Tuesday 18 May 2021

Images of Eden - Angel Born (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Mar 2021
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It's been interesting watching Images of Eden grow, especially since I've done a lot of that outside of normal musical channels. I met Steve Dorssom at a local film festival almost a decade ago, because he was introducing a documentary he'd shot about his eighties thrash band, Ripsaw, which spoke to me. I believe his primary band at the time was Born of Fire and, as a screener for that festival, I got to see a lot of their music videos as they were submitted. He joined Images of Eden in 2014 as their drummer and I experienced them through music videos too, many shot here in Phoenix by Steve and featuring actors who are friends of mine.

Their problem was that they were spread out over many states and, I believe, Mexico too, so they had little opportunity to play together live. At some point, they must have had a serious band talk, which resulted in a concentration on live work, distance be damned. I've seen them a couple of times, once supporting the Iron Maidens, which didn't make much sense at all, and again supporting Geoff Tate, which made lots of sense. Images of Eden used to be a solo project for vocalist Gordon Tittsworth and it's thankfully turned into an accomplished band, fuelled by very talented musicians.

As you can imagine from that Geoff Tate comment, they play progressive metal, even if it's becoming a little less progressive as time goes by. Tittsworth doesn't have Tate's range (of course, not many do) but it's obvious that the former Queensrÿche singer was a massive influence and Tittsworth still uses a very similar approach. If he's less obvious on these songs than Tate tends to be on his, that's due to Images of Eden don't employ as much dynamic play. This music is technical and intricate, but there are five musicians behind the singer and they're kept busy throughout keeping this loud and heavy.

I'd suggest that the quieter parts are generally relegated to delicate intros but there are exceptions, most obviously the eleven minute epic, In Memory of Me, which closes out the album. That one plays in a lot of different tempos and brings in textures not found anywhere else on the album. It's also the most theatrical song here, by far, rising and falling musically to mirror its emotional sweep, which is considerable given that it's a song sung by a father to his kids, though he's in Heaven and they're still living their lives on Earth. In many ways, it's the title track even if it isn't the one called Angel Born.

Listening through a second time, I realise that the songs with most dynamics are mostly towards the end of the album. Marigold Sun has a major shift in its second half that's a breath of fresh air and Animation in a Still World does a lot with spoken word, without being particularly theatrical. However, the first interesting midsection comes on Fight the Good Fight seven songs in and that's the one cover on this album, of a track from the killer 1981 Triumph album Allied Forces. I was enjoying the album before it, especially with If?, but it's telling that I noticed the first real variety on the only cover.

Now, that's only a minor issue but there is a bigger one here that's perhaps epitomised on Animation in a Still World, because it ably highlights all the good and bad in Images of Eden at this point in their career. On the good side, the performance is truly accomplished with everyone in the band shining in their own right but also shining together. Dorssom is on top form on this one, all over his kit but with a constant purpose. There's some glorious trading of solos between guitars and keyboards. It's built on good riffs and the ending is tight. On the bad side, there isn't a killer chorus and the song needs one.

I've long felt that this was the one missing piece in the puzzle that is Images of Eden. Tittsworth has a good voice, even if he isn't Geoff Tate, and he's constantly interesting in the verses and bridges. He's always able to build songs with intonation and melody, but he never seems to end up on the hook that should top any particular song. This is an enjoyable album, even at a particularly generous 68 minutes, and every one of the dozen tracks on offer has plenty going on within it to be a recommendation, but I don't think there's a single killer chorus to be found on any of them.

I really hope that they figure that out, because there's a seriously good band here that's ready to be noticed. They're on their fifth album, but that's a little misleading. As a band, it's really their second album after 2018's Soulrise, and some seriously good musicians play their socks off throughout. It's a reliable album from moment one that builds nicely, ending particularly well with three highlights in a row to wrap things up. It's well produced and there's invention throughout. If they can ever find out how to add memorable choruses, they'll be unstoppable.

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