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The first release from Australian prog metal band Arcane was originally going to be an extended E.P. consisting entirely of their twenty-four minute epic 'Ashes,' until the order came to bulk it out to a longer release. Does that necessarily mean that the other four songs on here are of a lower standard and tantamount to filler? It's difficult to tell, as the style is fairly blandly consistent throughout; for a progressive band, there isn't an awful lot of experimentation here.
Progressive metal is quite a broad-reaching term that encompasses bands as diverse as Shadow Gallery and Atheist, but the style here flows more along the lines of the pleasant, heavily piano-oriented minimalism of some of Green Carnation's recordings, and as such is a lot less instantly gratifying and creative than their Aussie contemporaries Alchemist. Matthew Martah's keyboards and organ are given the same prominence as Michael Gagen's guitars, not an awful lot in either case, and Jim Grey carries the majority of the album through with his enjoyable but imitable singing. 'Ashes' itself is essentially an extended narrative with vocal theatrics reminiscent of seventies prog acts such as Van der Graaf Generator among others, and won't satisfy those looking for a prog metal extravaganza in the style of the similarly lengthy 'The Odyssey' by Symphony X, 'A Change of Seasons' by Dream Theater, or those album-length songs from Green Carnation and Edge of Sanity; with significant and disappointing pauses between sections, there's no real sense of a musical journey here, the only real deviation being a minor and very short solo section before the verses resume.
Whether intentionally or just due to a fault of production, the guitars and other instruments are very quiet behind the vocals and lack any real force, but this doesn't present that much of a problem considering how laid back most of this music is, without ever trying to be atmospheric. While the other tracks are indeed less memorable than 'Ashes' which at least had its vocal hooks, 'Desolace' almost approaches the guitar-driven sound of Riverside at points and has a few heavy sections to break it up, 'Dawn' tries to be A Perfect Circle but lasts for too long, and 'Fulcrum' is a slightly better version of track one with some actual memorable guitar and bass. The final song 'Memory Awaits' is a piano ballad, slightly different but arguably unnecessary considering that the rest of the album followed a similarly dreamy approach, and although it's the least lively and engaging song it at least avoids being cheesy in the way the word "ballad" could often imply.
'Ashes' is a consistent album, but consistency comes at a cost to any truly engaging or original moments. An 'Ashes' E.P. would have been more interesting, at least to see how that song would stand in its own right without being bulked out in this way, but the band's obvious dedication to furthering this Green Carnation sound should produce superior albums in the near future.
... i) Twilight
... ii) Midnight
... iii) First Light
5. Memory Awaits