Two thousand seventeen continues to burgeon with lots of awesome instrumental progressive music. The latest comes from the debut recently released from Tree of Life. The album is called “Awakening Call”, and it features some very interesting ideas.
Tree of Life consists of Carlos Hernandez on guitars, Fernando Fossi on bass, and Eric Gillette (of Neal Morse Band fame) on drums and keyboards. The style of music is definitely progressive metal, but it gets much deeper than that. You’ll hear snippets of jazz, classical, and progressive rock throughout the album, though the music does get pretty heavy, too. This combination of sounds creates a whole new bulky sound that rolls right over you, so much so that the typical influences in prog metal aren’t necessarily front and center. So, I went into this album expecting Dream Theater pretty much, but I what I heard was more Zero Hour than anything else. That’s cool by me.
The spotlight here is definitely on guitars. Carlos’ style includes absolutely tons of shredding, chugging riffs, thrashy licks, and massive solos. His performance is rather epic on every single track. Some of these guitar moments are completely mind-blowing from a technical perspective, though there unfortunately isn’t much emotion to be found. He’s a monster on guitar, though, for sure.
So, with this abundance of guitar (especially on the first half of the album), I find that the band mixes the rest of the instruments rather well. Fernando’s bass flexes very big muscles and stands up to the rest of the music to stake its claim. Eric, usually known for his guitar work, provides some truly fantastic keys to match Carlos’ guitars. The keys are majestic in tone, with lots of haunting melodies, jazzy piano segments, and even some very sharp synth. His drums are also very well mixed, quite technical, and concrete in that you can both hear and feel every beat like he’s playing right in front of you.
While many instrumental albums are more about feelings and moods, this album is based mainly on technical performances and especially on timing. This album is full of moments of perfect timing that will blow you away, although a couple of the tracks do still exude some feelings associated with their names. Speaking of song titles, you will notice that this band is quite open about their Christian faith, which obviously is a plus in my book. I’m not sure how this affects my opinion of the album, as I enjoy albums with atheistic slants, too. On top of that, the feelings expressed in the music aren’t all that potent as compared to other albums I’ve heard this year, so the titles are often nothing more than nominal.
The songs here are all quite varied, though. “The Greatest Gift from God” starts with a straightforward technical segment, but transitions into a more interesting portion that has this jazzy slant in the bouncy piano segments, but it then transitions again into a shred fest on guitar that builds to a surreal ending. “Garden of Salvation” is one of my favorites with its focus more on keyboards than guitars, many of which sound slightly odd, in a good way. There are plenty of strings that give the whole song this classical and cinematic flavor, and there are parts that remind me of Italian prog, too. It’s a very dreamlike and majestic song. “Awakening Call” ends the album with this ominous feeling, like you are getting ready to take a giant leap of faith, and there is plenty of shredding as you take the leap.
My two favorites are “Words from Heaven” and “No Longer Forbidden”. The former features shredding up against an aura of awe and light. I find that the title “Words from Heaven” is quite in step with the music here, more so than with some of the other tracks. There is also a place in the song where a synth comes literally sliding into the mix and it almost scares me every time it happens. The timing there is perfect. My other favorite, “No Longer Forbidden”, has this thrash vibe to it that lends itself to the haunting atmosphere, and the end almost has this breakdown to it that absolutely rocks.
All said and done, this is wonderful debut for Tree of Life. The music is fast-paced, ominous, and very technical, though the downside to this is that this style cannot totally express the emotions that the band is trying to achieve. Either way, the album is awesome and fun to hear no matter if you like prog rock or progressive metal.