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How often do bands become better after taking a ten year gap between their debut and their follow up? Yeah, not many, but sci-fi geeks Exises were a clear exception to the rule; whereas their debut felt like a lightweight quasi-progressive kind of record, Reternity sounds more mature and even more progressive – clearly the band had stepped up their game here.
Although plenty of progressive metal bands were obviously influenced by Dream Theater, Fates Warning or Queensryche, Exises hardly reminds me of these bands at all. Make no mistake, Reternity is more of a progressive metal album than anything else, but guitarist Michel Siethoff doesn’t forget that he’s first and foremost a metal guitarist. Just hear how lively “Fatal Miscount” sounds; with such rousing riffs, the track feels rather inspired by Judas Priest circa Defenders of the Faith and I’d only find that problematic if the track didn’t rock so well. How many bands were playing this sort of stuff in the 90’s effectively, anyway? “Action Reset” is an Iron Maiden-inspired galloper, yet off-kilter rhythm work in between makes a difference and should remind you that Exises have little interest in copying any obvious bands. Even at its most progressive, the band remains focused and determined to deliver the goods. The hard-hitting rhythmic attack of “S.P.Y.” seem vaguely connected to that of Conception’s magnum opus In Your Multitude, whereas the epic final track heads into strange directions without losing sense of direction and I’m fond of its majestic, Queen-esque chorus, too.
Make no mistake, Reternity is far from a “riff-salad” kind of record. Notable should be the absence of any stand out riffs once the leads take over and while this could easily be a disadvantage of sorts, it makes Reternity more interesting. “Meltdown Sector 6” makes an excellent introduction to the album; it explodes with an enormous amount of tensed and blistering riffing before the guitars vanish during the quieter sections, only to appear again in full force once that chorus presents itself. “Sole Survivor” sees the guitars function more as subtle background instruments, yet it’s another killer of a song; with such emotive vocals and keys that build and release tension, it’s as if I’m listening to a sci-fi-inspired tale that’s more dramatic than thrilling.
Indeed, besides the guitar chops of Michel Siethoff, the vocals also manage to stand out. Co Timmer sounds like a clear throated tenor and while he occasionally howls like a maniac, he doesn’t need to rely on the upper notes of his voice to sell a song. To me this what makes a singer great and just like many others that came before him, Co Timmer adjusts to what a song demands from the vocal department. The build-up of the aforementioned “Meltdown Sector 6” wouldn’t have been the same if it weren’t for him, as I’m fond of the contrast between the quiet, emotive vocals during the verses and the loud belting that brings that chorus to life.
Reternity consists of a few blunders here and there, though – even if they’re hardly problematic. “Heart of Darkness” sounds rather overlong and doesn’t seem to be sure of what it’s supposed to achieve; I kept hoping for a catchy chorus or a huge riff that would turn the track into a heavier direction, yet none of these occurred. The flamenco passages that arrive out of the blue make a welcoming surprise, but bands like Conception, Payne’s Gray and Power of Omens managed blend these elements with metallic riffs far better. “The Transformation” sounds slightly better, yet with its emphasis on a silly chorus and poppy keys that could have some straight out of an 80’s rock album, it’s a track hardly worth praising when compared to the otherwise superior songs.
Despite its flaws, Reternity is a progressive, yet metallic record that should definitely appeal to those who look for more song-oriented progressive metal. Now go trace it down and reward yourself!
Release date: November 1996
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