Saturday, March 5, 2005

Review: TimeMage - Shadow Realm (2004)

TimeMage [ MySpace ]
Shadow Realm
(2004)
self-released

Germany's TimeMage is not so much a band as it is the project of one man - Stefan Schenkel. A student of music, Stefan's influences range from film scores to progressive metal to jazz, much of which can be heard in his compositions. Working with an ever-changing lineup of session musicians, Stefan has released six albums of symphonic prog metal since he began writing in 1996. Shadow Realm is the latest album, a concept work exploring death, loss, and revenge. The album tells the story of a man who's wife was brutally murdered, and then finds himself in a position to seek out his wife's killer after he himself perishes in an accident. Faced with the choice of being reunited with his wife, or taking revenge upon her killer, what will he choose? Shadow Realm unfolds the story over twelve tracks of sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious, melodic metal.

Fans who enjoy their metal saturated with keyboard passages, prepare to salivate. Stefan composes his songs entirely on the keyboards, adapting the other instrumentation later in the process. Therefore, every track on this album relies heavily on the keyboards for sense of atmosphere and melody. Their presence isn't distracting like some neo-classical symphonic metal bands can be, but their impact cannot be mistaken. Besides being the main songwriter and keyboard player for TimeMage, Stefan also contributes the drum tracks (yes, a drum machine is used) and harsh vocals throughout the album. Though I've mentioned how significant keyboards are to this album, the guitar pieces are in fact a highlight. Several guitarists contributed to Shadow Realm, with Tobias Bradneck being the primary rhythm guitarist and Thomas Gaddum providing the majority of the leads and solos. Besides Stefan's harsh vocals, Daniel Ott provides a clean vocal contrast on a handful of tracks while Anne Bradneck and Anja K├╝tter each make a lead female vocal appearance. As I'm sure you've surmised by now, Shadow Realm is a complex album with many twists and turns. For the most part, Stefan manages to keep the disc from getting lost in the labyrinth he's created and succeeds in providing an entertaining CD.

The songs themselves run such a wide gamut of styles that there never is a sense of stagnation or repetitiveness. That being said, I found a couple of tracks to be less impressive than the rest. The title track, for example, is the first to feature Stefan's harsh vocalization. Though the song features some good, crunchy riffs and the keyboards dance in sync with the guitars, the choruses feel awkward and do more to break up the pace of the song than compliment it. Other tracks feel less inspired than the majority of the album, but there's not enough of that to bring down the overall quality of the listen.

On the positive side of the coin, I found the clean vocals of Daniel Ott to be particularly fitting for the mood of the songs that he appears on. "Still Alive" provides a good showcase of Daniel's range as Stefan provides some backing growls. Another highlight is the lead guitar work of Thomas Gaddum. I found his solos and leads on "Fly" to be particularly reminiscent of the classic rock of the late '70s, bringing a complimentary contrast to Stefan's galloping keys. Perhaps the most emotionally engaging track is "Drowned In Blood", featuring the pleasant voice of Anne Bradneck. Opening with a rather spacey keyboard passage and another Gaddum solo, this track is among the slower of the album but can't quite be considered a ballad. Anne's voice lends an ethereal quality, particularly since her tracks have received some work in the production booth. Even so, the otherworldly atmosphere that Stefan was striving to achieve is successfully conveyed thanks mostly to Anne. For those who like their music on the harsher side, "She's So Neat" features Stefan's harsh vocals atop blistering riffs (and a crazed solo) from Tobias. Very much a symphonic black metal sound on this track.

Shadow Realm is an ambitious power/prog album that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of both styles. Symphonic metal fans who aren't impressed by the bombast of bands like Stratovarius and Rhapsody will also likely find this album to be an interesting listen.


Track Listing
1 Deadly Accident 1:59
2 Still Alive 4:48
3 Shadow Realm 4:48
4 Fly 5:53
5 Beyond The Stars 5:26
6 Drowned In Blood 4:54
7 She's So Neat 5:58
8 My Call 6:11
9 I'll Take Revenge 4:28
10 Our Souls Will Unite 5:46
11 Burn In Hell 4:37
12 Forgive Me 4:49



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