Andromeda's Playing Off The Board is another impressive concert DVD produced by Poland's Metal Mind Productions, which was filmed at their go-to-venue, the Wyspianski (Slaski) Theatre in Katowice, Poland. Interestingly enough, Andromeda was the supporting act this night for the neo-progressive rock bands NEO and Pendragon, and all three of their sets were filmed by Metal Mind and released as separate DVDs in June of 2007.
Andromeda hails from Sweden, a country that now has me convinced that they must have some sort of prog-metal factory that spits out great bands as fast as the country produces world-class hockey players. They were formed in 1999 and in 2006 released their third album Chimera, which they were touring in support of here. Their music reminds me a lot of the melodic prog-metal of Dream Theater and Threshold, but it also delves comfortably into Everygrey-heavy territory occasionally.
After already being pleasantly surprised by Pendragon's Past and Presence and NEO's Broadcast DVDs, which were each filmed during this same concert, I was anxious to get my hands on Playing Off The Board, especially since it would be my first proper introduction to this band. To be fair, I am a much bigger fan of the neo-prog scene, which bands like Pendragon represent, and although I am a huge Dream Theater fan, I'll take the melodic prog-rock of their Falling Into Infinity album over the bordering-on-thrash metal Train Of Thought any day of the week. Blasphemy! For this reason, I was not as impressed with Andromeda's performance as the two previous mentioned ones, although they did put on an excellent show.
The band takes the stage to an ominous synthesizer landscape as swirling blue stage lights create an appropriately sinister atmosphere for the opening song. They open with "Periscope", one of the heavier songs off the new album that not only shows you that these guys can play metal with the best of them, but also shows that they have plenty of hooks and melodies to draw you into the music. Guitarist Johan Reinholdz is shirtless throughout the entire show, and without his usual facial hair, he had me wondering for a minute if Fabio had taken up the guitar. With his ass-length flowing brown hair, sculpted hairy chest, and movie star good looks, he certainly bares an uncanny resemblance to the legendary romance novel model. At least the much younger version. Okay, I'll give him Ted Nugent too – circa 1976. That's a little more respectable.
Make no mistake about it though, Reinholdz can certainly throw down on the guitar. He would make an excellent understudy for John Petrucci if he were to ever fall ill during a Dream Theater tour. Lead singer David Fremberg joined the band on their second album, 2003's II = I, and his vocals are both powerful and melodic. Perfect for this type of music. He is just somewhat lacking of stage presence. The twelve song set is split evenly between the band's three albums, and you can definitely see a progression in styles between each album.
The songs from their 2001 debut album, Extension Of The Wish, are mostly intense prog-metal numbers, bordering on being Dream Theater tributes. If you close your eyes during the blistering instrumental "Chameleon Carneval" you might swear you are listening to Images and Words. Reinholdz and keyboardist Martin Hedin lay down some wicked unison guitar and keyboard runs throughout the entire show, but nowhere better than on this song. The II = I and Chimera material has a slightly more melodic and accessible sound, but still contains plenty of metal-fueled time changes to keep their original fans happy.
Like most Metal Mind releases, the overall production quality of this DVD was excellent. My only complaint was with the rather thin sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. The guitar was a little too low in the mix, the vocals were too high, and the bass had no balls. The Dolby 2.0 track actually sounded bolder and better mixed, especially when using my Dolby Prologic decoder. This leads me to believe that there was a problem with 5.1 surround recording level, because it is almost always louder than the 2.0 mix on most DVDs. The picture was nearly flawless, and the camera work was outstanding.
Playing Off The Board is chock full of extra features including some live performances from 2001 and 2002, although the quality is quite poor, rehearsal footage from October 2006, band interviews, and loads of behind the scenes stuff. Also included are a biography, discography, photo gallery, desktop images, and more, to bring the total running time of the DVD to an impressive 205 minutes.
Fans of Andromeda should be ecstatic about getting such a content rich new DVD from this band. If you are new to Andromeda, like myself, but a fan of this style of music, then you will likely be won over by the band's excellent performance on this DVD. I know I was.
03. In the Deepest of Waters
04. Two is One
05. The Hidden Riddle
06. Chameleon Carneval
07. Inner Circle
09. In the End
11. Reaching Deep Within
12. The Words Unspoken