One of the biggest surprises of 2014 for me was the performance of British progmetal band Hekz when they supported Knight Area during their release party of Hyperdrive (2014, see review). During their 45-minute set (see review) they played a selection of their two released albums. From the beginning until the end the band blew me away with their brilliant performance. So it was only a matter of time for this band to feature in the CD reviews section of our website.
After releasing two EP's first , namely Another Time (2007) and Orfeo (2010), this Bedford based band released their debut album Tabula Rasa independently in April 2012 . The album was recorded at Outhouse Studios in Reading and mixed and mastered by John Mitchell (Arena and It Bites). On this album musicians Matt Young (lead vocals, keyboards, bass), Tom Smith (guitars), Kirk Brandham (drums, percussion) and Al Beveridge (guitars, keyboards) started mixing traditional heavy metal with progressive rock influences into a unique style. Fans of progressive rock bands like Rush, Dream Theater, Queensryche and Psychotic Waltz might certainly recognise musical comparisons with those bands when they hear the band's debut. However at the same time bands like Iron Maiden and The Cult could be recognized in their compositions. Most of all the first couple of tracks on their debut move more towards the metal style than the progressive rock genre. But as the album moves on, and you have the patience to carry on listening, the more melodic progressive rock parts come to the surface. Listen, for instance, to tracks such as City Of Lost Children, Vendetta, Hashashiyyin and Don't Turn Back and you will hear a band that certainly knows how to entertain the real progheads. The strong assets in the music of the band are most of all the strong vocals of singer Matt Young and the twin guitar parts done by the guitar tandem Smith and Beveridge. This combination makes it not so strange to compare the band to their fellow countrymen Threshold. Just like in this band singer Damian Wilson and guitarists Pete Morten and Karl Groom have a leading role in the sound of the band. Therefore it is easy to compare the musical qualities of Matt, Tom and All on their debut with those of Damian, Pete and Karl.
With the release of their second album Caerus two years later James Messenger was added to the band's line up, who enriched the album with his amazing keyboard parts. Listen for instance to the fine intro he created for the tracks The Left Hand Of God and Journey's End. The album shows most of all that the band has grown musically compared to their debut. Every track is of a very high level. They still show a mix between metal and progressive rock, but this time the progressive rock elements win the race compared to the race they started on their first musical effort. And this time around you will hear the Rush influences even more. Just listen to the opening track Progress & Failure and you know what I am talking about. Also, from time to time, bands such as Haken and Riverside come to the surface as a possible inspiration. I'm glad they kept the twin guitar parts intact on this release, you can enjoy them throughout the entire album. Also the lead vocals of Matt are a feast to hear once again. Many times he's singing like the earlier mentioned Wilson, but he's also capable of the high screams that Ian Gillian used to do in the seventies with Deep Purple. Wow, he really pulled it off to go to the highest regions! A special mention goes to the guest musicians Audrey Riley on cello, Owen Hughes on violin and Abi Murray playing flute. Most of all they shine on the closing track Journey's End, which is one of the highlights on the album, together with The Black Hand and Homo Ex Machina. But as I mentioned earlier the whole album is of a very high level, filled with only strong compositions.
Hopefully we will hear of this excellent band more often. A band that brings the British progmetal music to a higher level, no doubt about that! Both of their albums are highly recommended to fans of Threshold, Haken, Riverside, Rush, Dream Theater, Queensryche and Psychotic Waltz. I am glad I bumped into them in 2014!
***/ **** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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