Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond
posted on 10/2006 By:
What’s On Tap: A very impressive return-to-form for a very talented prog metal band.
Zero Hour’s 2001 sophomore effort, The Towers of Avarice, immediately vaulted the band into the spotlight of up-and-coming prog metal acts worth keeping an eye on. It’s really not surprising either, as the album's keen balance between odd prognitude and all-out ballsy riffing ended up appealing to metal fans across a pretty broad spectrum. Unfortunately, newfound fans were asked to wait nearly four years before hearing new material (obviously not counting the re-release of the band’s debut in 2003), and when the record finally did drop, 2005’s A Fragile Mind did so with decidedly less pomp and circumstance. This certainly isn’t to say the record was a poor prog endeavor, but the band’s sound had definitely taken a more structured path that featured lighter riffing and increased keyboard antics. Fast-forward 13-months later and we find the band undergoing yet another transformation with their 4th release, Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond. Not only does this record showcase the band’s third vocalist in seven years, but it also represents a triumphant return to the heavier sound established on the band’s seminal sophomore release.
Let’s talk about the vocal shift first. Folks, the addition of one-time Power of Omens vocalist, Chris Salinas, to the ranks was definitely a wise choice for these guys. To be perfectly honest, I found the first two Zero Hour crooners’ delivery a little too close to Styx territory to remain in my comfort zone. Salinas, on the other hand, falls firmly into the Ray Alder/Geoff Tate school of delivery. So much so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find Salinas’ dear Mum hashing it out with the two on a future “Who’s My Baby’s Daddy?” Maury Povich Show. He definitely manages to throw his own flair into the mix as well, but the kinship at times is truly uncanny, and let’s face it folks, it’s really not such a bad yoke to shoulder when it all boils down to it.
As far as the musical shift is concerned, this is easily the heaviest material the band has written to date. And not only has the band decided to tone down the keyboard influence, they’ve apparently decided to shit-can ‘em entirely, as Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond is completely devoid of any sort of casio noodling/atmospherics. That’s right folks, once again there’s nothing standing in the way of Zero Hour delivering exactly what they do best – heavy metal soaked to the gills with off kilter prog time-shifts, jazz-fingered, bubbling bass lines, rolling, multifarious drumming, and some surprisingly heavy riffage.
That being said, Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond doesn’t really start cookin’ for me until the third track. Opening number, “Face the Fear”, is damned solid, and honestly sounds as if it could have been torn directly off The Towers of Avarice, but it’s immediately followed by what I found to be the most distracting cut of the record. “The Falcon’s Cry” is the first piece that really spotlights Salinas’ impressive range, but his continual screech of “something’s gonna die!!” comes across as more of an interruption to the song, instead of actually enhancing it. From that point on, however, the record is solid mother-fuckin’ gold. Immediately following the melodic, short instrumental 3rd cut, “Embrace”, the crushing title track hits with a massive riff that sounds almost as if the band chummed the waters with Entombed’s Clandestine. This song, and the epic closer, “Evidence of the Unseen”, both feature exactly the kind of vocal layering needed to make Salinas’ voice fit much more snuggly within the prodigious music, and further vault the band to the forefront of their peers as far as masterfully melding fine song crafting with stellar musicianship. Nestled lovingly between these two mastiffian tunes, is the quiet, vocally driven track, “I Am Here”, a ditty that’ll certainly have listeners double checking liner notes to make sure Mr. Tate hasn’t snuck in a surprise, guest appearance.
For fans of the band that felt A Fragile Mind was a bit of a stumbling block, Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond is the type of release nearly worthy of soiling ones pants over. While not quite unblemished, it’s certainly the kind of return-to-form that paints an extremely promising picture for the future of this talented band. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this record hit a number of metalheads’ top ten list at year-end. Highly recommended for fans of heavy prog metal.
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4/29/2008 Zero Hour
A Fragile Mind
11/8/2005 Zero Hour