I had intended to review this album months ago, but it's just one of those interesting releases which my opinions seem to fluctuate over endlessly. Having invested well over a dozen listens into Seven Steps of Stone, I've safely arrived in the positive camp. This is the sophomore effort from this Italian band; I've yet to track down the debut for comparisons.
Aleph are very reminiscent of Celtic Frost, largely in part due to the crumbling vocal delivery of Dave Battaglia and the progressive environments which encapsulate their thrash riffing. Pianos are used quite well within this band, in fact I'd often consider them the core instrument for several of the tracks. Opening track "The Cradle and the Blade" is a great example. Though it often erupts in throatier vocals and churning, doomy thrash guitar riffs, the primary context of the song is a creeping, haunted castle feel dominated by piano and orchestral synthesizers. This is an excellent track which completely sets the mood for the record. You know you're in for something a little left of center. "Bringer of Light" starts with some interesting drumming which propels the gloomy evocations of the guitars, alternating between progressive thrash rhythms and soothing yet scary melodies. The vocals are very much Tom G. Warrior in that one growled range, but, honestly, can we ever get enough of that style? "The Voices from Below" begins with a little too much crunch to the very power/thrash metal style of the riff; it's one of the most pure thrash tracks on the album but still gets a flourish of atmospheric synths. "Chimera" is another thrasher but breaks into a tranquil and lavish acoustic + synth bridge which refreshes the listener before they break into some fine leadwork over a driving, almost death metal rhythm. "An Autumn Colder Than Winter" once again provides fulfilling acoustics which shift into some doomy thrash. "Tidal Wave" is quite epic, over 12 minutes long and running the full range of the previous compositions, with an even more progressive rock leaning. "Epitaph Lies" has an impressive, charging melody to it, and the album closer "El Aleph" is perhaps the most experimental piece on the album.
In all, Seven Steps of Stone is quite the interesting listen. I can say this honestly as it hasn't left my playlist in some time. The tracks are well composed yet and the mix is largely crystal (though the rhythm guitar chords & mutes get a little too chunky in spots). The occult lyrics really mesh well with the style. It might be difficult to perceive, but try to imagine a happy medium between Celtic Frost and Dream Theater. Aleph is the only band I've heard come into a sound quite like this one, and with their strong songwriting and solid musicianship I can expect only great things in their future.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (invite me through the mirror)