When I got to listen to Shant Hagopian's second Semantic Saturation album; Paradigms I realized it was in 2012 that fell in love with Shant's beautiful melodies and wonderful playing. Solipsistic (see review) became one of those albums that I came to play on a regular base, it never gets dull and remains an interesting musical journey, even after six years. In 2018 the time was right to release a new album and this time the accompanying musicians are as impressive as on the previous album. Besides Shant Hagopian, the core of the “band” are drummer Craig Blundell, well known from bands like Frost*, Lonely Robot and Steven Wilson. The Dutch/Swedish bass player Kristoffer Gildenlöw is famous for his participation in Pain Of Salvation, his solo works and is a member of the symphonic, progressive rock band Kayak. Guest keyboard players are the returning Derek Sherinian (Sons Of Apollo and many more) and Alex Argento (Icefish) who also produced the album. Where on the previous album Vanden Plas vocalist Andy Kuntz provided the vocals for one song, the sole vocal laden track on Paradigms sees Houry Dora Apartian as vocalist. Finally, Squiggy McFlannel is mentioned as trumpeter for on song.
All in all a line-up that stands for high quality musical craftsmanship, and indeed these thorough musicians are very able to take the quite impressive compositions to an even higher level. Musically there is a lot of diversity on the album; guitar driven compositions, where Shant lets his guitar do the talking. He is able to write melodic guitar lines that substitute lyrical parts on progressive rock albums, but also knows when to play heavy nasty riffs. Both opening tracks; Mirrors Of Confusion and Carousel Of Death are good examples for this approach. Even more intense is Pareidolia, a heavy romantic track with subtle Joe Satriani infulences. Empty Whisky Jar is the only vocal track on the album, smooth blues and jazz elements are blended to a delicate composition, where again the Satriani references are clear, but in a song that good old Joe would never come up with. Perhaps my favourite on the album is the heavy progressive rock/metal song The Stranger From Andromeda, a brilliant tune where the trio; Hagopian, Gildenlöw and Blundell show they really belong to the top musicians in the scene. Until We Meet Again is a solid ballad style composition, highlighting some fine bass playing and tender guitar parts, welded together by subtle drumming. Another intriguing piece of music. Derek Sherinian enters his signature playing to Ulterior Harmony, making this one a progressive rock song with a fusion touch, a kind of smoother and funkier Planet X I would say. Perhaps weird, but the song Disturbance Within gives me the feeling of post rock, especially in the guitar parts these elements are very noticeable; together with the rhythm section the combination of post a progressiveness results in a more than amazing composition. Another fine tune where Shant lets his guitar do the talking is Universal; a kind of classic rock meets prog is the result, including very fine piano parts. Could you refer to an instrumental song as an epic, if you can, Where Dreams Have Died is the absolute epic of the album, spheres and speed changes all over the place, but remaining brilliant for the full ten and a half minute. Another perfect track I guess.
Paradigms is the second outing of Semantic Saturation and it's equally impressive as the debut, I think the use of different musicians does give the album a more progressive touch than the previous album. Which I think will win many true progressive rock aficionados, where the fusion freaks will still have their share of interesting parts. For me, this is another musical highlight in my collection.
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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