up a tad. Great keyboard & guitar dual-solo there, and more dual-lead work with nice drum & cymbal accents to top it off. After a brief pause, back to the heavy riffing & "phase" effect again into some double-bass work, and back to the chorus for a last run. I like how the song goes back to the heavier riff again and ends on a minor chord and abrupt drum crash. "Prison Without Walls" fades in quickly with a nice snare/tom roll right into the main riff, complemented by harmonizing keyboard lines. Right away, melodic yet gritty vocals are underlaid with a nice "choir" effect via the keyboard. The pre-chorus has a cool keyboard sound that picks up the song a bit, and transitions into a more "epic" sound with some cool lower-register layered vocals. Nice "middle-eastern" vibe to the keyboard & effected vocal for the 2nd verse, giving it a unique feel. Great solo section after the half-way point with some nice "military" drumming into a cool rhythm & clean guitar layering in the background with bass & light keyboards. The solo becomes more intense as the riffing comes in again & picks up the energy. The chorus comes in again & transitions into another solo section, this time with some cool keyboard that reminds one of the more subtle work of Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess.
"Freedom" shows us a bit more studied version of Menahem, with the progressive elements in full force. Great keyboard lines & riffing complement the off-kilter/time drum & bass rhythms, and again a bit of a middle-eastern vibe in the melody & keyboards. Great drum & cymbal work in the quiet opening section of the verse, and blasts nicely into the heavier verse section with driving riff, drum, bass, and keyboard work. Awesome layered vocals complement the chorus section with a nice harmony effect on display. The 2nd verse is all metal this time, with nice improvisational drum work, and a cool bridge section with clean guitar, some pretty vocals by van Ranna, and a bit of layering. Great melodic solo work here again, with enough flash to make you appreciate the skilled players. More great keyboard work during the post-chorus bridge section, keeping perfect time with the riffing & drum work. Some nice start-stop work here, with very subtle, effective keyboards layered in. I love the ascending, winding riff/keyboard combo here around the 5:15 mark. The great vocal layering in the background gives a nice effect during the 2nd go of the chorus at the end, and the main riff & keyboard line brings the song full-circle to close it with a cool keyboard-filled fade-out. "Ocean of Tears" starts with the sound of ocean waves crashing and a plaintive clean guitar line, as well as a cool "wood flute" effect via the keyboard, layering in drum/cymbal work, and bass guitar as well. This song has some more dynamic vocal work by Lean van Ranna since it starts in more of a "ballad" mode, and has some very pretty moments, some with cool layering of harmony vocals. Piano is layered in during the chorus to great effect. The funky bass work after the chorus is a nice touch. There's subtle layering of the lead vocal during the 2nd verse that works very well, and a bit more layered harmony vocal that blends quite nicely. Vocals become more urgent during the 2nd run through of the chorus after the 2nd verse, transitioning into a soulful solo complete with some wah-wah pedal effects that add a nice feel. More piano & "flute" before the song transitions into full-on metal mode with urgent vocals, intense drumming, thumping bass-line, and full symphonic keyboard sounds. A simple yet effective bridge section with layered, melodic "ooh, ooh, ooh" type vocals and heavy instrumentation transitions back to the chorus, then to a bit of vocal acrobatics before returning to the ocean wave sounds to fade-out.
