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TRACK LIST: 1. Quick Space Threat 5:33 2. Gobi Desert Search for SS Cotopaxi 7:00 3. Three Stripes 3:56 4. Mantis 5:39 5. China Inox 3:51 6. Doomsday Device 6:20 7. When I Get Out of This Place 3:59 8. Words Mean Nothing 4:14 9. Magic Cat 6:02 LINEUP: Hans Hess – instruments Renan Franzen – instruments
Prolusion. HESS & FRANZEN is an international project, featuring Hans Hess from Britain and Renan Franzen from Brazil. “Closed-Locked-Sealed” is their debut outing, a product of the modern hi-tech era. It is currently more than easy to make an album together with someone from another side of the planet by exchanging musical files via the Internet, and this is just such a case.
Analysis. The overall mood of the album is futuristic – an effect that the men achieve by combining the traditions of heavy rock, Prog-Metal included, with electronic music, much of which, though, has a distinct symphonic quality to it. Electric guitars and keyboards (more often using, say, traditional synthesizer pads than organ or piano ones) are predominant here, with drums and percussion taking a secondary role, which is mainly because all of them are programmed. Of the nine tracks presented When I Get out of This Place is the most conventional one. Mixing Hard Rock, NWBHM and, well, quieter sections with a lot of guitar shredding, it sounds somewhat like the wilder material of John Satriani’s mid-‘80s releases. Otherwise the duo offers up a fairly interesting range of musical styles. Quick Space Threat and Gobi Desert Search for SS Cotopaxi alternate symphonic hard rock, Deep Purple-evoking, arrangements, Metallica-style thrash-metal moves and prog-metal excursions in the vein of mid-‘80s Fates Warning, portraying quite an aggressive outlook that is both bleak and mildly horrific in nature. Now combining metallic guitar motifs and real, symphonic, keyboard leads, now merging the guitar-hero ‘style’ with trance-like pulses of sequenced synthesizers, Doomsday Device, China Inox and Magic Cat all would’ve been pretty conventional pieces had they not additionally featured some classically-influenced moments (reminiscent of early Yngwie Malmsteen), those on the latter two ornamented by synth strings, though on the first of those I also hear what seems to be a real harp. With organ, violin and, well, more synth strings added, Three Stripes stylistically sticks fairly close to the ‘Classical Metal’ idiom, pioneered by Mekong Delta. (One of my favorite prog-metal bands ever, it plays classically-inspired Techno Thrash in fact.) It is not only the violin and string arrangements that make the piece appear in a classical manner, but also some of the riff constructions, to put it succinctly. As almost everywhere on the record, both of the musicians get in some great solos here, meaning as a guitarist and a synthesizer player, but it’s (whose?) orchestral-like workouts that are particularly amazing. Although featuring synth strings too, Words Mean Nothing comes across either as symphonic (then reminiscent of Planets from Tiamat’s “Wildhoney”) or electronic ambient – everywhere, save its mid-section, which sounds almost like electronic metal. I don’t hear any guitars on Mantis, a synths-based neo-prog song without lyrics, the vocalizations provided by a female whose name is unknown, as well as that of a man behind the violin. (I don’t think it was one of the project’s guys, who played it. Otherwise, why didn’t he do so on the other tracks?) The melodies are mostly pretty lively, but with backing moods of melancholy and menace, and themes recur from time to time, tying it all together.
Conclusion. I have mixing feelings about this release. Some of the music provides common ground for the progressive rock fan, while the lack of timbral variety might leave some listeners less than moved. The playing is good throughout, albeit nothing to get really excited about, save the classically-inspired composition. Drum machine usage is obtrusive. Also, the overall sound has a certain homegrown flatness to it. More seasoning is needed to fashion the project into a quality outfit. The guys should meet and play together.
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