Released: 2013, Bakerteam Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Every now and then, as a reviewer, one is required to step outside of one's musical comfort zone and take a stab at some new/different/unchartered territory. The trick is to try and listen objectively, and review in that nonjudgmental frame of mind. This can prove tricky...
Thus your humble reviewer has spent the last hour or so listening to Italian self-described 'extreme prog metal' band CHRONOS ZERO. Created in 2011 as a solo project for experienced musician Enrico Zavatta, CZ have recently released their ambitious debut album. 'A Prelude Into Emptiness: The Tears Path: Chapter Alpha' is the first in a series of five concept albums which will create a post-apocalyptic world influenced by Greek, Egyptian and Japanese mythology, all shrouded in darkness, misery and "the sorrowful destiny of many lost souls" (to quote their website).
Alllllllrighty then...certainly sounds intriguing, at the very least! (As a side note, the album's November 11th release was followed, three days later, by 'Overture', a track from 'The Inner Gates of Oblivion', described on the website as a nine-part "side-story of the main narrative"). If one is seeking further clarification, said website also helpfully includes a detailed breakdown of the characters and ideologies of 'The Tears Path', although the direct Italian-to-English translation reduces this to a rather baffling collection of seemingly unconnected words at times).
The album begins in suitably ominous, dramatic and windswept fashion with scene-setting instrumental intro 'Spires'. Its clever mix of fuzzy, distorted guitars, crunchy riffs and quite symphonic flavour certainly creates a sense of anticipation for the rest of the album.
First 'proper' track 'Breath of Chaos' follows directly on from the intro, and in fact continues in a similar musical vein. Over some beautifully atmospheric drumming the vocals of Love.Might.Kill frontman Jan Manenti finally kick in and immediately prove to be pleasingly throaty yet melodic - perfectly suited to this type of symphonic/proggy music. The 'symphonic' aspect is emphasised with the addition of guest vocalist Claudia Saponi from Absynth Aura. The song overall is technically very impressive; everyone is firing on all cylinders here, from the vocals to the racing drums to the fret-bothering guitars and even the delightfully unhinged synths during the instrumental break.
From here the album continues along the same lines throughout. 'Lost Hope, New Hope Part 1', the lead single, is cleverly (and quite proggily) a concept within the album's concept: a mini-concept, if you will. Its quirky time signature and impressive length mark it as prog metal, however its vocals and rather epic feel also place it in the symphonic (or even folk) metal category.
This straddling of genres remains prevalent throughout the album. Sometimes it works: the aforementioned time signatures amply demonstrate the band's musical prowess, and prog metal is supposed to be rather rambling and unstructured. The pairing of Manenti and Saponi (often further combined with Hyperborean's Sarah Busato) also occasionally creates some brilliantly harmonised symphonic metal-style vocals.
However, said straddling also creates moments of awkwardness and disjointedness. Often the vocals can come across as unblended, almost as if the vocalists are all singing different songs. Additionally, the 'epic, swooshy, atmosphperic' feel of the songs, combined with the standard widdly guitars and mournful synths, can render the songs a tad formulaic at times.
Two cases in point: Part 2 of 'Lost Hope, New Hope' is another instrumental, which creates a sense of disconnection from Part 1. It also means that, when Manenti's vocals finally kick back in on the following song, it feels like ages since the listener has actually heard him sing. And finally (fittingly), there is the issues with the last song 'Sorrowful Fate (The Composer's Night Part 3 and 4)'.
It is obvious that the band are striving for an epic finale, with Saponi taking the lead on the vocals, a soft piano outro and racing time change midway through. The problem is, the song has no real hook or even chorus to speak of, and as such Saponi sounds like she is simply singing lines from a book or some such. The sudden reappearance of Manenti's vocals comes surprisingly from leftfield and creates more of that sense of disjointedness rather than of flow.
So there you have it; apparently 'extreme prog metal' actually means 'a bit prog, a bit symphonic, a bit folky'. Who knew, eh? The album is, as previously stated, technically stunning, and has a sumptuous, luxurious feel. However, it also feels a tad indulgent and unstructured, like a beautiful, gorgeous item of clothing whose stitches have become loose.
Tighten those threads and it's possible that CHRONOS ZERO could be a serious contender in the competitive world of prog metal.
For now, if you like your prog metal a bit epic and symphonic - or even your symphonic metal a bit rambly and smart - this album definitely comes highly recommended. And if you're unsure? Well, why don't YOU try stepping outside of your comfort zone and giving it a try, too?
Review by Melanie Brehaut