Saturday, February 14, 2004

Review: Six Degrees of Separation - Moon 2002 : Nocturnal Breed (2002)

Six Degrees of Separation [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Moon 2002 : Nocturnal Breed
Élysion Music

Comparable to the dark Power/Prog of Evergrey, Six Degrees Of Separation has been churning out their own brand of doom-inspired metal since 1997. Moon 2002: Nocturnal Breed is their third album and shows a marked improvement over the first two, especially where the vocals are concerned. Hailing from The Czech Republic, the early work of SDOS was fairly straightforward Doom with an extra sense of orchestration. Frontman and bass player Radek Zábojník struggled with his range, however, often sounding forced and slightly off target. With a few more years behind them in which they obviously honed their songwriting and musical skills, Moon 2002: Nocturnal Breed impresses with a spectacular blend of Goth, Power, Prog, and Doom that features Radek having grown into his voice and ability. Normally belting out the lyrics with a gritty shout that still manages to be both melodic and emotional, Radek also ventures into other styles ranging from a raspy whisper to a Gothic baritone (think Peter Steele of Type O Negative or Erik Molarin of Beseech) and even heavily-accented spoken word.

An album of standout tracks, Moon 2002: Nocturnal Breed fits in enough uniqueness and variety to keep the listener involved from the short orchestral intro to the creaking door signifying the end of the spoken word outro, which itself drips with Gothic overtones due to Radek's thick Eastern European accent. Each song is skillfully crafted, making remarkable use of time variations and atmospherics which never get out of hand or give the sense of becoming stray. The keyboards are handled by Miroslav Minarík, and while ever-present they never rise to the cheesy wankery one often associates with Prog metal instrumentation. Instead, Miroslav sets a somewhat doleful undercurrent that does occasionally rise to the surface - such as the sentimental piano intro to "Moon And Lust" or the horror movie ambiance of "Immortal Sins / Succubus Nights". What impresses me most about Moon 2002: Nocturnal Breed, from a musical standpoint, is the awesome skinwork of Martin Novák. The man defies logic behind the kit, whether he is flawlessly working through complex rhythms or destroying your senses with a double-kick bass assault.

Another feature of Six Degrees Of Separation worthy of note, though not uncommon in the genre these days, is the presence of female vocals in a lead or backing role. Magdaléna Malaníková provides the softer vocalizations, though not in the operatic or angelic way one expects these days. Instead, Magdaléna enraptures the listener with her darkly seductive, throaty voice which is made even more exotic by her Eastern European accent. Ever wonder what it'd be like to be serenaded by a female Vamp from Prague? "Dream And Reality" might just be the answer to that question. Magdaléna's first vocal appearance, this song opens with bongos (of all things) before dropping into some very doomy riffage and pummeling double-bass from Martin.

Canni and Vlastimil Urbanec, the guitarists of SDOS, really put together some interesting twists all through the disc. "Prayer", the first song after the intro, opens with a riff that is awfully reminiscent of Iron Maiden's "Somewhere In Time". This song ranks as my second favorite track on the album, giving an early glimpse into the band's ability to compose elegant arrangements through use of tempo changes and multiple vocal deliveries. Axemen Canni and Vlastimil strike again throughout the album, from the expressive leads of "Moon And Lust" to the catchy riffs of "Seeds Of Evil".

Having forced myself to choose a favorite track, which was quite the task since each one has something to set it apart from the rest, I found "Raven Comes" to be the most appealing to me. The mellow guitar passage and soft keys that open the song give way to a punchy riff, galloping drums and catchy keyboard melodies that oppose, while accentuating, Radek's almost punkish vocal delivery. The occasional progressive guitar interludes complete the package. With so many interesting points, I could easily give a song-by-song breakdown of Moon 2002: Nocturnal Breed, but this is an album that is better experienced than read about. With so much going for this disc, why not five stars? Well, the production at times was a bit thick but my main reason for hesitation (and it's really not that big of a reason) is the song "We Shall Start The Fire". This track is a very Deep Purple influenced song, heavy on the organ and certainly the most progressive of the album. While that in and of itself isn't a bad thing, it results in a track that seems out of place with the overall mood and flow of the album. Not a major gripe, but a gripe nonetheless. From what SDOS displays on Moon 2002: Nocturnal Breed, that five-star classic album shouldn't be too far off.

One note of concern, however, is the departure of drummer Miroslav Minarík. The man was a monster behind the kit, so I would imagine it to be difficult to find a replacement of his caliber in that part of Europe. Hopefully I'm wrong, but the loss of his talent is a major one. Anyway, skip on over to the band's website and check out some samples of all three albums. Hopefully a distribution deal will come through and help expose these guys to the metal hungry masses!

Track Listing
1 Invitation
2 Prayer
3 Nightbreath
4 Dream and Reality
5 Moon And Lust
6 Seeds Of Evil
7 Nameless Forever
8 On Wings of Long Slow Dreams
9 Immortal Sins / Succubus Nights
10 Raven Comes
11 We Shall Start The Fire
12 Across The Unseen Border

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