I had to try out EXTOL's new CD after hearing so many positive words about it, just to see what the big fuzz was all about. I haven't heard their previous albums, so I don't know whether this is a logical continuation, this is simply what I hear when listening to "Synergy". First of all, EXTOL are Prog inspired songwriters, secondly they just can't play without having to make everything technical just because it should be and finally the vocals lack confidence, otherwise it's a decent Progressive Thrash Metal album. I could just stop there and that would be it, but I'm not going to, so here's what I really found after digging some more within "Synergy's" enriched surroundings.
The instrumental side carries the music very well indeed, there are moments when the band really has their concept beautifully interwoven and are totally on top of things, that's why it's so sad to hear it happening on only a handful of occasions. An example would be the opening track "Grace For Succession"; the guitars, bass and drums are the primary weapons showing lots of complexity, contrasts and changes, the structure morphs whenever it feels like it, sure it's all well played but it doesn't go anywhere. This is the problem with this kind of music, it's not for the mainstream audience that's for sure, it feels more like I'm trying to crack a code or solve a puzzle.
EXTOL thankfully don't travel along this route all the way, but obviously they like experimenting with most of their songs but it doesn't always pay off. "Make up your mind, are they good or not?" you might ask: like I said, to me the full picture remains blurred, but anyone who loves the old "more of everything" songwriting formula will get a hell of a lot more out of this record than I ever will. One thing I do know for sure is that the vocals could and should be better; the powerless female vocals on "Paradigms" are way out of place as are the randomly placed Black Metal screams.
The acoustic track "Aperture", which recaptures the old spirit of OPETH's "Morningrise" album, is in perfect harmony before the vocals enter and thereby makes the track lose it's aforementioned classic feel. "26 Miles From Marathon" and "Psychopath" are pretty cool tracks with tons of fluid guitar work, everything from tremolo Death Metal picking to clean guitars are included, anything goes into the mix and actually sounds good. If anything "Synergy" will be rewarded for its sound and instrumental enthusiasm, my advice: listen first before buying, seriously. (Online February 1, 2004)