vrijdag 22 oktober 2010

A.C.T. - 2003 - Last Epic

Last Epic

01. Intro (0:48)
02. Wailings From A Building (4:21)
03. Mr. Landlord (4:40)
04. Torn By A Phrase (5:35)
05. Ted's Ballad (3:46)
06. Dance Of Mr. Gumble (2:09)
07. Wake Up (4:27)
08. Manipulator (6:13)
09. A Loaded Situation (3:29)
10. The Observer (3:07)
11. The Cause (3:26)
12. The Effect (4:39)
13. Summary (5:04)
14. Outro (1:15)

- Herman Saming / lead and backing vocals
- Jerry Sahlin / keyboards, vocoder, lead and backing vocals
- Peter Asp / bass guitar, backing vocals, percussion
- Ola Andersson / guitars, lead and backing vocals
- Thomas Lejon / drums

Guest musicians:
- Sara Svensson / lead vocals on "The Effect"
- Thomas Erlandsson / percussion

A.C.T. out-dream the theatrical ones on many levels - not only do they understand the importance of a dramatic structure, but they understand that less really can be more in places and that light and shade are not only opposites but a broad spectrum to be used as a painter mixes oils on the canvas. They also know how to write original and damned good riffs, IMHO :o)
The Masterpiece star is lost partly because I would imagine this might have a slightly narrow appeal - fans of the seriously heavy stuff may not like it, those obsessed with complexities will not appreciate it, and those not into metal may not take to it. There are also weak points which I will describe later. However, there is a very broad appeal which makes this album well worth investigating.
Overall, there is a pronounced Broadway Musical/Circus feel to the album, and a more than reasonable variety of musical textures that are well executed on the whole, although maybe the forays into cringeworthy rock quasi-reggae territory in "Wake Up" or "The Effect" could have been ommited... This is not to say that either is a bad track - it's worth hanging in there for the guitar solo section around 2:35 in "Wake Up", which is engaging and nicely proggy in feel without being dramatically groundbreaking.
Keeping focussed on the textures, the keyboard sounds are very well chosen to accentuate the moods of the various pieces, and where cheesey sounds do drift in, one at least feels that this was intentional. Mostly the soundscape is of a highly crafted quality, often evoking Queen, ELO, Supertramp, Foreigner, Saga and Dream Theater amongst others.
But this is not some pale imitation - A.C.T. have a wide pallete of their own mixing to draw upon, and create timbral lights and shades with ease - with a slight tendency towards the light. The constant circus references in the music I think are intended to be macabre, but are possibly slightly overdone as this does not fully work for me.
Harmonically there's nothing drastically exploratory, but there are some really nice "tangs" with harmonic shift motifs that quickly become an A.C.T. trademark. These are not simple shifts to extremes, but carefully considered phrases and progressions that add real drive and freshness to the music and help to blur or accentuate harmonic bases as needed.
Melodically A.C.T. are hard to fault - there's nothing far out, but if you like your melodies to worm their way into your skull and lodge there for a week or two, then this album will occupy you for a good few months.
One other melodic area of note is in the virtuosic interjections in riffs, between phrases and liberally used as seasoning throughout this album. None feel out of place or like scale practice - all are sensitive to the music and elaborate existing thematic material in order to draw attention to the piece as a whole, rather than to the virtuoso. This is a brilliant technique that many could learn from.
Rhythmically, it's got just about everything you could want, using complexities in rhythm rather than being driven by complexity, subtle and percussive interjections and real variety through development - as opposed to the mush of bewildering changes one often hears, which is often merely a kind of bluff to hide lack of musical imagination.
The common weakness in "prog metal" is form. As a generalisation, A.C.T. aren't really any different in this - but use their techniques well to blur and hide standard formal approaches, a tradition that goes back to the prog greats and shouldn't be underestimated. This lends an organic feel to the pieces which is rare in prog metal. What is missing, as ever, is the spontaneous feel to the piece that shows that the music arose from jam sessions or interplay between the musicians. It is clear that most pieces have been crafted from the riffs up - but such is metal, I suppose!
So, in summary, a wide variety of prog ingredients are in place and mixed together well. The root is quite obviously metal, but never extreme or overly intense - yet managing to maintain a huge and "symphonic" approach where needed. Stand out tracks are "Torn By A Phrase Garden" (with a main riff that sounds suspiciously like "Cherry Red" by the Groundhogs) and "Manipulator", in an album where you could literally dip in anywhere and pull out something excellent... but not quite awesome.

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