Armed Cloud -
Obsidian Desert

(CD 2015, 57:56, MaXxive Records)

The tracks:
  1- Obsidian Desert
  2- Jealousy With A Halo
  3- Wounded Healer
  4- Meltdown
  5- My Own Kind
  6- Morning Star
  7- In Your Mind
  8- Pyramid Of Charlatans
  9- Aftermath Of Moral Hazard
10- Wasted?

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Armed Cloud is a band that was founded in 2011 by guitarist Wouter van der Veen and bass player Boris Suvee. After some line-up changes, Armed Cloud found a steady roster when besides vocalist Daan Dekker and keyboard player Remco van der Veen, drummer Rico Noijen joined their ranks. Armed Cloud released an EP called Shroud Of Rain (2012, see review), which caught my attention with strong compositions and capable musicians.

The new and full album Obsidian Desert sees the first appearance of drummer Nico Noijen and I guess with the addition of his personality, something has happened to the Armed Cloud I had reviewed earlier. Someone has kicked their butts; the compositions have matured and their sound has significantly improved. The overall sound of the album-that was recorded in Spacelab Studio Germany-has grown to a superb quality. The drums kick ass, the bass rumbles in your belly and the guitars sound heavy, clear and nasty when needed. A warm blanket of keyboards is spread over the compositions, sometimes taking the lead, sometimes just making sure the atmosphere for each composition sounds perfect. Besides those instrumentalists, Armed Cloud is gifted with a vocalist that crosses Queensryche's Geoff Tate with a younger Ray Alder (Fates Warning) and sometimes an early Geddy Lee of Rush.

The compositions on Obsidian Desert are a blend of traditional heavy progressive metal, but with a heavy symphonic touch. Bands like Queensryche and Fates Warning absolutely are the band member's favourites, but Armed Cloud just uses these influences to create their own sound, something that has started with their EP release and is evolving every time the band plays. Listen to the album's opener and title track Obsidian Desert and you will be totally blown away by the drum sound in combination with the crunchy guitars. Daan's vocals perfectly work for this powerful song, which has a smooth keyboard orientated midsection. I think this title track is the perfect opener for the album as they definitely have my attention. When Jealousy With A Halo continues, the power of the previous song increases, Boris' bass guitar alongside Nico's double kick drums makes sure of a furious constant pace. Although this song has both a cool keyboard and a strong guitar solo, the treat of this song is the power and noticeable coherency of the musicians. Above all, Jealousy With A Halo has a stunning end; a sort of spoken words through a megaphone and fine double bass drums. Wounded Healer shows the emotional side of Armed Cloud as the speed has slightly gone down and keyboards are taking the lead, although the guitar gently takes the attention during inventive soloing. Daan sounds more relaxed but still aims high with his vocals. Wondering how a metal ballad should sound like, here is a cool sample; Meltdown has everything a power ballad need, highlight for the wonderful guitar and the most expressive vocals I have heard so far from Daan Dekker. Cranking up the power again; My Own Kind sounds dark, heavy but most of all doomy, keyboards and guitars are in balance, resulting in a fine solo section where both instruments fight for honour. A strong point is the opening riff that switches from side to side on the stereo. Retro keyboard sounds and drums referring to Led Zeppelin announce the next song. Morning Star definitely takes another turn as the aforementioned band, mid-tempo theatrical metal with a nice role for Boris' bass parts and another stunning solo section. In Your Mind refers to Queensryche and is my first impression when I start listening to the song, as strong vocal parts are accompanied by a smooth piano in the background and a rhythm section that is put more to the front in the mix giving a nice touch to this slower, emotive composition where Daan shows another side of himself. Back to up-tempo progressive power metal we head with Pyramid Of Charlatans; double bass drums and theatrical keyboards are the foundation of this song which has sort of classic rock solo sections. Aftermath Of Moral Hazard is an instrumental theatrical part focusing on Remco's keyboard skills, with a little help from his brother. The final composition has the title Wasted? and could be seen as the band's epical composition, filled with theatrical keyboards, strong guitar solos and a stunning rhythm section. The vocals are darker again perfectly suiting the song.

With Obsidian Desert, Armed Cloud has released the perfect album that will help them climb the ladder of progressive rock music. As a statement they show what they are capable of and are ready to participate on the highest level of the Dutch progressive rock scene. I can only add here, go and see them live, buy the album and support this excellent young band.

****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Robert James Pashman)

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