REVIEW: SEVENTH WONDER – “Tiara”
Swedish progressive metal band Seventh Wonder are high up on the list of most underrated bands of the genre since the turn of the century. ‘Waiting in the Wings’ already showed glimpses of what they’re capable of, but their power-prog formula was perfected on ‘Mercy Falls’, one of the modern classics that deserves far more traction than it has had, ten years after its release. ‘The Great Escape’, their previous effort was even more ambitious, including a gorgeous thirty-minute title track that flies by, but overall is slightly inconsistent that it’s predecessor. The wait for a new Seventh Wonder has been a long, painful one, not helped by vocalist Tommy Karevik replacing Roy Khan on Kamelot. The wait has also been testing from a personal perspective, with the band and vocalist high up on the ones I most adore, with ‘Mercy Falls’ being one of the albums that introduced me to progressive music.
“Arrival” is a short intro to the album, hinting at a few melodies and a cinematic approach one might expect from the album. “The Everones” captures what the band does so well. Menacing riffs and soft synths on the back open into the vocals, and these riffs include a few screeches on the first verses. Tommy Karevik sings with his signature panache, accentuating the first (“Once chance to live”) and last phrases of the chorus (“This is the end”) wonderfully. The track also includes a few vocoder phrases, further immersing the listener in the sci-fi, futuristic concept (Which is linked to ‘The Great Escape’). “Dream Machines” and “Against the Grain” are among the weaker efforts of the album. The former doesn’t quite deliver the hooks, and even with the intended cheese of the lyrics, the repetition of the words (“We go up, up, up”) is a minor annoyance. The latter is slightly better, employing acoustics on the intro and a few interesting story tidbits. They both include shred-heavy solos on the bridge that are a tad abrupt in the transition.
“Victorious” is a good return-to-catchy-form, and the synth solo is especially akin to ‘Mercy Falls’ in terms of execution. “Tiara’s Song”, the first track of the three part “Farewell”, is even better. The verses and chorus are beautifully constructed, with Karevik and Johan Liefvendahl (guitars) impressing. A few backing vocals are discernible, while Andreas Blomqvist’s basslines are slightly more distinct. The final piano melodies (Andreas Söderin on the keys) are moving and complement the vocals beautifully. The next two parts are softer, and almost sung in a ballad format alongside the keys. Highlights include quicker drumming (Stefan Norgren) and the warm, hearty ‘Tiara’s theme’ sung by an ensemble on part two. The third includes a female voice (A cameo by Jenny Karevik again?) around the chorus and a stunning viola section on the outro after a few alluring piano melodies.
The voice reappears, centrally and loudly, on “The Truth”, where the bass again comes to life and the album’s theme echoes as the track settles. After a bunch of softer songs, “By the Light of the Funeral Pyres” takes no time to burst into life with a loud synth and driving guitar. The contrast in the grim nature of the lyrics, with all the death and destruction, and the upbeat instrumentation reminds me of “Everybody Dies” by Ayreon. “Damnation Below”, on the other hand, has a Dream Theater tip-of-the-hat going for it, though these last two songs aren’t particularly memorable. Following a short instrumental with vocals and organ on “Procession”, album closer “Exhale” turns up the heaviness in spectacular fashion after a steady build-up. The riffs are very power metal-like (The chorus has a strange, older- Kamelot feeling to it) while the rapid drumming wouldn’t sound out of place on a thrash effort. Lasting for almost ten minutes, it also has a dazzling extended solo section on the guitar, synth and a notable one on the bass, which is given more space on the mix.
Which brings me to my biggest disappointment in the album: The production, and particularly, the mix. If I were to write a review for the last two albums, I would be rightly fawning over Blomqvist’s astonishing bass technique in addition to Karevik’s vocals. The fact that his performance gets only a line or two on this one is a sad result of the bass being buried for the most part. The drums could also sound a bit better (More of a mastering issue than a mixing one), while the rest of the instruments are fine. Perhaps what is more surprising is that Karevik’s vocals are also a bit low in the mix, which is a big contrast to the previous efforts, where he’s literally at the center of the show. The sound is even more disappointing considering production has been one of the band’s strong suits: even ‘Mercy Falls’, which has a few clunky voice-acting bits, has brilliant production when it comes to just the music.
After an eight-year long wait, Seventh Wonder is back with ‘Tiara’, a good progressive metal effort that will sate fans’ expectations without particularly surpassing them.