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Music Review: Above Symmetry – Ripples

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Progressive metal has both expanded the fabric of the heavy metal genre, yet also has often found itself bound under the constraints of the name “progressive.” With the influence of early, dominant bands like Queensryche,  Dream Theater and Fates Warning, many progressive bands simply picked up the moniker and became clones of the pioneers, rarely moving the genre forward.

But there have been some bands that have added on to the canon of prog metal. Above Symmetry, a new prog-metal outfit hailing from Norway, is potentially one such band. Taking a page from bands like Symphony X, Above Symmetry combines elements of European power metal, with prog and a strong sense of melody. They also add in two crucial elements that are often missing: good vocals and songwriting.

The vocals come courtesy of frontman Atle Pettersen, who was a finalist on the Norwegian version of the TV talent show The X-Factor. Ok, so maybe not the most metal show to appear on, but his vocal chops are impressive. He can be powerful and melodic, yet refrains for hitting really tiny high notes like many prog counterparts.

Above Symmetry’s debut CD, Ripples, has just been released, and it’s a fairly strong collection of material. And while not every song is top-shelf the band is still defining its sound there are some choice cuts to be heard.

“Between Black and White” starts off as a generic power-metal song, but picks up steam as it runs through the chorus and bridge, pulling in some interesting tempo changes. “Catatonic Coma” is a power ballad, gone prog. Its dissonant verses open up into a sweeping chorus, anchored by a flowing melody line. The guitar solo is one of the best on the record. It’s not too flashy, with a tinge of jazz anchored against a popping bassline. In fact, the bass work, courtesy of Rein T. Blomquist, is a particularly strong point on Ripples.

Lead single, “Traces Inside,” is somewhat standard melodic prog, but again, Atle’s vocals raise the level of the music above standard fare. Title track “Ripples” and “The Purpose” are two other strong songs that showcase the band’s chops and interplay. For a group that has not been around all that long, its members certainly have a tight sound and play well off each other.

The production — helmed by Jens Borgen, who also produced Symphony X, OPeth, and Hammerfall Jens Borgen is excellent, eschewing the hot tracking so prevalent in hard rock and metal these days.

At the end of the day, Above Symmetry are not the most earth-shatteringly original metal band out there, but what they do, they do extremely well. Above Symmetry play European-flavored, melodic prog metal with some interesting and unique elements that should give this band a signature sound that will hopefully carry it on through more releases.

And, for fans in Oslo, Above Symmetry will be playing with Kamelot at the Sentrum Scene on May 14, 2011.

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