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(43 min, Sensory)
TRACK LIST: 1. Face the Fear 8:58 2. The Falcon's Cry 8:02 3. Embrace 2:24 4. Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond 7:35 5. Zero Hour 2:25 6. I Am Here 5:02 7. Evidence of the Unseen 8:42 LINEUP: Jasun Tipton - guitars Troy Tipton - basses Mike Guy - drums Chris Salinas - vocals
Prolusion. Another Progressive Rock unit whose tenth jubilee is celebrated this year, America's ZERO HOUR present their fourth studio outing, "Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond". Only thirteen months separate this their new album from its predecessor "A Fragile Mind", whilst the hiatus between their previous releases numbers three-and-a-half years on average. The microphone holder:-) is the only post in the group that periodically becomes vacant, the name of the musician who assumes it this time around, Chris Salinas, being known probably only to those acquainted with another US outfit, Power Of Omens.
Analysis. Quite surprisingly, "Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond" finds Zero Hour cultivating their techno-metal roots, while I expected they would continue exploring the possibilities of combining their primary style with Space Rock / Metal which hallmark much of their previous effort. Well, the music here is noticeably more intricate than that on "A Fragile Mind", and being a lover of complex forms, I welcome the band's return to a more adventurous sound. On the other hand however, I am a strong adherent of originality, whereas not all has gone off swimmingly on that front on this occasion - even though the matter concerns almost exclusively the album's vocal angle. Chris Salinas is a chameleon singer having really massive potentialities, effortlessly covering the whole four octaves. When Chris sings in a low key, his vocals appear to be just unique, avoiding any comparisons, but for some unclear reason, he much less often ventures on originality than he imitates the kind of weeping vocals of Ray Alder or John Arch's vital, high-pitched ones. There also are moments at which I feel as if I am hearing both these Fates Warning frontmen simultaneously. The ballad I Am Here is the only track with lyrical content where Chris sings originally throughout, but anyway, I can't list it among the disc's highlights, as there is nothing apart from vocals and a semi-acoustic guitar rather ploddingly interacting with each other during the five minutes the cut lasts for. The remainder comprises four songs ranging from 7-and-a-half to 9 minutes and two quite short instrumentals, one of which, Embrace, is Jasun Tipton's solo turn involving one acoustic and one electric guitar and, while being less sophisticated than the others, is both original and pretty impressive. The remaining five tracks are all masterworks, and although much of Salinas's vocals have a certain derivative feeling, Chris himself is a talented singer and brings a lot of diversity to the picture. Stylistically the first two tunes, Face the Fear and The Falcon's Cry, are both syntheses of classic and technical Prog-Metal with guitar Art-Rock inflections, moving from style to style through multiple movements, now resembling "Awaken the Guardian", now "Perfect Symmetry", now heading off into something very much their own - all of which depending on you know what. At least instrumentally, the other two semi-epic songs, the title track and Evidence of the Unseen, are both just Zero Hour at their most adventurous and sophisticated, i.e. intense, at times positively frenetic Techno Metal with a complex polyrhythmic structure revealing too few digressions from, well, itself to point them out. The thematic development and the chord progressions are completely unpredictable, showcasing the group's finesse in harshly changing most if not all the parameters of their music, such as direction, mood, pace, tempo, etc and so on. Finally, the instrumental that is given the honor of being titled after the band's name, Zero Hour, begins with an acoustic guitar solo, soon transforming into what is the essence of the previously described two cuts, but with the same gentle guitar solo drawn into the raging musical battle.
Conclusion. Re-reading now my own review, counting incidentally all the pros and cons of the recording, I see I can't rate it as a masterpiece, nor can I give it less than six stars, either. Though I've more than once drawn comparisons to Fates Warning, Zero Hour stand well on their own in most cases - almost everywhere on the album's instrumental level in particular. Beginning with fans of the band's first two releases, "Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond" is highly recommended to anybody who, as I do, appreciates uncompromising keyboards-free technical progressive Metal.
VM: February 14, 2006
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