I've mentioned before that every time I listen to the Raised on Rock radio show, DJ Chris Franklin puts another couple of standout songs in front of me that I've never heard before and may not have found otherwise. Recently, he played a track from this third release by Finnish prog metal band Simulacrum and I jotted it down as a standout. Unlike perhaps every other similar instance that I've picked up for that reason, however, this one is kind of leaving me a bit dry.
What probably grabbed me was the level of technical expertise the band display, which is clearly high, and the way that they stayed inventive throughout what had to have been a reasonably long song, as nothing here runs below five minutes and change and the shortest is part three of a four part suite. I can't remember which song Chris played, but all nine on offer here would have met those criteria and he could have chosen any of them with the same effect.
Let's use the opener as an example. It's called Traumatized and it packs a lot into its six minutes, as if the band were getting paid by the note. My biggest problem with the album as a whole is that it's too much and consistently so. It's impressive on an initial listen but, the more I replayed, the more that I wanted some serious dynamic play to really mix things up. There are points where things quieten but they don't usually slow at the same time, so they're usually there to allow a particular instrument to take the spotlight for a while, rather than a way to vary the intensity.
Traumatized may be a telling name for many listeners, because it's easily the heaviest song that I've heard on Frontiers Records, a label much more known for its melodic rock. And yes, the rest follow it; this isn't a palate cleansing anomaly. The guitars of Petri Mäkilä and Solomon are powerful and carry quite the punch, often a jagged punch that fits with the modern American metal style. However, they do mix that up and vary that style, shifting often into their default mode of European power metal.
There's also a layer of keyboards to differentiate it from anything American, as it doesn't always work as a softening agent. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it's more like an opponent in a duel, with the various instruments queuing up to fight it out for supremacy. I quite like that deathmatch approach to composition, but it's a busy one and it can be a tiring one. The keyboards sometimes come out on top, as they do midway through Nothing Remains, but those jagged rocks of riffs threaten it throughout.
The vocals are clean but often unpolished for effect. There are two singers here, with the primary one being Niklas Broman, who I think is the warmer and more polished. That would suggest that the more raucous voice, not that it's particularly harsh, belongs to Erik Kraemer and he often reminds of Bruce Dickinson, especially on Like You Like Me. There's not a huge distance between the two, though, both being powerful male tenor voices, with the biggest difference being the tone.
I can't say that I don't like this, because I do. It's technically intricate and musically accomplished and I found warmth and emotion here too, albeit not throughout. It's very carefully constructed, enough so that I certainly wouldn't see it translated into emotion with the colours of the cover art. It would have a lot more blue and grey and brushed steel. The warmer parts are often the ones where the band pull back for a solo run, oddly more the bass of Olli Hakala and sometimes Christian Pulkkinen's keyboards than the guitars. Hakala gets an organic stretch in Traumatized and another to introduce Arrhythmic Distortions.
And, while I've mostly talked about the opening track with a little more about the next two, all of that is applicable to every other song here too. The album's consistency is at once a strength and perhaps a fatal weakness. And I start to realise why one of these nine tracks struck me as so impressive within a radio show full of other artists, but the album as a whole is leaving me a bit dry. This is a band to take in small chunks, appreciate their talent and move on, and any song here will achieve that. Only the diehard prog metallers are likely to be similarly enthused throughout the hour plus that this album runs.