Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vanishing Point - The Fourth Season

Sometimes, when summer rays drift down from above and the sky is cloaked in blue, the discerning metal listener feels the urge to switch off the pummelled tones and furious tempos of norm. Cast against the fresh light of sun dancing in the background, juddering and callously wrought sounds born from a Nile album can seem incompatible, disharmoniously distant from the prevailing mood. The war caresses of Sodom, the guttural rants of Deicide, these wonderful purveyors of noise fit a purpose not aligned to the simple need for shimmering melody and decorous sing-song.

This is where The Fourth Season comes in. The fourth album (as if you had to guess) by Aussie prog metallers Vanishing Point delivers us some fifty minutes of sun-kissed delight, a collection of upbeat songs adorned with catchy choruses and consummate musicianship – all that good stuff we used to love.

Thrown on with little expectation, I was surprised and shocked to find an instantly likeable soundscape nestling under the grandiose bollocks of the album cover. Normally progressive metal numbers take a few listens to really gauge the quality – a positive and negative effect of an often complex and multilayered music – but Vanishing Point required no breaking-in period, no long nights spent sleepless trying to wrestle a concept to clarity, to map the contours of a sprawling 20-minute epic. No, instant gratification flows out from The Fourth Season. Simple structures underpin the coiled instrumentation, a linear trajectory running verse-chorus verse-chorus, dipping into solo breaks, before finally reprising the chorus. It’s a straight-ahead pattern, a welcome novelty, basic perhaps, but it’s not as if the Blotted Science album can’t be flung on at a moment’s notice to satisfy the need for wiry compositions and convoluted playing.

Prog metal, in many ways, but with a more direct approach.

It would be amiss, however, not to mention that Vanishing Point are in actuality a combination of power metal and prog metal, suturing the former’s airy histrionics to the latter’s penchant for intricate musicianship. In fact, they are often seen supporting power metal bands like Helloween and Gamma Ray.

Regardless of labels, The Fourth Season sports eleven songs starting with the svelte movements of “Embodiment” and ending with the subdued meditations of “Day of Difference”. No song goes by without a boisterous chorus erupting into life. Soaring vocals backed by multiple harmonies peak at regular intervals, singer Silvio Massaro successfully pushes his voice to the sort of sublime register visited heretofore by figures of the Geoff Tate ilk.

The album simmers with melodies, the guitars crisscrossing and copulating over driving drumbeats. As if the glorious sparkle of chanted choruses didn’t lift the ambience to a high enough plane, the sweet notes weaved by the guitars underpins and propels the joyous odyssey. The vulgar torqued fretwork of other, lesser bands has here been rejected in favour of tasteful arrangements suited to the song, the scalar treks discreet and effective.

On tracks like “The Tyranny of Distance” delicious keyboards smooth the edges of metal guitars to create a rather symphonic aura that works only to enhance the song. Had this synth layer not been the subtle entity it is, the music could easily have slid into a fug of mediocrity. Thankfully, the symphonic tendencies are used wisely and where appropriate.

Vanishing Point’s The Fourth Season makes perfect listening material for the summer ahead. Packed with juicy melodies and scorching songs, we can happily group it with albums such as Pearl Jam’s Ten or, staying with the prog metal theme, a Pagan’s Mind album, musical mosaics custom-made to suit the heated air and hovering sun.


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