Cygnus Atratus is the continuation of the band Cygnus who released the EP The First Hour (2017, see review) a year ago. An album I really enjoyed and made me hope for a full album. A year later the band renamed itself, adding Atratus and the line-up underwent some significant changes. Both core members; guitarist Eric Callaerts and bass player Benny Vercammen remain and together the band's latest addition, drummer Kjell De Raes part of the line-up was complete. On the new album; The Empyrean Heaven, the keyboards are performed by JP Kerckhofs, who also guested on the EP and the vocal parts are performed by guest vocalist Marieke Bresseleers; known from Circle Unbroken and Lords Of Acid. However, she is not a member of the band and live the band hired Iris L'Or to take care of the vocals during their release show. After the recordings, keyboard player Anke De Raes joined the band.
So, musically the band shifted from progressive rock/metal to female fronted rock/metal. That is not entirely true. Marieke is not the typical vocalist, the majority of female fronted bands inhabit. She adds power, melody and drama to the compositions. Compositions that, like the ones on the previous record are pretty progressive. Eric is a decent songwriter and knows how to use his six stringer to the maximum. Listen to the instrumental Sunrise or the bonus track; War and be impressed of the craftsmanship of the band and perhaps especially Eric's guitar escapades. The album's more powerful compositions; Solitude, Oblivion, Cyborg and After All are solid and quite impressive, the keyboard parts are perfectly imbedded into the guitar laden music, where powerful riffs, double bass drums and a roaring bass form a steady base. The smoother songs Quanying and Lady Of Stone are nice and melodramatic and really suit Marieke's voice. The opener Ritual however reminds me of Marieke's other band; Circle Unbroken. But I guess that is the impact of her recognizable vocals.
In the end, the album turned out to be a solid one, but the thought remains; what would have happened if Cygnus vocalist Frank Vermeiren had done the lead vocals, especially when I was absolutely overwhelmed by his contribution on The First Hour. For me he would have been responsible for one extra star I guess. This does not mean The Empyrean Heaven is a bad album, don't get me wrong. I like Marieke and know her as a great vocalist and she has done an amazing job on the album and the compositions are really worth listening to.
***+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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