Ten long years after the release of their debut album, “Cosmic Handball,” Swiss Prog Metallers SILENT MEMORIAL have finally prepared a sophomore release: “Retrospective.” The title is misleading, however, as it implies a look backward, while the album’s actual sound is a more forward-oriented evolution of the style heard on “Cosmic Handball.” Over SILENT MEMORIAL’s decade of inactivity, a few changes have been made that have had significant impact on the band’s sound.
The most noticeable change is the departure of singer Thomas Vikström (yes, he of CANDLEMASS and THERION fame) in favour of CLOUDSCAPE vocalist Mike Andersson. Though Vikström may be the more famous of the two, it is Andersson whose voice is better suited to the SILENT MEMORIAL sound. His gruffer singing contrasts sharply with the high-pitched performance Vikström delivers on “Cosmic Handball”; Andersson seems like such a natural fit for the band, whereas Vikström felt more like a studio musician.
From the first few sections of the opener, “Human Mind,” it’s clear that the reborn SILENT MEMORIAL is a heavier band than the proto-SILENT MEMORIAL of 1999. Though still firmly rooted in Prog riffs and rhythms, “Retrospective” places an emphasis on the “Metal” of Progressive Metal (whereas “Cosmic Handball” tended to place an emphasis on the “Progressive”). As such, it’s a much less expansive album than its predecessor, lacking the ten-plus-minute tracks with multiple sections that are usually a genre staple. Instead, the focus is on smaller, five-minute packages with variations on similar themes, a very welcome change indeed. The only exception is the title track, a twenty-two-minute, mostly instrumental odyssey that is not only interesting all the way through, but also contains a ten-second cover of the James Bond theme hidden within its depths.
“Retrospective” is a stronger, tighter, more focused album than its predecessor. Rather than attempting to be everywhere at once, the band sticks to a few good variations per song, then lets it all loose on the title track. Andersson’s vocals are another addition that vastly strengthens the band. Prog Metal fans will certainly enjoy this one.
(Online April 5, 2010)