posted on 10/2009 By:
Southern Cross is a group of young Québécois who play power-ish progressive metal. They have managed in about five years time to move from tribute band to legitimate up-and-comers warming up for stalwarts such as Stratovarius, Kamelot and Sonata Arctica. With their second LP, Down Below, the quintet appears to be adding to the momentum of the upswing with a solid pack of heavy progressive music.
Though the prog in their sound flows pretty directly from Dream Theater’s heavier cuts, Southern Cross like to float those melodic keys and vocal harmonies over the sort of punctuated chunky riffing churned out by Swedish melo-death machines like Scar Symmetry and Dark Tranquility. There’s also a little bit of Angra the piano-guitar interplay and touches of Kiuas and Amorphis in the heavier melodic stretches. Although the heart of their sound is more than familiar, the lead guitar is tuned just a touch flat, resulting in an oddly intriguing tone that sets the band apart, at least on this level. All of this metal, though, can’t hide the pop-/alt-rock pins and rivets that hold it together at the hinges and seams. Clearly not radio fodder, the timbre of the vocals, the pop-brand catchiness of the choruses and the sentimental histrionics of the lyrics sure make it seem as if this was crafted for the charts.
Most of Down Below is pretty straight forward: fist pumping riffs usher in orchestral keys and a tasteful lead break; verses pit alt-flavored, mid-register clean vocals against the occasional harsher growl; tempo slows and/or dynamics wane and build to an insanely catchy chorus followed by a solo and/or some guitar-keyboard tandem acrobatics; a syrupy breakdown reaches for heartstrings; a key change signals the drawdown . Sometimes one of these elements precedes the other but the general formula holds. They do find the gumption to jump out of the box periodically but it’s never for very long, which leads to more than a few frustrating moments. “Something Vile,” for example, punches up some seriously infectious, sinuous riffing paired with simple but effective power-oriented leads and keyboard breaks. It’s welcomed familiar grease for the gears that drive your headbanger and some real momentum gathers until the energy is inexplicably sucked into a couple of vacuous vocal breaks (one of them of the dreaded spoken word variety) featuring a bit of truly cloying lyrics. Even though these moments pop up too often, the songs are good enough to right themselves more often than not, but that may just reinforce their dubitable structure.
Southern Cross do it best when they let it fly. A little rough around the edges, album opener “Weak and Sober” features all the best stuff mentioned above interspersed with some clever time and tempo changes, a couple of intriguing and well-executed jazzy and even lounge-y breaks and an epic feel accentuated by high quality melody and soloing. The problem is that there are a few too many of these breaks in this nearly nine minute song that is probably three minutes too long precisely because of them.
Despite the flaws, Down Below is an enjoyable album and should be of interest to those with a taste for progressive melodic metal with hints of epic power. Don’t let the criticisms carry too much weight here; mostly they are worth mentioning because they mar some really good songs. The bottom line is that Southern Cross have it in them to make a great record. For now, consider Down Below a capable stepping stone.
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