Company: Replica Records Release: 2007 Reviewer: Etiam Genre: Progressive, power
A new toast of the prog/power scene? --perhaps.
Along with Pathosray, France's Spheric Universe Experience (SUE) have been the new toast of the prog/power scene in the States, helped out significantly by their upcoming gig at ProgPower IX. Aside from being the metal world's version of Comic-Con, ProgPower has habitually featured up-and-coming prog acts that go on to dominate the scene, such as Symphony X, Devin Townsend, Pain of Salvation, Pagan's Mind, and many others. So, are SUE next on the list of luminous alumni? Perhaps.
An immediate mark in the band's favor is their strong resemblance to some of the aforementioned heavyweights (Symphony X especially) in emotive ability and fusion of progressive riffing and power metal sing-alongs. Even SUE's label makes no bones about the band's similarities to Symphony X, and aims to preclude calls of plagiarism with a major nod to the New Jersey vets in the promotional material. And indeed, the two groups do share much. The first of many similar passages comes from the opening moments as 'Sceptic' leads with an aggressive hook and harmonic punctuation evocative of 'Inferno', lead track of Symphony X's coming of age on 'The Odyssey'. It's worth noting that while Vince could likely match Michael Romeo for sheer picking speed, but his soloing style is far less engaging and seems a little arbitrary (see 'Neptune's Revenge' for both).
Therefore, as expected, SUE fall short of a lofty objective, and do so most notably in the most critical area of all--songwriting. It's competent and frequently memorable, but it doesn't elevate SUE into the prog/power stratosphere by any means. SUE are also separated from Symphony X by their proclivity towards heavily melodic choruses and very prominent keyboards. During these passages, especially when the synthesizer's sampling reaches C-grade Twilight Zone extremes, SUE sound most akin to Richard Andersson's projects like Time Requiem.
In short, this means that engaging and melodic songwriting is flawed by too many noodling prog sections, most of which could easily have been excised without any detriment to the song itself. An apologist for these addenda might argue that they inject the metal back into what would otherwise be rather light compositions, not too unlike Vision Divine (although Franck is no match for Fabio or Michele), and certainly the band members' command of their instruments is irreproachable, but their excessive showcasing of talents only leads to diminishing returns. The spoken interludes of pseudo-psychology also bog the album down, both emotionally and for 'fun-factor'. However interesting the theory of the anima and its counterpart, the animus, few metal fans enjoy being lectured by musicians, as the backlash to Pain of Salvation's 'BE' should have made quite evident.
SUE are capable of overcoming all of these detriments, however, and show enough promise on 'Anima' to make their next album a likely bet for success. Flawed though it is, the songwriting core of SUE has depth and ambition, and no doubt will continue to develop along with the band's synergy. Perhaps with a US appearance and a newly heightened profile to their name, the band has their own coming-of-age opus in the works.
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