Back around the year 2000, Dream Theater and Symphony X were the two greatest bands in the world, at least for fans of the still sparse genre of progressive metal. I would spend evenings checking whatever forums I could find, or searching Amazon and Napster alike hoping to find current bands that could match the musicianship, songwriting, complexity, and intensity of albums like “Twilight in Olympus” or “Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory.” I certainly found a few bands, but after listening to what excellent groups like Vanden Plas, Threshold, Evergrey, and Pain of Salvation had to offer, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.
That is, until a couple weeks ago when I heard Prospekt’s “The Illuminated Sky” for the first time. “This was it.” I thought, “This was the album I would have killed for 15 years ago.” That’s not to say that Prospekt’s sound is in any way dated or derivative. What it did was evoke that same feeling as listening to Symphony X’s “V: The New Mythology Suite” or Dream Theater’s “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” for the first time. My tastes have certainly changed, evolved, and maybe matured a bit since then. Some of my then-favorite albums have fallen down a few notches, and albums that I might have ignored have risen to become favorites, but this is an album that brings back the simple joys of great progressive metal.
Now that’s how the album makes me feel, and if you spent the end of the 20th century and the early parts of the 21st pining for great new progressive metal, you might be able to stop reading right here. If that’s not you, let’s actually talk about the album itself.
“The Illuminated Sky”, Prospekt’s sophomore effort, and with a new singer to boot, expands on the sound of the first. It’s an album defined by heavy, complex riffs; deft rhythm changes; and virtuoso playing; but it’s also an album that’s not afraid to take a breath and demonstrate a range of dynamics. “Where Masters Fall”, “Alien Makers of Discord”, “Cosmic Emissary”, and the title track are great examples of the sort of complex, epic songwriting and playing that define progressive metal. They’re also examples of amazing song titles that also sound a bit like rejected band names.
“Beneath Enriya” is a mid-tempo track which finds itself weaving back and forth between piano melodies and the punctuation of heavy guitar hits, with a chorus that opens up and highlights the vocals. Similarly, “Akaibara” starts with piano and ambient strings, with each verse building more power and depth until you reach the climactic guitar solo.
While the real highlight here is the fast and heavy stuff, like my personal favorite track “In The Shadows of the Earth”, the dynamics and the softer moments serve the album as a whole. They let you take a breath, and give your neck a break from trying to headbang along to all the time changes. What it shows is that on “The Illuminated Sky”, Prospekt is a band that is not afraid. They’re not afraid to play as fast and hard as they want, and they’re not afraid to slow down. Don’t worry though, they never slow down for too long.