First, some clarification and explanation is needed before beginning the review. There is progressive music, and then there is avant-garde music. The same music some might claim (perhaps not on this website though, but elsewhere less enlightened), at least on a semantic level: prog metal serves progression to metal, moving forwards, and avant-garde metal is the vanguard of metal, storming into unknown lands way ahead of the mob, ever moving forwards. Yeah, sure, a reasonable argument. But seriously, how many bands considered as progressive metal do actually move forward? Should Dream Theater and their equilibristic cohorts be considered equal to Arcturus and their spiritual likes? Definitely not. But semantically, they are. Or are they? Prog metal has become a definite style, with certain sounds and performances. Avant-garde metal is, according to us, not a style but an approach. My solution to this inherent self-contradiction of “progressive” metal (as well as its father prog rock) is as follows: in grammar, you have the progressive form (the English ing-form) indicating an ongoing action, a unfinished change of some sort. A meaning easily applied to music; progressive metal/rock is not necessarily moving forwards, it’s just moving somewhere (most often wanking up it’s own arse, if you ask me). That is:
– avant-garde metal = progressive (not bound to rule nor form but ever treading onwards)
– prog metal = not necessarily avant-garde (though it might be).
Prog metal enthusiasts be grateful for this raison d’être I just handed your pseudo-genre. If anyone has a problem with this solution, meet me at the graveyard at midnight and we’ll settle this like men.
Without any further ado, after much rant of little use, I move on to the actual review, the useless rant above serving as a disclaimer for this particular album’s inclusion on this site. These Norwegian youngsters have on this their second album moved away from the rather Emperor-like roots of their 2006 debut Axiom, leaving little, if nothing, black on Warring Factions. Instead, we are served a sevenfold symphony of ambitious, multi-faceted and effervescent epic prog metal, tumbling back and forth across genres (as you do when you’re prog), all based on elongated yet consistent arrangements. It is apparently a concept album (as you do when you’re prog!), but of the story I know little, save that it is set in some sort of post-apocalyptic Future World. I doubt though that you need to know much more to enjoy the album, which stands magnificently on its own legs, the storyline mostly just spicing things up a bit.
Musician-wise, these fellows handle their equipment with a grace, eloquence and tastefulness hardly common in this often-rightfully-spat-upon genre, especially considering their tender age; if I’m not mistaken, they should have just recently turned 20. Hrm, I guess they are all singles. Baked into this one-hour & a minute roller-coaster ride is a smörgåsbord of influences. Ansur do a lot of that cheesy late 80’s guitar-instruction-video glam, yet barring all trap holes -suddenly, you’re in a hammond-laden groove section with a snazzy sax solo (think Solefald rather than Kenny G.). Turning left at the corner, and you’re facing spacey electronics with an acoustic guitar-solo. The twelve minutes of “An Exercise in Depth of Field” move through the following sections: twisted Salsa – Meshuggah-rhythm – short sweep solo – tight 5/4 heaviness – epic and atmospheric Dream Theater-stuff – the heaviest section of the album – a thrash-riff – drum&bass with beautiful shimmering and vocal samples – many, many solos – a midsection bluegrass hoedown – glam metal. A tight and crammed arrangement indeed, but it’s not at all as annoying as it sounds – “The Dance of Eternity,” anyone?. They do pull it off, seriously, even the bluegrass (with a cheering crowd and everything), which is plain hilarious. Moving on to the finale “Prime Warring Eschatologist,” a piano-piece akin to Michael Nyman’s soundtrack morphing into Iron Maiden heroism just makes me warm and fuzzy inside. Vocalist Espen A.R. Aulie is especially expressive, who keep from clean voices but stays to his surprisingly melodic growl – yes, he shouts melodies, and its bloody awesome. No LaBrie-esque cheeseballing here! And by singing thus, Ansur retain an appropriate level of extremity, keeping their head above the thin line turning decent metal into shallow crap. Way to go! You just granted yourselves a unique place in the world of prog metal, as well as an entry at avantgarde-metal.com.
I must however add, that the glory and greatness of Warring Factions isn’t absolute – it is far from perfect an album, a few songs/sections easily slipping into a deserving oblivion. At least ten minutes of this album could have been cut away (especially around tracks five and six). The often very theatrical and epic vocals (still, never clean) may scratch more than a few listeners the wrong way, as might the exuberance of guitar solos. But if you have a problem with solos, you probably haven’t even considered reading this review; this is still progressive metal to the core. But Ansur still fly miles above and beyond the genre standards from which they operate. This is what progressive metal should be like – American musicianship and combined with a European sense of taste and concept, swaying back and forth but keeping clarity.
A note on the wonderful cover – made by Eliran Kantor (who’s also done the latest Testament and To-Mera albums), it is some of the most stunning artwork I have seen for many years; I hope that there is an LP release where you can fully enjoy its beauty. Visit www.elirankantor.com for more info on this amazing artist. And the simple naming of “Phobos Anomaly” deserves nothing less than a standing round of applause; without a doubt paying tribute to the most eerie and occult video game level ever. I’m looking forward to see what these guys has in store for us in the future, a future shining very bright, barring split-ups and sell-outs. Thank you.
Label: Candlelight Rec./ Nocturnal Arts Prod.
Avantgenre: Iridescent Progressive Metal
Official site: http://www.ansursite.com
Review online since: 08.08.2008 / 08:08:08
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