Written by: PP on 14/01/2010 01:33:09

Those of you who frequent my reviews on may have noticed my growing frustration with heavy/power/progressive metal genres because for every fifteen albums we get sent for review consideration, we're lucky if even one of them is worthy of recommendation for you guys. The bands seem unable to break the seal of staleness surrounding almost every release in said genres, the worst offenders being the German bands whose idea of new and original is to copy each other until the end of the world, which hopefully is in 2012 for originality's sake. So now that I've set the context for Aspera and their debut album "Ripples", it's time to open the review with a simple statement: "Ripples" is the best album in the genre I've heard in as long as I can remember, and amazingly enough, it was written and recorded by five 18 year old kids in Norway. Fucking impressive, that's what it is.

The setup contains the usual guitar, bass, drums and keyboard, so nothing new to report there. Dream Theater has been a heavy influence to these guys as is almost always the case in any music with progressive tendencies, but so has Symphony X, Nevermore and Evergrey. What separates Aspera from the rest of the crowd, however, is their absolutely brilliant vocalist Atle Pettersen, who has just the right amount of strain in his voice for it to make a lasting impression. His astonishing chorus melodies stand out on every track because of his ability to inject just enough pop to make them memorable, but the two tracks where he touches on 9/10 or even 10/10 level brilliance is in "Do I Dare" and especially the captivating title track, "Ripples". The build up to that song is absolutely monumental, and I'll be damned if Pettersen isn't one of the finest voices I've ever heard in the genre. The dude sings with burning passion and conviction, something which CANNOT be said about the dozens of Mystic Prophecies and Symphorce's out there. Contrast is provided by a Queen-influenced male backing choir that expands the soundscape, and when you add into the mix the rest of the band, who are equally proficient technically, we've got a release in our hands that could really make it big once released. To think that this is just their debut album leaves me standing still in awe over the potential they may have on the long run. There's a reason why their producer Jens Bogren, whose credentials include records by Opeth, Paradise Lost, Hammerfall, and Symphony X, has called "Ripples" one of the best progressive albums he's heard in a "loooooong time! Since 1992, to be exact".

While not every track belongs to the absolute progressive metal elite, challenging the heavyweights and even beating them on many fronts like the two mentioned tracks, plus "Torn Apart", and "Traces Inside", each of them is good enough on its own to last several repeat listens in a row without boring the listener. Like the promo material so aptly puts, "in a scene and market currently oversaturated by faceless, standardized bands and their average product, truly inspired and gifted musicians encounter a hard time to be allowed to shine through". That's why "Ripples" arrives at a very important timing for the genre. It is a record that provides inspiration and example of how heavy metal/melodic metal/progressive metal can be done completely devoid of clichés, and with enough immediacy, urgency, originality, and conviction to re-energize an entire genre for a frustrated fan like myself.

Download: Ripples, Traces Inside, Do I Dare
For the fans of: Dream Theater, Nevermore, Evergrey, Symphony X
Listen: Myspace

Release date 22.01.2010
InsideOut Music

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