Teramaze - Esoteric Symbolism - (8/10)
Published on April 1, 2014
Nightmare Records has been doing a pretty swell job of impressing me recently. Along with the also-soon-to-be-released album by Anubis Gate, the label has found an excellent comrade in Teramaze. The Australian progressive power metal quintet have made their fourth album one that fans of the style would do well to take notice of. Esoteric Symbolism is a tightly written, composed and executed album with a dark atmosphere you don’t often hear in this style. The band strikes me as a cross between Novembre and Iced Earth, an odd comparison if ever there was one, but it’s pretty damned uncommon to hear power metal sound this melancholic. There’s also noted similarities in the djenty-groove and vocal dynamism with TesseracT. Although Teramaze may adhere pretty comfortably to prog-power form, there’s an earnest grip of style that’s always refreshing to see, in this and any other sort of music. It’s Teramaze’s melancholy that has them stand out the most when all is said; technical guitarwork and symphonic undertones are pretty common fare in power metal, but I’m used to hearing those elements paired with a sense of triumph or the fantastic. If most power metal can be seen as the soundtrack to a battle and defeat of a mighty dragon, Teramaze would be the soundtrack to a scene of the would-be hero sitting in solitude, doubting his dragon-slaying abilities, and going as far as to contemplate whether the dragon should be slain in the first place. Maybe these descriptions are taking impressions of Teramaze’s melancholy too far, but it’s not every day I hear such a melodic band tote such a cynical atmosphere. It’s refreshing, to say the least, and makes for a more engaging emotional experience.
If there’s anything weak about Esoteric Symbolism, it would lie in the album’s stylistic range, or relative lack thereof. Though I’m sick to death of prog metal bands trying to bring everything but the kitchen sink into their style, Teramaze tends to draw from a fairly narrow bandwidth stylistically speaking. Although a few listens and some welcome familiarity helps alleviate the issue, the songs tend to blend together, with all but a handful of songs blurring into one melodic, darkly atmospheric, riff-fuelled soup. Of those exceptions, there’s one song that stands a head above the rest. “Order Out of Chaos” sounds like a cinematic perfection of what Teramaze set out to do; the Jon Schaeffer/Hansi Kursch project Demons and Wizards comes most boldly to mind when hearing the ominous riffs and wall-of-sound vocal arrangements Teramaze bring forth on this track- if you only have time to hear one song at the moment, check out “Order Out of Chaos”.
On the other end of the spectrum, “Punishment by Design” may be my least favourite track on the album. It’s not poor or filler by any means, but the song’s slight change of pace wounds the flow, if only a little bit. “Punishment by Design” echoes Teramaze’s thrashier past; the more aggressive tone serves to refresh the melodic approach that preceded it, but the change feels out of place and a little contrived in context. Barring that, first impressions with the album were marred by the impression that these songs weren’t distinct enough from one another. In that sense, Esoteric Symbolism is an album that graciously benefits from repeated listens, not because it is particularly challenging from a listening perspective, but because, for what the songs lack in variety, they more than make up for in terms of strong melodic writing and exciting riffs.
Although such a focus on melody would usually see instrumental wizardry placed on the backburner, Esoteric Symbolism is most impressive for the technique and complexity of its guitarwork. The songs may have been written with an economy for time and structure in mind, but it doesn’t stop Teramaze from sporting some excellently vicious riffs. There isn’t a great deal of variety in the riffs- Teramaze’s guitarists tend to keep their riffs fixed on a groove and rarely draw away from it- and yet they’re incredibly interesting to listen to; technical, disciplined, vicious and never indecent to the overall song structures. Having been around since the early 90’s, Teramaze have undoubtedly developed into an incredibly proficient act from a technical perspective, and although the vocals may put some off who may have been expecting a more typical power-prog performance (Brett Rerekura’s brooding voice draws the strongest comparisons with Novembre, TesseracT etc.) the strong melodies and dark atmosphere benefit from the distinctive vocal style.
Teramaze offer a slick, aggressive and consistent hour of progressive power metal with Esoteric Symbolism, with an impressive level of guitar wizardry and strong melodic sensibilities that are more than up to par with the rest of Nightmare Records’ proud roster. If there’s anything that really makes Teramaze stand out above their peers however, it’s their atmosphere and tone; after all, where technical proficiency and mastery of scales may be commonplace in prog metal, it’s all-too rare for the emotional element to flourish as well. It’s ultimately Teramaze’s dark edge that have made Esoteric Symbolism stand out above its peers. Although the extent of their quality as an act isn’t made entirely apparent on the first listen, and the narrow stylistic scope still irks me somewhat, Esoteric Symbolism is a standout release for its genre. For once, here’s melodic metal with a dark and brooding atmosphere that doesn’t sound halfhearted or synthesized. It’s been something I’ve been looking for in progressive metal for quite some time, and Teramaze are all too happy to oblige. Highly recommended.