In 2003, I reviewed Symbioses, the second album of Dutch band Ulysses. This album contained heavy progressive rock of an international quality level. The album proved that not only Dream Theater, Symphony X and Threshold make outstanding music filed under prog metal. At the time, I gave the album four stars, so the band could still gain an extra star for their next studio-album.
Now six years later Ulysses released The Gift Of Tears. When I got the CD to review, I was curious to find out if the band would manage to get five stars. Well, the music on The Gift Of Tears is again very strong and can easily compete with all the big names in the prog metal scene. In spite of that remark, I cannot give the album five stars, because that would mean that Ulysses scored a real masterpiece and that is yet not the case here, but they come rather close.
The Gift Of Tears contains no weak tracks whatsoever. All tracks are worth listening. Guitarist Sylvester Vogelenzang de Jong is without doubt one of the best guitar players in The Netherlands. More than once the name of John Pretucci crossed my mind and that can only be regarded as a big compliment. That also applies to keyboard player Ron Mozer who shows all his talents on this solid release. Sometimes you can hear the influences of Tony Banks (Genesis) and Mark Kelly (Marillion). Lead singer Michael Hos joined the band just after the release of Symbioses. His way of singing completely differs from his predecessor Raymond Jansen. Raymond sang in the vein of Geddy Lee in his early days, while Michael is an all-round rock singer with a lot of strength and passion in his voice. And passion he needs on this rather sad and dark album that deals with the meaning of life. The opening track, the strong and up-tempo piece Family Portrait, is about accomplishing more understanding by listening to each other. Anat, the longest track is also the saddest song of the album. It is a heartbreaking story of a one-year old girl who died of a brain tumour. The band received this true story by e-mail and they were all so impressed that they decided to translate the story into music. The song reflects how we deal with the loss of innocent lives and how we are able to come out stronger than before. Anat is one of the real stories about real people on this album. Why use fiction, while people have so many stories of their own, seems to be the bandís credo on this album. Most tracks are up-tempo, but on Silence Of The Night Ulysses shows that they can write a strong ballad as well. It only features Michael on vocals and Ron on acoustic piano.
The album had a strong impact on me personally. After reading the lyrics, it made me think more about the meaning of life. Enjoy every new day as if it were your last. For those who like strong prog metal related songs made by bands as Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery, Pain Of Salvation and Kamelot this album is highly recommended. The Gift Of Tears is in its genre a very strong album and that final judgment is in accordance with a score between four and five stars. As far as I am concerned, Ulysses comes close to a masterpiece with this release.
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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