I don’t usually expect to be so taken with debut albums. I mean, there is a plethora of amazing ones out there, but just as many stinkers. I’ve learned to keep my expectations in reserve. The debut from Fragment Soul, if I’m being honest, wasn’t something I was excited to hear. I don’t know why. But I’m glad I dove in, and the results are something special. The album is called Axiom of Choice, and it released on May 7th.
Fragment Soul comes to us from Greece. The band includes vocalist Nick Argyriou, bassist Spiros Georgiou, guitarist Dimitris Louvros, keyboardist Vangelis Kakarougkas, and drummer Kostas Mylonas. I was attracted to the album ultimately, though, because of the guest spot from Draconian/Lor3l3i/Light Field Reverie vocalist Heike Langhans. She is present throughout the album, so it’s more than just a quick guest spot on a single track. Egan O’Rourke of Daylight Dies also guests on one track.
The band plays a deeply mysterious, dark, and drifting progressive metal. I hesitate to use that genre label, though, as this is anything but the high technical wankery that often comes with it. This is more akin to ambient Gothic doom metal most of the time, and the use of riffs and drive are pretty reserved, even rare. The band focuses more on purposeful licks and melodies, and on mood.
And you know what? That’s exactly why this album has carved a niche in my mind. It only has four tracks, though it runs about 42 minutes, and each of the songs is a structured, ethereal, atmospheric work of art. Vocalist Nick has a great voice, and he often diverts into tones and notes that might sound a bit odd at first, but soon your mind will understand their purpose. Heike is primarily used for her uncanny, addictive ability to harmonize and elevate everything. She has a few moments where she is in the spotlight, though, and she takes great advantage of those, even using her baritone side. I should also mention how much I like Kostas’ drumming, as it is methodical, punchy, and well-mixed
The album just doesn’t sound like most prog metal. But it also has elements that don’t normally appear in doom. It’s a fantastic mix, and I especially like the band’s subtle balance of ambient and driving, melancholy and kinetic. Just when you might feel the floating ambience has run its course, the band brings a fiery instrumental. Just when you think they may be focusing too much on technique, they descend into a downbeat, gorgeous atmosphere. I can tell that great care and precision went into planning this record.
I also like the story here. While I don’t know the specifics, the concept follows a journey through love, fear, torment, and even deliverance. It’s almost like the thoughts of a person as they mentally follow the path that two sets of decisions would create. One way leads to tranquility, and the other to despair. Overall, it is a thought-provoking idea.
All four tracks are wonderful. The first one is the longest, and each track gets a bit shorter as the album progresses. “A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies” is the opener at 13 minutes in length, and it wastes no time in laying down the ambience needed. It has a superb central rhythm that I find beautiful, and Heike really adds a lot here. Its many transitions are simply amazing to behold. The next track is just as good, though, being “A Choice Between Two Evils”. This is the “single”, of sorts, though it is 11 minutes long and some change. This song is a bit more ambient and textured, though, and it really doesn’t bring in percussion or beat until the middle. Heike sings some haunting baritone vocal lines that give me chills, and Egan sounds great, too; the song closes with a grey climax that I always anticipate.
The last two songs are amazing, too. I love the way “Every Heart Sings a Song” starts off with rain and emotion. This song is more rhythmic than the others, and its hovering fog of emotion is especially noticeable. Heike sings her heart out near the end, and probably the biggest and heaviest climax on the album ends it. The final track is the shortest, and yet is so beautiful. “Oedipus Complex” has some cinematic qualities to it, almost like the music is reminding us of the story that has taken place, and also allowing us to decide how it ends. It’s actually an instrumental track completely, and so all the emotions and meanings that have preceded it are expressed wordlessly and potently through gorgeous keys and guitar rhythms. It isn’t meant to be a showy close, but instead a recluse for thought.
Fragment Soul has my attention. This debut is a poetic and beautifully dark offering, one that I find myself listening to every single day (sometimes more than once). I’m a big fan of Heike Langhans and her voice, and while I pursued the album because of her involvement, she is not the only artistic excellence therein. She elevates the album, yes, but the foundation is already so, so good. I look forward to hearing more from this band.
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