DEMONSPELLS SONGS TO WATCH Christmas hauls arent just for Santa anymore. Written December 20-21, 2002 www.mp3.com/stations/songstowatch - where the rules of metal do not apply. Greetings, devoted readers, and happy holidays to you all! The magi must be smiling upon the prog metal community this year, as we are beginning to receive some early Christmas presents that will keep us enthralled throughout the new year Im still highly exhausted after finishing a grueling final exam schedule, so Ill keep it relatively short this time. Abdullah Beyond The Mountain, Black Helicopters: Better than average stoner metal brought to my attention by my good friends at Seismic, the former song has some infectious riffs in it. Andeavor Heavens Gate, Migraine: Progressive metal act from Pennsylvania I dont know too much about, these songs remind me of Rush and Shadow Gallery, nice keyboards on both tracks. Andromeda Two Is One, Reaching Deep Within: Im certain of a few things on this album, a yin to Extensions yang that is guaranteed to raise many eyebrows. One is that despite Johans excellent guitar playing (he also does bass duty here), the bands true genius may very well be keyboardist Martin Hedin, who creates a spellbinding atmosphere and uses unconventional sounds on every track. The epic title song is a masterpiece, one of the best examples in buildup Ive heard in a long time. New vocalist David Fremberg fits the more adventurous sound perfectly. Arena Spectre At The Feast, Salamander: On Contagion, the British neo-proggers strip away more of the bombast of their earlier releases, resulting in a more mature and darker sound. Former song, available at the bands official site, builds from a spare opening into a memorable chorus, while the latter features some great eerie keyboard sounds from Clive Nolan. Arise From Thorns/Brave Lure, Blue Skies: The bands debut album, released before the name change. The sound isnt that much different, maybe a bit more ethereal, especially on the former track than on searching For The Sun. The latter places Michelles soaring vocals over an acoustic backdrop. Cea Serin Embracing The Absence, Sudden Faith: Labeling themselves as mercurial metal, this two-member project has gained much attention in prog-metal circles. The latter two-part track is stuffed full of detail, alternating harsh riffs with experimental soundscapes, and the latter is similarly intriguing. Both songs available at www.mp3.com Virgil Donati Native Metal, Pyramids On Mars: Released under the name On The Virg, these songs featuring the man who Mike Portnoy once called the best drummer he had ever heard should satisfy fans of Planet X as well as instrumental metal in general. Former track available at official site. Embracing Charade Without Any Colors, Rift: Swedish act performing progressive melodic death, up until recently anyways, as the former song finds them dropping the growls entirely and committing fully to prog. Latter track from the EP of the same name is excellent, featuring some melodic guitar runs worthy of any Gotehnburg act and a well placed clean section. Both songs available at www.mp3.com The Flower Kings The Devils Playground, Fast Lane: Like the thing that wouldnt leave, Daniel Gildenlow sure has been close to this band lately, guesting on Unfold The Future (with excellent results such as the latter 24-minute opus, one of Stolts best songs ever), touring with them, and possibly working on a side project with several members in the near future Immolation Unholy Cult, Rival The Eminent: A longtime favorite in the death metal underground, and my token representative of the genre in this issue. The riffs on both tracks, especially the latter title track from their latest, crush Ion Vein Faith And Majesty, Spiral Maze: Progressive metal act from Chicago who appeared at the first Progpower USA and gathered several positive press for their first album. As these tracks display, the bands Ryche influences are still prominent, but their instrumental ability has improved, especially on the latter track, where the drummer steals the show. Kamelot Farewell, The Edge Of Paradise: Epica is by far the bands most ambitious release to date, and many of the tracks, especially the latter, find the band in top form, striking a perfect balance between power and prog, while Miro applies layers of keyboards and orchestral backing. Theres also more than a hint of Conception throughout. Former track available at www.metalexpress.no Machine Called Man World Without Heroes, Only Now: This band recently made their live debut under extraordinary circumstances the San Francisco show that Blind Guardian cancelled, to which Symphony X brilliantly responded by headlining a free show and taking this band and Zero Hour as the openers. Both of these songs are thrashy yet technical prog metal, and are available at www.mp3.com Masterplan Kind Hearted Light, Soulburn: By now you are all aware of Jorns departure from Ark, a development many fans have blamed on this project. The verdict here is still mixed: Enlighten Me and the latter track, which features an insistent middle-eastern sounding riff, are great, but most of the others are very underwhelming McGill-Manring-Stevens He Is Invisible , Argentine Scalp Massage: This accomplished fusion trio continues its musical exploration on Controlled By Radar, a double album divided into acoustic and electric