Aeon Zen is one of the more recent progressive bands to work its way up to massive critical acclaim. Grounded by sole permanent member Rich Hinks and a reputation for unorthodox compositions, the quintet released their third studio album in four years this January, 2013's Enigma.
Right off the bat, there's no denying that their reputation is well earned--literally no two songs on the album sound like they were cut from the same mold. Though the compositions are all rooted somewhere in progressive metal, the band deviates frequently, pulling influences from neo-classical metal, thrash metal, death metal, power metal, and even electronic music. And that's all not to mention the incredible diversity already inherent in the songwriting; the band seemingly has a phobia of using the same theme more than twice in any song, meaning each track is rife with numerous creative and engaging passages. You get tracks like "Divinity" that stand out for flirting with Gojira-esque heaviness standing alongside other tracks like "Downfall" that show that the band are capable of writing some incredible straight-up progressive pieces, all in the same short timespan.
However, there are a few very key elements holding the album back. Despite the variety in their music, Aeon Zen do a terrible job of making things fit together, on both the level of the album and the individual songs. As a whole, Enimga feels like it meanders too far off course and loses itself without really stopping to take stock of where it is with respect to the big picture, making the overall experience very difficult to enjoy. The individual songs also feel like they start and end in entirely disparate places, and despite the band's technical talent, there are very few truly memorable moments to be found. The pieces wind up being a collection of mostly forgettable ideas instead of bold musical statements, with the only standout moments coming in the midst of an otherwise boring song.
Par exemple, the ball-shatteringly sick guitar solos found in "Warning" and "Turned to Ash" are hidden at the end of tracks that are, on the whole, very lacklustre, and other songs like "Artifical Soul", for all of the mixing up that occurs, just seem to float around without really heading anywhere. And then you have pieces like the orchestral ballad "Seven Hills" which are just insultingly predictable and without anything of substance to them.
I mean, as far as progressive metal albums go, you certainly could do worse--I found Enigma to still be worth a cursory listen or two. But it has incredibly little staying power, meaning that, in the end, this is really a record for diehard fans and obsessive collectors only.
Recommended if you like: Spock's Beard, Sun Caged, Devin Townsend
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