|Ivory Tower - Beyond The Stars
02. Secret In Me
04. Game Of Life
05. Peeping Tom
06. Beyond The Stars
07. When Thoughts Are Running Wild
08. Flight into The Self
09. Treehouse Theme
Ivory Tower is a German melodic metal band that injects its song structures with tons of melodies and warmth, especially in the vocal and keyboard depts. Other bands that employ this particular strategy of avoiding the "dreaded" moniker of progressive metal band that come to mind instantly are Avalon, GB Arts, Vanden Plas, etc…Bands in this particular style have their roots and song structures firmly planted in the melodic metal field but still like to mix it up by changing tempos every so often, changing the direction of the song, or just plain mixing up the entire song. Somehow, they always manage to maintain a specific beat, pattern, and melodic warmth to be able to appeal to a larger audience than just the progressive metal audience does. To me, this is a smart approach that enables the bands to reach quite a broader audience thereby not limiting themselves to a certain listener while still satisfying their personal taste in music as well as different breeds of listeners.
Beyond The Stars is Ivory Tower's 2nd disc, their first disc was self-titled and was met with good reviews and comments, but many times the words "room to grow" was injected into many a comment along the way as many felt that the band too into the Dream Theater school of style and that the singer was a bit too LaBrie-ish in a negative way. It's quite possible that the band read most of these comments, or just naturally progressed into their next disc, which at first listen, show immediate maturity, growth, and professionalism in their music. The obvious additions in the quality dept. is the added progressiveness to the music itself, the step up in production, (although their first disc sounded great as well), the added heaviness in the guitar sound, and the quality performance of the singer, who although was very good previously, has stepped up to a new level here and really shines on the disc.
The band still manages to keep their song lengths in the 6-7 minute range, a definite plus for most prog metal fans, including the incredible 11:20 song "Foreboding," one of the better songs that the band has written and is certainly catching the ear of many. Mixing a good dose of guitar crunch with tons of melodies and epic keys, the band launches a sound assault on the ears. There has been a trend lately with this combination of sound, mentioned in the above bands, and it seems to work well among the legions of melodic metal / prog metal fans. While the guitar and keyboards are driving the music, the bass and drums keep a nicely patterned beat, mixing up the tempo at every turn to keep us all happy (but never getting lost in the changes), and the singer delivers the lyrics very convincingly. There are nice long jams around some of the longer songs, complements of the cool guitar work surrounded by keys. At times, the guitar and keys play off each other, giving the listener a sense that there are more than just guitars and/or keys involved in the overall sound of the music - this band incorporates all of the instruments, including the vocals, to make this music sound full and epic.
In the vocal dept, Andre Fischer shows us that he is not just a LaBrie clone as some had classified him on the previous outing. Here, he shows even more range, power and uses plenty of vocal harmonies to show just how good his voice really sounds. He has an excellent range, and does on occasion go pretty high effortlessly and with conviction.
The obvious tune to showcase his talent would be a ballad, which the band hands to us in "Game Of Life", which also showcases the band's knack for wanting to sound as epic as possible - crank this one up and epic comes screaming at you from all sides. True, his tone is incredibly close to that of James LaBrie, albeit a younger LaBrie, especially in the lower range. The band even pays homage to Dream Theater with a song that eerily sounds like "Another Day" from Images And Words - you'll be lighting up lighters for this one imagining yourself being at a DT concert.
The production is also a step up from their last disc as well, although that disc sounded about as good as it gets. Here, they have managed to keep the vocals clearly in the mix as it was previously. They have also managed to clean up the sound somewhat, as the huge mix of instruments scream out effortlessly despite the huge overdubs. Vocal harmonies sound clean and precise and can easily be heard among the wall of sound.
The guitars are a bit muted, but still crunchy and clean. I'm sure this sound was intentional on the engineer's part. The bass is bloomy at times, yet still tight and discernible among the rest of the instruments. The drums sound incredibly punchy, tight and without the slightest hint of being held back in the mix. The drums were turned loose here with a snare drum sound that really makes me proud. My sour taste for poor drum sounds, especially tinny snare drum sounds is well documented, and Ivory Tower really shine in this dept - allowing the drums to breathe heavily, and the snare drum sounds like a snare drum with balls. No cardboard or tin cans allowed here - a welcomed sound indeed.
Beyond The Stars is one of those discs that creep up on you out of nowhere and really take you by surprise. Not only in the song dept, but also in the production dept and the band obviously has done their homework on how to avoid the dreaded sophomore release and lose what they initially started out to do. In every aspect, Ivory Tower has managed to improve on what they started out to do, and again, I loved the hell out of their first disc so this is more than a pleasant surprise for me. It's admirable to see a band sticking to their identity, yet somehow managing to step up in quality in all aspects of their performance.
If you are into quality melodic prog metal, you will need to own Beyond The Stars.
It also proves that Germany is still the leader in producing not only quality metal bands, but quality progressive metal bands as well. It's great to see bands like this springing up out of nowhere and producing superb music like this.
written by DreamWeaver | 09.02.2004
Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.