"Trip Beyond the Mind" starts with a slightly effected guitar riff, and a major wail by van Ranna right into the metal. I really like the Pacman-esque keyboard sound during the verse - it's a great effect. The riffing is effective here as well, being very catchy & driving. The chorus is also very melodic & catchy, with good double-bass work & just the right amount of cymbal work for accent. Urgent vocals through the 2nd verse and into the chorus where the layered vocals work well and are complemented by the subtle keyboard line. Another quick run through the chorus before blowing into a frenetic bridge section that changes the key, time signature, and feel of the song. This has some nice keyboard sounds to it that are reminiscent of mid-70's Kansas - nice touch. Great drumming highlights this section, with cool riffing, solo work, and a nice minor-chord melodic sense. There is some sweet keyboard soloing here as well that gives off that Jordan Rudess vibe. Not to mention the short bass solo in there before the frantic transition back to the phased intro riff again with a "plinky" keyboard sound into the chorus again. Love the bit of cowbell back into the chorus as well. The 2nd run through the chorus at the end is a bit more urgent with a nice change in the melody line to accent the lyrics. Great fast riffing & double-bass work to bring the song to a close. "Creed' is a short, keyboard & piano-laden piece that is basically an explanation of what the band believes in - God the father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. The keyboard layering here is great, and there's some nice timpani drum & cymbal crashing going on at appropriate points in the song to give it that real symphonic feel. Lean van Ranna's vocals here are nicely delivered, with the right balance of emotion & dynamics. "Your Pain" begins with a nice clean guitar riff & keyboard accent into a cool drum/cymbal rhythm with subtle bass line. Vocally it's a bit subdued here until the energy picks up a bit in the pre-chorus with some more urgent drumming and piano work. The chorus brings the metal and the melodic, gritty vocals again and is perfectly placed. I like the marriage of clean & distorted guitar here before the 2nd verse, which ups the ante with more metal & nice keyboard accents here & there. The "wavy" keyboard in the 2nd chorus works well, and the subtle harmony vocal is a nice touch, even if it's understated. Another melodic, soulful solo in here over a clean guitar section, then some cool piano work over distorted riff into a more active solo section, but retaining that sense of melody throughout. Great keyboard lines & effects after the solo really showcase the melody while giving the section a bit of a "playful" feel. Another couple runs through the chorus and some especially gritty vocals by van Ranna, leading to a big wail that transitions into a cool riff/keyboard/drum section, and some layered spoken word stuff to bring the song to an abrupt close. "Suicidal Trend" begins with a cool ambient effect, then into some more middle-eastern influenced keyboard & into the heavy riffing and drum/cymbal work, with pounding bass line and keyboard accent in tow. The guitar/keyboard interplay here before the verse is quite nice. There's a cool harmonic effect in the verse that is unique to this track on the album. Lots of great cymbal work in this song as well, keeping perfect time throughout. The additional keyboard layering during the chorus gives it a "big" sound. The "phased" effect brings us to a subtle keyboard solo, and into an atmospheric section with effected vocal and nice keyboard accents. More of the middle-eastern vibe in the more metallic verse section, and some great wah-soaked solo work, as well as a bit of keyboard/guitar solo harmonizing reminiscent of the interplay you hear on a Dream Theater album between Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci. The great interplay around the 4-minute mark, plus the "spacey" keyboard effects really elevates this track to near-Dream Theater heights with its off-kilter feel and perfectly synchronized guitar, piano, bass, and drum work. This is perhaps the most complex track on the album, with all of its instrumental wizardry & technical prowess on display. The bridge-chorus section comes in again and brings a large sense of melody back to the proceedings & tempers the overly showy aspects of the middle section. More great riffing and melodic vocals help to draw the song near to the close, and more great keyboard work layered in with the riffs brings the song down to a cool fade-out.
Words can't accurately described the music contained herein - I can only give a word-picture as accurately as I can. This truly has to be heard to be believed. 3 of the tracks are available at the band's Myspace page for preview, though the entire album can be downloaded via a link from the Blabber Download entry for the album. If you cannot find a vendor to purchase this CD from directly, at least take the time to download the album & listen to it in its entirety. If you are at all a fan of progressive metal, power metal, or metal in general, this is an important album that needs to be heard by more people. Truly a landmark album in the Christian Progressive Metal realm, perhaps one of the greatest in recent years. I can say very little negative about this album, it's just brimming with excellence all the way through. Highly recommended!
Video review (corrected video to fix audio/video sync issues):