Betoken - Beyond Redemption - (6.5/10)
Published on January 18, 2016
Whenever someone says “I don’t like power metal because of A, B and C”, it’s usually a sign that they haven’t had a lot of experience with the style outside of what’s had the most visibility. If nothing else underscores the level of ambiguity that can actually go into the power metal label, a band like Betoken manages the feat with ease. The band’s name itself signifies a sign or signal, usually in the form of a warning of some impending event with a negative outcome, so it can be rightly assumed that this isn’t the sort of happy-go-lucky good times having fun that one normally gets from Freedom Call, Helloween, or any one of a number of bands out of Japan that took the same cheerful approach to its logical conclusion. Truth be told, if someone has no familiarity with power metal outside of a post-Helloween context, a band like this would probably be mistaken for some simpler variant of progressive metal or straight symphonic metal with less emphasis on the orchestral elements.
Beyond Redemption takes this rather strange niche to not only a more extreme place than usual, but actually throws in a degree of deception into the mix. At it’s inception, the opening song “A Thirst For Knowledge” kicks off with a full on symphonic overture that sounds remarkably similar to a Danny Elfman film score (it might actually be a variation on one of his actual works), which definitely screams potentially Rhapsody Of Fire emulation, which would fit in with the time of Betoken’s founding and also their country of origin. Alas, once the metal parts kick in what comes about is a great deal different, and closer to the chilled out, mid-paced groove that tends to typify a band like Vanden Plas or some other simplified emulation of early Dream Theater, but with riffs that are a bit closer to a slowed down version of power metal. Things do actually move even further into a progressive direction on some subsequent songs that are similarly slower and groove oriented such as “Sparks Of Grace Betrayed” and especially “Lucifer’s Bless” which actually comes with the noodling keyboard lines and rhythmic twists typical to a band that takes at least some cues from the Images And Words template.
Not only does this album lean pretty heavily on unconventional musical ideas for a band with a label signifying a plainer approach, but they have three different lead vocalists, not including a prominent guest vocal slot for a fourth person outside of the band. The most dominant voice has more of a husky baritone quality to it that’s a bit atypical for both power and progressive metal, and is supported by another male voice that’s closer to a typical Fabio Lione oriented flamboyant tenor and a female voice that’s also fairly dramatic sounding compared to the croons of the principle voice. On most of the songs this approach works pretty well and doesn’t come off as being jumbled mess, and particularly on some of the quicker paced numbers like “Seven Deadly Sins” and “Renounce” it actually complements the already elaborate arrangement, but when this whole album is taken into perspective, it gets a bit difficult to carve out a lasting impression of this band’s identity. It’s not just a problem of having a lot of different voices that are sharing a fairly equal amount of time, but also just a general issue of the songs tending to meander and lacking a firm sense of cadence.
On the whole, Beyond Redemption is a technically impressive album that has a fair degree of charm due to having a rugged, low fidelity production job that makes it sound a good bit different from a typical progressive metal album. However, in addition to this band being more of a progressive act than a power metal one, their songwriting tends to be a bit hit or miss. Whenever I hear an album that is somewhat similar to this stylistically like Evergrey’s In Search For Truth or Vanden Plas’Beyond Daylight, it’s not difficult to point to a song and say this is “Mark Of The Triangle” or that is “Free The Fire”, whereas after hearing this album several times I still struggle to separate a lot of the songs from each other. There’s some rock solid technical guitar work going on here, and the whole collection of musicians associated with this act have their skills in order, but this just struggles to be memorable and tends to agree with the ears while its on, but then disappears into the ether soon after.