Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Timesword - Chains of Sin (2010)

I like being pleasantly surprised.  When I discover bands out of the blue and realize they're pretty talented and may have something to offer me as a listener, I usually sit up and pay attention.  Sometimes that gamble pays off, and sometimes it doesn't, but sometimes the process of discovery is half the fun.  Learning about new music and giving bands who are just starting out and trying to make their mark can be a rewarding experience, especially when said bands do indeed have talent and their music has a quality that makes it worth coming back to for more than just a cursory listen.  Such is the case with Timesword.

Despite the somewhat cheesy artwork of "Chains of Sin", I was intrigued by the "progressive metal" tag and checked out the sound samples.  Being duly impressed with what I heard at first blush, I ordered the album.  After receiving it I didn't listen immediately, due to having received it with about another 30 or 40 CDs (I was on a music buying binge at the time), it did make its way into my CD player within the first few discs of the order, after a handful of established artists whose new material I was itching to hear.  While my initial listen was positive and I felt like the band had talent, I didn't come back to it immediately.  After a few weeks of digesting other material, I came back to the album and spun it a few times.  And after a few months of purchasing and digesting other music, I came back to this disc again with the intent to write a review.  So I spun it constantly in my van for a couple weeks to and from work, and as I was driving.  I think I've sufficiently listened to the album far more than I would any other in the normal course of music purchases simply for this review.  Having said that, how does it stack up?

Musically, this is square in the "progressive metal" camp with the highly melodic guitar lines, interesting drum work, intricate solo interludes and occasional time signature changes and adjustments, along with the ever-present keyboards providing that extra layer.  The guitar sound on this album is good overall, though there are moments where the dynamics seem to be too far apart, in that the guitar almost gets too quiet in the mix.  It's a minor complaint, but was noticeable while listening.  Otherwise, guitar riffing is good, solos are good, playing is solid but not ultra flashy.  Overall, the guitar is competent and solid, though many of the riffs aren't quite as catchy or memorable as I would have hoped with this level of talent.  Bass work is present and in the mix, but as usual gets buried with the guitar much of the time, merely following the guitar lines quite a bit.  But bass guitar certainly doesn't get in the way of the rest of the instrumentation.  Drum work is quite good, utilizing a lot of cymbal work, interesting breaks here and there, and sometimes a small roll or transition that shows off an interesting use of the instrument.  Special mention must be made about the keyboards - there are several textures used, from traditional "keyboardy" sounds to more Hammond-style organs that sound great as a backdrop for this melodic metal sound, and sometimes provide the perfect accent to what is going on elsewhere.

Vocally, Mark Pastorino provides a great voice to this album.  While he doesn't have the perfect voice, he sings very well and gives the disc a nice vocal range.  His quieter, more plaintive moments (like in the beginning of "A New Way") are great, while his mid and high-range vocals are impressive as they soar.  His more gruff, throaty style is also great, with just the right amount of gravel in the mix without losing the melodic quality.  His Italian accent does occasionally get in the way of understanding the lyrics being sung, but no more than any other thick European accent.  He does a great job of providing the right sound to complement the band's sound.  Lyrically the album is fairly bold in its proclamation of Christianity, but that shouldn't deter those who aren't listening for that message because the whole package is well done enough to overlook that if you're not a member of the faith.

So what's not to like here?  My chief complaint with the album is the final track, "Real Mystery".  It's broken up into 5 parts, but the problem is that it doesn't flow well together.  These individual pieces of the song don't necessarily go together thematically either, so it sounds very much like a handful of songs sort of thrown together instead of a cohesive piece.  With 25+ years of progressive metal to draw upon as inspiration, it's a pretty big mistake to make, even for a band's rookie outing.  It's not that the last song is bad, by any stretch, it's just not as quite interesting as the material that precedes it and is a weak way to end an otherwise solid album.  Mark has a few spots where he sounds as though he's "under singing" notes, as well as spots where he is dissonant where it doesn't make sense or sound good with the context of the material.  In addition, the woman who sings in the last "movement" of the piece has a good voice, but doesn't entirely fit the material either, and her performance could have been a bit stronger.  When you make this your last statement before the CD is done, and this statement is 2/5 of the whole length of the album, it better be a great track.  With Theocracy's brilliant "Mirror of Souls" album, they did just that.  Sadly, that's not the case here.  It just doesn't work, and the band should have probably used the 1st 5 tracks as merely an EP.  That would have made a much stronger debut for this group, and shown off more handily both their strength as songwriters and as performers.  This misstep costs the band quite a bit of leverage and momentum at a critical juncture early in their career.

The other thing that hurts the band, though no fault of the CD specifically, is the loss of vocalist Mark Pastorino to go play in Secret Sphere.  While there are likely no shortage of Fabio Lione wannabes who will be ready to step into place as the next vocalist, Mark's performance here on this debut is strong overall, and really shows what a band can do when they're firing on all cylinders.  That's not to say they can't bounce back from this, but they will in some ways have to prove themselves all over again; doubly so, since the debut doesn't make quite as strong an impression as one might hope.


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