There’s no doubt that Sweden’s SEVENTH WONDER is one of the most criminally underrated bands in today’s Progressive Metal scene. Ever since acquiring superstar singer Tommy Karevik for their sophomore album, 2006’s “Waiting In The Wings,” the band has been on fire, releasing albums that are wondrously catchy, technically brilliant, deeply complex, and superbly produced. Despite finding a characteristic sound that makes any of their tracks instantly recognizable, no two of the band’s albums sound the same. While “Waiting In The Wings” was a collection of tightly focused individual tracks, each one a standalone mini-epic, “Mercy Falls” was a grandiose concept album full of many shorter tracks that deserved to be played in sequence. The band’s fourth effort, “The Great Escape,” is yet another kind of beast.
Somewhat like “Waiting In The Wings,” the first half of the album is a collection of unrelated individual tracks, each one telling its own story. “Wiseman” kicks things off with all band members wailing away on their respective instruments before finally arriving at a consensus for the verse, at which point Karevik launches the track into melodic heaven. One thing that has always distinguished SEVENTH WONDER from other Prog bands is that their vocal lines are just as progressive as the guitar, bass, keys, and drums. The backup singers rarely echo Karevik, but often follow their own melodies that dip and intertwine with Karevik’s lead melodies on just the right beats. And Karevik himself explores the full spectrum of his vocal range, often in a single measure, somehow managing to keep the song catchy despite his wild intonations. Of course, this is one of Karevik’s greatest strengths; despite the emotional nature of his vocals, his timing is just as millisecond-perfect as the rest of the band.
While all of the tracks on the first half of “The Great Escape” are technical showcases, some of them have the added punch of being infectiously catchy. Oftentimes, it’s just a single hook, a few seconds of divine melody, but it’s enough to make you stop and wonder how a Prog song can be as catchy as a hit Pop single. “Alley Cat” is the closest the album comes to having such a single (they even shot a video for it, a first for the band), with verses, prechoruses, pre-prechoruses, and choruses that are all radically different from one another, yet easy enough for the average listener to appreciate. “The Angelmaker” and “Move On Through” follow in this vein, with catchy hooks sandwiched between meaty Prog riffs.
The make-or-break point of this album, and what sets “The Great Escape” apart from the band’s previous work, comes in the album’s second half. Indeed, the second side of the album is wholly occupied by the half-hour-long behemoth of a title track. The song contains everything typical of the shorter tracks on the album, including virtuosic instrumental wizardry and clever vocal melodies, but everything is contextualized within a thirteen-part sci-fi epic. “The Great Escape” is a post-apocalyptic tale of exile, exploration, and despair, told through some of the best lyrics SEVENTH WONDER has ever written. Due to the thirty-minute running time, the song can certainly be a struggle to sit through in one go, but those who find the time to do so will be rewarded with a grand Prog journey through time and space. It is unclear whether the song would have benefited from being broken up into shorter tracks, much like the band did for the “Mercy Falls” storyline. Despite the greater focus on storytelling in each of the song’s movements, most parts are catchy and/or long enough to stand on their own. In the end, the band’s decision to keep “The Great Escape” as one single track was a gutsy move, and one that certainly makes the album less immediately accessible than its predecessors, but it’s also a rare treat for Prog diehards who long for the days when multi-part epics occupied entire album sides.
It appears the sky is the limit for SEVENTH WONDER, as “The Great Escape” only further cements the band’s growing reputation as one of the finest in the world of Progressive Metal. The first half of the album presents a sound that fans of the band’s previous works will instantly appreciate, while the second half presents those same fans with a new challenge. While the shorter songs show the band easily doing what they do best (writing über-catchy and über-complicated Prog tracks), the title track is a much tougher nut to crack, but it’s still a half-hour well spent. As an album, “The Great Escape” is yet another phenomenal leap for a band that seems to have no trouble topping itself on every release.
(Online February 23, 2011)