Anno Domini High Definition

Written by: AP on 11/08/2009 20:35:57

Riverside. Supposedly the finest progressive rock ensemble Poland has to offer, as if that country has a sprawling scene in the first place. No but really, what we have here is actually an intriguing breath of fresh air to a genre plagued by overindulgences and exaggerations, albeit that some critics have already decreed this latest album, "Anno Domini High Definition" a letdown when compared to the band's earlier efforts. What this scribe wonders is how good those albums must have been for this one to merit such condescending words, because via more listening sessions than I can realistically permit myself to endure given the ever-increasing length of my review queue, the album stands strong as ever, and indeed as one of the most mature, interesting and varied works I've cared to listen to in this genre in my time.

So, as the album's title suggests, we are dealing with something of a concept album, a picture of our times in 1080p as it were. [As an interesting sidenote, it is impossible not to notice the acronym that the album's name forms (ADHD). Could this be intentional? Consider the album opener, "Hyperactive", for instance and decide for yourself]. In this respect the depth of the music and the clarity of the mix certainly live up to the expectations, because the soundscape is simply enormous. We move from entrancing quiet passages where the bass guitar dominates (à la Tool) through explosively heavy demonstrations of instrumental prowess not unlike Dream Theater to old school keyboard melodies that nod toward Jon Lord (of Deep Purple) and Richard Wright (of Pink Floyd). Have the more progressive rock inclined readers of this webzine wet their pants yet?

Now, the keyboard has been allowed so much prominence on the album that it's worth discussing in greater detail. After all, although Michał Łapaj never attempts to hide his legendary influences, he does not restrict himself to mere idolatry, but contributes copious amounts of original content, too, ranging from classical piano solos to church organs and even electronic samples, allowing the band to maintain an identity of its own under the shadow of their revered role models. Piotr Grudziński on the guitar has a no less important role, assuming the other half of responsibility for both melody and rhythm with effect pedals aplenty. Fortunately where some space rock enthusiasts opt for playing single notes and churning out one cool effect after another, Grudziński understands the concept of balance and contributes satisfying amounts of plain old rhythm guitar, too, not to mention the very impressive solo work that flies in at every opportunity in various lengths and degrees of technical competence.

What of the singer then? Well, truth be told the undersigned is still somewhat divided on his competences. Mariusz Duda (who also handles bass duties in the band and plays some acoustic guitar) is in possession of a powerful (if soft) and rare voice which bears similarities to Maynard James Keenan's, but too often he chooses falsetto to convey his thoughtful lyrics. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the technique as such, but here it has a tendency to slide out of harmony with the rest of the music, and one wishes Duda would restrain himself. Nowhere is this more crucial than on the otherwise spectacular "Egoist Hedonist", where he occasionally slips into pathetic Draiman-esque vocal spits and scratches. Granted, they sound much better here, accompanied by brass and a nimble, funky guitar riff, but one wonders if there weren't some other way to communicate those emotions. After all, this is progressive rock, not sellout nu-metal.

However displaced as those vocals may sound here and there though, it really is difficult to slate "Anno Domini High Definition" and so we must conclude that some critics refers to a group of aging, balding has-beens with no appreciation of progress. It is true that my familiarity with this band stops after the epic closer "Hybrid Times" and it is impossible for me to speak about this album in relation to its predecessors, but it seems unthinkable that those albums exceeded the merits of "Anno Domini High Definition" to such an extent that it deserves to be buried in shame and dubbed a disappointing regression. As far as I'm concerned, this could well be the group's finest outing and that is how I choose to treat it.


Download: Driven to Destruction, Egoist Hedonist, Left Out

For the fans of: Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Tool

Listen: Myspace

Release date 15.06.2009

InsideOut / SPV

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