I’d be the first to admit that progressive metal can sometimes get very stale. I love the genre, nonetheless, but it is still a huge deal when I come across a band that can stay true to the genre’s classic sound while also making it feel fresh and exciting. Atravan is a band that has managed just that. Their new album “The Grey Line” released on January 20th, and it will certainly be one of the best prog metal releases of the year.
Atravan comes to us from Iran. This is what first interested me in their music, mainly because I love to see how the genre unfolds around the globe. I should also mention how cool their name is: Atravan being the attendant of the sacred flame in Persian temples. I like that imagery. Anyways, the lineup includes Masoud Alishahi on vocals, Shayan Dianati on guitars, Marjan Modarres on keys. Arwin Iranpour on bass, and Shahin Fadaei on drums.
The band plays progressive metal, pure and simple. They don’t often mix in other genres, and they don’t try to recall the sounds of past decades or certain bands. No, they just play progressive metal, a spacious, melody-forward version. Their sound feels like being in wide open spaces with music drifting down from distant mountains, or maybe being lost in an ancient, shadowy forest with musical light filtering down from the canopy. The entire experience simply feels freeing, beautiful, and inspired. In fact, the first thing I noticed about their music is how on-point the writing and transitions are, always important to making a song feel just right. Because of this, I can’t help but detect an 80s influence, more from pop than from metal. And I don’t mean that they try to sound like an 80s band, but that their atmospheric and mysterious sound makes me hear something akin to Mr. Mister reincarnated as an Iranian progressive metal band. I love that.
Much of this is accomplished because of the band’s obvious technical prowess. You won’t hear filler or noodling bits, but you can tell from the tight riffs, soaring keys, and especially the phenomenal rhythm section that the band has a clear idea of what they want to communicate. Did I mention how excellent the rhythm section is? Some of the best parts of this album are those portions where Marjan’s keys get to breathe deeply while being surrounded by interesting surges of blast beats or tasty grooves. In those moments, “The Grey Line” truly comes alive.
I should also mention Masoud’s wonderful voice. Surprisingly, his accent doesn’t come through that much, only enough to give his voice a very rich character. When he starts singing, you will notice that he sounds a bit like a cross between some of the grunge vocalists of the 90s with someone more modern, such as George Prokopiou of Mother of Millions. This means that Masoud has texture and even a bit of grit to his voice, but he can summon forth pure, flowing high notes that impress me every time. I haven’t heard someone with such an interesting voice in some time.
“The Grey Line” is a careful album, one that plays at its own gracious pace. Each song feels meaningful and lovingly crafted. Even the opener “The Pendulum”, a 2-minute intro more or less, feels deeply experiential, harmonious, and anticipatory. In fact, I was hooked immediately upon hearing the first track.
The album is the perfect length with seven tracks. I love them all. “The Perfect Stranger” is the first proper song, and it has such a hypnotic rhythm and fantastic second-half instrumental that I feel many of you will be blown away. Again, Marjan with her illustrious keys is part of what makes all of this work so very well. “The Wrecked House” comes next, and might be my favorite overall. It has such a high kingdom of melody in its blood and yet subtlety in how it presents its atmospheric sound.
The album continues at this amazing pace. Songs like “Vertigo” and “Dancing on a Wire” almost feel ambient in their execution, with lots of soaring emotion and shadowy images. The last couple tracks keep up the quality, as well. The title track feels a bit “Tool” in its groove, and what a cool groove it is! It gets a bit heavier than the rest of the album, but it is still soaked in gorgeous melodies. “Uncertain Future” is a 3-minute outro of sorts, but, wow, do the guitars feel soulful and the aura evokes such depth of heart and introspection. What a conclusion to such a lavish album!
I’m surprised that I had never heard of Atravan before this album, but I’m glad I know them now. This band has a veteran ear for melody, song structure, and atmosphere, and they bring all of that together into one ethereal, harmonious package. I love every moment of this album, and I think you will, too.
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