Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shaman - Origins (2010)

When you look at Shaman's story, it's kind of a miracle the band still exists to put out records. They started as an escape for former Angra frontman Andre Matos and drummer Ricard Confessori, and released a pretty good debut in Ritual, which featured a great mesh of prog and power metal with oodles of catchy licks running up and down the fretboard, and of course Matos' trademark for high pitched, whiny but quality vocals. Sadly, the band followed this up with a less interesting sophomore, Reason, under the added 'a' Shaaman, and then Matos decided he was going to do his thing and leave. His was not the only exodus, so Confessori had to hire a new line-up, including Fernando Quesada and Leo Mancini of fellow Brazilian band Wizards, and new vocalist Thiago Bianchi of Karma. This line-up released Immortal, which was not very good at all, a low point for the band.

It would have been easy to just abandon this project at that point, since the band might have felt awkward and the fans might have felt the last of the magic, but no! Confessori and his crew have gone back to the studio, spent a few years writing, and arrived with the 4th full-length Origins, which is truthfully the best thing they've done since the debut. In fact, it features most of the qualities I appreciate about Ritual, with an even thicker tone, and seeing that Confessori is now back with Angra, I think it's truly admirable that he hasn't given up on this band. You don't see that level of dedication every day, especially coupled with a kick ass compensation for a rather forgettable effort. By kick ass, I mean this record is almost at the level of the incomparable Angra in its songwriting, and it weaves a unique conceptual tale of a Siberian boy, the travails of his tribe, and his eventual evolution into a spiritual icon for his people.

Bianchi's vocals might honestly be a turn-off for some, and I do feel that he's toned down a little much in the mix, but he remains comparable in style to Andre Matos and the newer Angra vocalist Eduardo Falaschi. If you appreciate them, then there's no reason Bianchi will not suffice as the torch is passed on down the line. He's somewhat shrieky and wavering, and every now and then he grates slightly on the nerve, but even he shines here in places. When I say 'even he', that's because the rest of the band kick total fucking tail throughout this entire album. The mix of choppy, grooving rhythms and anthemic eruptions is sure to sate the listeners expectations, and Mancini has transformed into this riffing god. This band has always had strong keyboards, but they're also dialed up for this, perfectly complementing the driving rhythms and often escalating into impressive atmospheres of their own.

The tribal percussion and ambiance of "Origins (The Day I Died)" intro transform into the storming epic "Lethal Awakening", where flights of fanciful and complex guitar licks are graced by a series of explosive leads, soon joined by hyper keyboards and Bianchi's ghostlike crooning. The breakdown with the mystical guitar solo and proggish, jamming synthesizer is also a highlight here, and immediately the listener is pumped for this record. This is how you start an album, folks. "Inferno Veil" follows with a great intro, drums thundering into this heavy as balls guitar segment. This is basically a Siberian epic fucking thrasher, with carefully measured levels of tension and bombastic power metal verses. My ears felt like they wanted to tear off of my fat head and forever dwell within Shaman's unraveling myth-history.

Next, a period of calm, with the gentle orchestration and wilderness percussion of "Ego Pt. I", with an emotional performance from Bianchi, counter-attacked by the raging "Ego Pt. II", with a dense, shredded rhythm passage and some of the best vocal lines on the entire album. "Finally Home" is a happier, uplifting piece which incorporates a lot of Angra to it, especially from the Fireworks era, and "Rising Up to Life" is a worthy piano power ballad in which Bianchi also gets to stretch his pipes (very similar to Falaschi here). "No Mind" opens with a big groove rhythm, but quickly abandons it for one of the most incredible little melodic speed metal licks the band has done since the debut, while "Blind Messiah" erupts from a titillating acoustic segment to some jamming, mountain walls of prog metal. I also truly love the band's cover of "Kurenai" from X Japan! What an unexpected surprise, and Shaman offer it all the love and power they can muster.

Yes, folks. Immortal represented the ashes of this band's downward trajectory, and Origins represents the phoenix, spitting fire at all the non-believers at is storms skyward from the pit of a shaky career. The composition and performances are extraordinary all around, with the possible exception of Bianchi, who could be mixed in a little better. Still, he's at his best here, and provides little distraction from the amazing guitar work and rhythm section of the band, nor the choppy but brilliant excursions into synthesizer heaven. I can't think of a single track on the album that did not grasp my attention, and this is a work very much worthy of the band in whose shadow Shaman must forever lie. Or maybe not...

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]


No comments: