A Mindís Portrait, the debut album of Rich Hinksí Aeon Zen, was released in 2009. It got such great reviews, that it made me very curious to its successor The Face Of The Unknown. Does this second album come up to the high expectations? Well, it does, but let me introduce Rich Hinks first. Heís a British 21-year old multi-instrumentalist, who plays all guitars, except for one solo played by Matt Shepherd. In addition, heís responsible for the vocals on three tracks; he plays all bass, drums and keyboard parts. Only one keyboard solo was played by Christian van Schuerbeck. This summing up already has my deepest respect; it seems Rich is a kind of musical centipede, who not only writes great songs, but also performs them very professionally!
The music of Aeon Zen naturally points out to the music of Ayreon, Danielle Liveraniís Genius and even Avantasia. The similarities are probably caused by the fact that these Ďbandsí are the brainchild of one very gifted multi-instrumentalist, using the vocal skills of some of the most talented vocalists in the genre. The combination of Rich Hinksí great compositions and the diversity of these vocalists, make this an album that easily can compete with the aforementioned artists, or better: it exceeds some of the albums made by those well-known names. To me itís only a matter of time before this guy settles at the top of the progressive metal scene. The Face Of The Unknown will certainly give him a big push in that direction.
Hinks wrote the songs with the singer of his choice in mind, which means that these songs suit these singers very well.† Salvation and The Heart Of The Sun are vocally supported by the Norwegian singer Michael Eriksen, who derives his fame of the great band Circus Maximus. Salvation is an over ten-minute epic that opens the album. By switching moods Rich Hinks is creating some fantastic atmosphere here and the power drumming, together with the frantic riffing makes this the perfect song to start with. The other song Michael is involved in, seems to be more relaxed, the vocals stand out perfectly and the fierce guitar solo make this song a progressive melodic one to sing along with. Swedish Andi Kravijaca, normally fronting the band Silent Call, is also taking care of two songs. The first is Visions, a progressive metal song, which suits his voice perfectly. This track also features Matt Shepherd with a heavy guitar solo. The second is the title track, a complex song with heavy riffing, staccato drumming that leads to a stunning bluesy solo and an astonishing guest performance of Christian van Schuerbeck.
Spockís Beardís Nick DíVirgilio is the vocalist on the almost acoustically sounding Crystal Skies, but after a while it gets electrified and turns out to be a complex atmospheric, though pleasant song to listen to. Natural Selection follows and has Jem Godfrey, well-known from Frost*, as an outstanding vocalist. Godfrey has a very strict way of singing and together with the heavy riffing and the fabulous solos itís definitely worth listening to. It deviates a bit from the other songs, but I love this one. Johnny Tatum, lead singer of Eumeria, takes Redemptionís Shadow, a fast mood and speed changing song, which contains great piano playing. A mind-blowing solo gives this piece a bit of a Pain Of Salvation-touch. Together with Rich he also sings a duet on My Sacrifice, a more industrial song, with a heavy riffing guitar though still a very progressive metal song. On Youíre Not Alone and Start Over, Rich takes the microphone himself and I have to say he does it in a perfect way, sometimes a bit distorted, but mostly very vulnerable; heís not afraid to show some emotion, a brave move that works out very well.
Listening to The Face Of The Unknown, Iím very impressed by the way this rather young man provides us with such a mature album. Great complex compositions worked out perfectly. With the help of some very talented vocalists, he recorded a CD that goes to the top ranks of my favourite albums of the year. Well done!
**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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