For a band I really enjoy, it was extremely difficult for me to review the new album from Dutch progressive metal band Sun Caged, The Lotus Effect. I found this odd, because it actually is a very good album. It took me a while to pin down exactly what it was about it that was irking me.
In fact, I actually wouldn't have any issue with this album at all if it weren't for one fact: the album sounds incredibly uninteresting. And by that, I don't mean that the music is boring. I mean that it is played with so little enthusiasm that it's almost repellingly boring to listen to. While every performer on this album seems to have a case of musical anhedonia, the drums in particular stand out for being...well, the least stand out. The rhythmic patterns are incredibly boring and about as technically demanding as grade school arithmetic, and the lack of intensity seems to clash heavily with the style of metal the album seems to want to achieve. It's like listening to a begrudging recital by a child forced into piano lessons, doing the bare minimum to meet expectations and nothing more. The keyboards and vocals also deserve to be pointed out for their extremely disinterested deliveries. Considering that the two of them carry the melody for almost the entire album, you'd expect them to be performing with some minimal level of dopamine while recording them. But it honestly just seems as if the performers don't care enough about what they're playing to do it with any kind of personal involvement. The only thing holding this album back is its lack of intensity.
I do mean that sincerely, by the way.Everything else about this release is wonderful. While you can still tell there's a heavy derivation from Dream Theater, Sun Caged's music is still impeccably composed, and they have put such a spin on the traditional progressive metal formula that they've really made it their own. The opening track "Seam Ripper (& the Blanket Statement)" is one of my favourite progressive songs of the year, and the 25-minute epic "Ashtamangala (The 8 Auspicious Symbols)" is one of best examples of the extended song format I've heard in a while. The pieces are generally superbly composed, with a good balance between the instrumental passages and the vocal leads. And, most importantly, it's an album that you'll want to listen to more than once in order to discover all of the intricacies. Never before has an album I really wanted to enjoy made it so difficult to get beyond its perplexingly boring exterior.
While Sun Caged are still one of the better straight-up progressive metal acts, the unexpected weakness of this album gives me the feeling that they may already slipping a bit. Their debut and sophomore albums were very well done, and while The Lotus Effect isn't necessarily bad, it still shows unfortunate signs that the band may be in decline. Hopefully their next album will reaffirm their strength rather than continuing this slow regression.
7.0 / 10
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