discs. The former track, from the acoustic half, sustains its pull on the listener for most of its fourteen minutes, while the latter electric track is as strange as the title indicates Missa Mercuria Spirit Of Wisdom, Whisper Of The Soul: Yet another metal opera project making the rounds, with another belabored storyline and parade of mid-level contributors, among them the overrated DC Cooper and the vocalist from Vanden Plas, who does put in a decent performance on the former track. Overall Ill pass. Nemesis Realitys Door, Predestination: Hungarian progressive metal act whose first English language album Eden? (question mark included), released on Sensory, has received some positive press. Both of these songs contain some striking instrumental sections. Former track available at www.lasercd.com Nightingale Forever And Never, State Of Shock: Swanos latest chapter in the Nightingale saga is another success, with tracks like the former, which closes the album, and story so far with many lyrical and musical references to the previous releases, ranking among his best. Latter track is among his hardest rocking (outside of his death projects anyways) to date, betraying an affinity for late 80s AOR. Outworld City Of The Dead, Dominion: Another currently unsigned band introduced to me through the Seismic channel, this band features a talented guitarist in Rusty Cooley and a howler who sounds a bit like Jorn Lande. Former track, available at the guitarists official site (I think), contains a savage lead riff and a great instrumental break Pagans Mind Aegean Shores, Prophecy Of The Pleiades: This bands Celestial Entrance is fast becoming the most praised Norwegian non-BM album since the Spiral Architect debut, and with good reason the band balances progressive elements with aggressive power metal with much success. Latter track begins with a near-direct lift from Learning To Live but soon evolves into an engrossing epic in its own right. Former track available at www.limb-music.de Pathos Torn, Violated: Aggressive power metal act that has gained much praise on Perpetual Motion and elsewhere for their most recent release. The riffs are incredibly sharp and sound a bit like Nevermore, but the band doesnt approach their sense of conviction and dread. And the gang choruses get on my nerves Poor Genetic Material Antares, Thin Red Line: German progressive rock act whose songs are characterized by lush and delicate instrumentation, especially prominent in the nine-minute latter track, available at www.prog4you.com Vocalist Philip Griffiths doubles in Alias Eye. Prototype Pure, Relativity: This LA act has gained a following through a series of demos and appearances on tribute albums, and their full-length debut presents a sound equally indebted to thrash and early progressive metal, especially apparent on the former track, which deftly alternates between clean and speedy sections Romislokus If, Captain Zero: Russian progressive metal act brought to my attention through the committed prog freaks at Delicious Agony, these songs are their first in English. Both of them show a band with a good melodic sense and a gift for arrangement nice violin on the latter track. Both songs available at official site. Somnambulist In The Mindwarp Pavilion, Paranormal Humidor: Another intriguing release on the Lasers Edge series, this one features a band full of spacey atmospheres and unexpected turns. Both tracks contain some complex instrumental passages. Vocalist Peter Cornell is one of two in his family, you may have heard the other J Strange Land Dear Helena, Cause And Defect: This trios Anomaly album was an impressive self-financed debut owing in sound to Rush and Fates Warning. On these demos that the band allowed to be broadcast on Seismic, the group shows continued improvement, especially on the latter track, which has a great extended instrumental section. Sylvan Deep Inside, Timeless Traces: German progressive rock act who combines a penchant for captivating melodies in similar fashion to Enchant with an eclectic streak. Both of these songs from this years Artificial Paradise command the listeners attention, especially the chorus of the former and the phased guitar on the latter. Thyrfing Vansinnesvesan, Angestens Hogborg: The Viking metallers have attracted quite a few rave reviews of their latest release. The former track, available at www.mp3.com, is one of their most brutal Ive heard, appropriate given its title roughly translates to song of hatred. Latter track infuses folk elements in a manner sure to delight fans of the genre. Twisted Motivations Broken Orion, For The Truth: Another progressive metal indie release that has captured my attention lately, this being a two-man project, although the sound is remarkably full for a demo-quality release. Both songs are full of commanding riffs and instrumental skill, former track available at official site. Unicorn Your Last Denial, The Czarina Of Vermillion: One of Dan Swanos earliest projects, these songs were written and recorded around the same time Edge Of Sanity released their first albums. He was a man given to stylistic contrast from the beginning, as these songs are prog in the traditional sense. The latter, with its lilting chorus, is still among his best songs. Somebody rerelease these albums! Thus ends this chapter a year-end awards special and 2003 preview is coming very soon.