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On disc: Aeon Zen

A Mind's Portrait - Claudia Ehrhardt - 8 stars
The Face Of The Unknown - Claudia Ehrhardt - 9 stars

The Face Of The Unknown

The Face Of The Unknown
(Time Divide Records - 2010)

It feels like yesterday when I reviewed A Mind's Portrait of Aeon Zen, but it's been last year. Now Richard Hinks is back with The Face Of The Unknown, his second album which again features some guest singers.
The opening track Salvation is an epic prog metal tune with Circus Maximus' Michael Eriksen on lead vocals. Hinks has created an atmospheric tune with speed changes, twists and turns. The 10+ minute long song might take a few spins to hook you up, but it's worth it!
At Visions Andi Kravljaca is back, he already sang some tunes at A Mind's Portrait and also played guitar on the debut. Visions would probably be a good opener as it's a prog rocker with a catchy hook which is just shy of 4 minutes. Slowly and with a prominent bass line Aeon Zen opens up The Heart Of The Sun. Circus Maximus singer Michael Eriksen is back and his relaxed vocals work extremely well with the guitar-driven tune, but it wouldn't be progressive metal, if there wouldn't be changes in style and speed. And soon you will sing along!
Slowly Crystal Skies begins and it's Nick D'Virgolio's voice which enchants you, but it takes a bit too long til the song changes, til it gets heavy and more complex. One of the highlights is Natural Selection which is a riff-based prog rock tune which has a slight retro feel due to the mellotron. For this one Frost* singer Jem Godfrey took over the microphone. The title track kicks off with a long instrumental part based on piano / keyboard, then heavy riffs take over and Silent Call singer Andi Kravljaca joins in. His strong, melodic voice ennobles this one. The balladesque opening You're Not Alone is leading into a heavy prog rocker which is sang by Mr. Aeon Zen himself. Even if Richard Hinks is very good at several instruments, he can still improve vocal-wise. Perhaps he should have asked Eriksen to do this one... At My Sacrifice you get heavy parts and melodic passages. Vocal duties are shared between Hinks and Eumeria' singer Jonny Tatum. A bit Purple-sque at times, the song also shows some reminiscences to 70's prog rock. A piano-based ballad is Start Over and again Rich Hinks takes over the microphone. This symphonic ballad is the only real ballad on The Face Of The Unknown, but again the vocals can't keep the high quality standard... The closer is Redemption's Shadow, a prog metal tune with a symphonic edge. Jonny Tatum's vocals fit well to this one, it's an epic tune with twists and turns. Closing the chapter with this opus is a good idea, coz it will make you spin it again - soon.
Last time I criticized that due to the different singers the album lacks homogeneity, but this time Rich Hinks managed better. The Face Of The Unknown is a step forward for Aeon Zen. Prog metal fans should definitely check out this new album!

9 stars

Claudia Ehrhardt


A Mind's Portrait

A Mind's Portrait
(Time Divide Records - 2009)

Aeon Zen is the brainchild of Rich Hinks who plays almost every instrument, just got drummer Lloyd Musto in who also did the vocals on one song. So you might wonder, if this is an instrumental album... No, even if there are two instrumentals to find at A Mind's Portrait. When Rich HInks started toying around the idea to record an album he wanted his favorite singers to do vocals. And he managed to get some illustrious singers to sing his songs.
The album kicks off with heavy riffs, but the keyboard-laden Existence offers slow melodic passages, too. Tempi changes and a catchy hook line will soon take hold of you. Ex-Seventh Wonder / Silent Call singer Andi Kravljaca is showing his talent on this one. A prog rock song which shows technical skills, but focuses on melodies. With Time Divide Aeon Zen heads into more metallic sounds, but don't loose the prog rock feeling. This time Nils K. Rue of Pagan's Mind takes over the microphone. A melodic rock tune with some prog elements is Blinded Rain which is again sung by Andi Kravljaca. His emotional vocals will enchant you. Next in line Hope's Echo Pt. I - The Wake which kicks off with keyboard, a slow balladesque one which features once again Andreas Novak. The keyboard reminds me a bit of some epic Savatage stuff... Part II - The Aftermath is following and takes a different direction. Still very melodic, but with heavy parts and more riff-based. The title track A Mind's Portrait begins with acoustic guitar, then the vocals set in. The song reminds me a bit of Asia... It has this art rock atmosphere... It leads into The Circle's End, the first instrumental. Picking up speed the guitar is kinda taking over the vocal line and gets supported by the keyboard. I'm not a fan of instrumental music, but this one is less then two minutes and so it manages to even entertain people like me who aren't into lengthy instrumental journeys. The following Heavens Falling is a heavy rocker with melodic vocals, here drummer Lloyd Musto sings. A slight pop appeal shows through in Musto's vocals, but there are heavy riffs next to atmospheric keyboards and moody vocals. And then Cristian van Schuerbeck adds a keyboard solo. The song is a sonic roller coaster ride from atmospheric rock to prog metal to progressive rock. Next in line the prog metal tune Into The Infinite. A prominent drum beat, heavy riffs and powerful vocals make this one differ from the other songs. Time for the second instrumental. Goddess is 4+ minutes and kicks off with piano, slowly builds up. A symphonic track, but personally the piano part is too repetitive for me... With the epic The Demise Of The Fifth Sun the album ends. The closer has a lot to offer! With 12+ minutes it's the longest track on A Mind's Portrait and it features Elyes Bouchoucha of Myrath. The Tunisian singer fits well to this prog metal opus and has the chance to show different facets of his spectrum. This one fans of Dream Theater should dig.
Aeon Zen delivered a great debut which is close to get 9 out of 10, you might ask why not yet? Well, the songs range from balladesque melodic tunes to prog metal tracks. And even if it works well, I miss a bit the red fathom - so to speak. Some songs will be interesting for prog rock fans while others are probably too heavy for them.... No doubt that the singers did a fantastic job, but I think it partly lacks homogeneity due to the different singers... But I'm sure that with the next album - which should come out mid-2010 - Aeon Zen will get closer to a distinguish style, to show their own identity. So this is criticism on a high level!

8 stars

Claudia Ehrhardt


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