Released: 2008, Sensory
As technology improves and people invent easier and faster ways to access music certain concepts in the music industry are slowly becoming irrelevant. This is not because the concept itself no longer has value but as younger generations start to consume music with the advantages of the new, improved technology, some of these once commonly held practices and beliefs are now less important. One example in particular is the concept of the ‘blind buy’. This means buying a piece of music without having heard the music first. In a sense it is an odd phrase because logically it should be a ‘deaf buy’, because you may have seen the album but not heard it. Young fans with virtually instantaneous, unlimited access to music via the internet will seldom if ever purchase music without having heard it first…try before you buy as it were. People can download it or stream music, sample it before paying, which from a consumer point of view is a good scenario. As an older fan I will still do a ‘blind buy’ and in this case EQUILIBRIO is one of those cases.
I was on the message board of Metal-Rules.com and the thread was about Metal Operas. One fan recommended EQUILBRIO by Xystus. He included a Youtube link. I watched about 10 seconds and said to myself, ‘Yup, instant buy.’ Even though technically I heard a few seconds but I knew nothing about the band so it was my blind buy. My instincts were dead-on as this is one of the better Metal Operas I have heard. Xystus is a band from Holland with a pair of albums on a small label prior to this one. While reviews were generally positive of the first albums, praise seems to be pretty unanimous for EQILIBRIO. While I haven’t heard the first two albums, apparently there was major shift to a Metal Opera sound from the symphonic Power Metal of the back catalogue.
The digipak is presented nicely enough with a booklet, some notes, lyrics and lots of photos. Over 130 musicians appeared on this project which was also performed as an Opera and filmed for a DVD. For the most part the band is relatively unknown in the wider Metal community although they did recruit Simone Simmons (Epica) to sing one of the five lead roles in the story. The story runs for about an hour and tells a classic tale of a traveller caught between good and evil.
The following plot synopsis is taken directly from the Laser’s Edge web-site. “The story of "Equilibrio" revolves around a wanderer named Diegu (Bas Dolmans) who finds himself caught between the forces of good and evil the power mad ruler Primos (John Vooijs) and the altruistic rebel Avelin (Michelle Splietelhof). Primos makes a pact with Death (George Osthoek) take over the world. After unsuccessful efforts by Diegu to mediate between Avelin and Primos, the latter ends up with complete power and the world is thrown out of balance. Diegu is summoned by the godess Lady Sophia (Simone Simons). She watches over Earth and entrusts Diegu with the job reuniting Primos and Avelin in order to restore the balance between good and evil again.” I think that sums it up nicely!
I’m a huge fan of the Metal Opera concept, from Ayreon, Aina, Avantasia, Avalon…well, do I need to list them all alphabetically? Let’s just say from Aina to Xystus, Xystus stands as one of the more ‘pure’ Metal Operas. I chose the word ‘pure’ quite specifically, because EQUILIBRIO is not just a straight Power Metal album with orchestration and symphonic elements but it was written and performed as an opera. For some Metal fans that may a negative, but in my mind where one of the principles strengths of Metal is ‘more of everything’; Xystus is certainly in a bombastic class of it’s own. The hour long album has everything you would expect in a Metal Opera, multiple characters, multiple vocalists playing the various riles, soaring vocals all over, choirs, giant gang-vocals, swirling orchestration and tons of counter-point and juxtaposition of sound where songs go from raging power to delicate, quiet pieces and back, all blended to create a complex and dynamic listening experience. This album has it all acoustic piano, horns, stings, brass, woodwinds, vocal solo spots, pounding drums, raging guitars and more. Frankly, it is almost overwhelming to the senses, which is the hallmark of a good Metal album.
I’m glad I’m still a proponent of the ‘blind buy’. The only advice I have for Metal fans is follow your instincts, and support bands you may not be immediately familiar with. I did and by taking that chance I am so glad I have had the chance to experience EQUILBRIO one of the best Metal operas I have ever heard.