At the end of my previous review of this multi-national band's double album Noah (2010, see review), I said that the next album might be one to look out for. I hoped it didn't take another five years, I then wrote. Well, within two years Unwritten Pages have recorded a successor to their debut called Fringe Kitchen. This time the band members totally rely upon their own capabilities. No more Damian Wilson or Karl Groom to help them out; Unwritten Pages have matured and can stand on their own feet now. The band still consists of initiator Frederic Epe (vocals, keyboards, guitar), his brother Michel Epe (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and their father Lothar Epe (vocals). Also bass player Sander Stappers returned. New are guitarist James Cook and as a bonus the band got John Macalusso as the new drummer. Ruth Maassen is no longer participating. In my opinion she was, as I mentioned in my previous review, the weakest link.
With Fringe Kitchen Unwritten Pages made a turn of 180 degrees. Coming from the conceptual progressive rock, the band now is much heavier; the songs are darker and tend much more toward the progressive metal genre. The happy opener Hejo still has a progressive touch, but the heavy riff based guitars already knocking on the door for the next song Asylum Tragedy. Luckily the keyboards make sure that the music remains melodic and accessible. With the release of this single CD album you'll get a better chance to get into Frederic's and Lothar's vocals. As a result I noticed that both singers have grown or at least the music fits in better to their voices. A good example of their vocal capacities is Intoxicating Sweets which refers to Fates Warning at some points, but it's definitely a showcase for the singers in combination with the stunning guitar play. The new guitarist makes sure that the guitar sounds are excellently divided throughout the album. In Perfect Incentive and Terminal Defect you'll hear the heaviness of two guitars.
As far as I'm concerned the emotional piece Cloud Infinite is a highlight on the album. The music starts calmly and full of emotion with acoustic guitars and a brilliant vocal line, heading for a more alternative and pop-rock direction. The tremendous bass play in the background still provides this piece a nice progressive touch. Also slightly tending to alt rock is Kaleidemote due to the riffing guitars and the vocal lines. Again the fluent guitar solo brings you back to the prog rock area. Wasted Land is definitely something special; it's an emotional orchestrated song with outstanding vocals, acoustic guitar and piano with Lothar Epe excelling on the mouth harp. During the album's final piece Auxiliary Influx, I realized that the entire album holds a superb sound. Being mixed by the famous Tommy Newton, all the instruments have been perfectly balanced in all songs, blending progressive metal with alternative rock. Also the drum sounds are of a high level, showing the advantage of the incorporation of drummer John Macalusso.
Taking a U-turn in Unwritten Pages' musical approach certainly has paid off. It seems this kind of music suits the band better than their prestigious concept of Noah. For me these musicians have demonstrated that there's no need to rely on others to make a fantastic album. With some proper promotion and the possibility to play live shows I think we have another premier league band in the triangle Germany-Belgium-The Netherlands.
**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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