Sunday, January 22, 2006

Review: Antiquus - Ramayana (2005)

Antiquus [ Website | MySpace ]

From the western shores of Canada - Vancouver, to be precise - rises a new star in the North American power metal scene. Antiquus, formed in 2002, have unleashed an eyebrow-raising debut album that has made quite a global splash, earning them a record deal with Italian label Cruz Del Sur. A huge part of the band's success has to do with their style of unadulterated power metal, lashing together powerful bass lines and twin guitar harmonies with raw, "true" metal vocals and no-frills drum work.

Being a student of mythology, and having a familiarity with the Hindu epic Ramayana, I was mightily intrigued upon hearing of a band putting such a grandiose tale to a metal soundtrack. Often have The Eddas, The Odyssey, and other great Western myths been given a heavy metal makeover, but as far as I know this is the first example of Hindu mythology being given the treatment. The first four tracks on Ramayana in fact have nothing to due with the epic story, and are actually the weakest of the 10 songs on the album. "Empire Rising" and "Changeling" are fairly standard power metal in the style of Jag Panzer and Iced Earth, though they do serve as a decent introduction to the musical direction of Antiquus. Frontman Jesse White has a strong, raw voice with plenty of grit that I find to be similar to Harry Conklin's (Jag Panzer) with just a dash of Bruce Dickinson. While he can hit a decent high note, he stays away from the wailing and falsettos that permeate the power metal genre. Also key to Antiquus' sound is the twin guitar fury of Trevor Leonard and Geoff Way (both of whom have departed since the release of the album). Bolstered by Scott Unger's conspicuous bass, the two axemen lay down some very tight riffs throughout the album as well as offering up some intricate solos and well-placed hooks. "Tanlin Bridge" features a heavier style to the riffs, incorporating a bit of Slayer-influenced thrashiness into the mix, while "Battle of Eylau" embarks on an epic (that is, lengthy) account of the Napoleonic battle. The latter track opens with more than two minutes of battlefield sound effects set to subdued, slightly ominous riffs and bass lines. While I commend Scott and Jesse for attempting to create a sweeping tale of historic significance, the song ultimately comes across as tedious and tired.

While the first four tracks of Ramayana are good, but really only average in terms of the genre, the final six tracks find Antiquus at their best and make this an album worthwhile to metal fans looking for fresh blood in the scene. "Ayodha" is a short intro featuring the sitar to set the appropriate mood for the subject material that follows. The epic begins in earnest with "A Beautiful Stag", the track opening with an acoustic guitar passage that deftly conveys the tranquility of the Indian forests. Jesse, along with increasingly intense riffs, enhances the mystical significance of Sita's encounter with the magical stag. "The Hunt", one of my favorite tracks, follows with crushing riffs and complex leads. The pace is quickened on this weighty track as a fair amount of solos are unleashed. My favorite song is the simian-inspired "Hanuman". Here the band captures the spirit of the monkey hero perfectly through their use of groovy riffs and unrestrained leads. The remaining two tracks are on par with the rest of the band's retelling of the Ramayana, providing a satisfying ending to the album.

Ramayana is a good, aggressive power metal album. Without the final six tracks, however, this disc could easily have slipped into obscurity as one of many "good" debuts. The six-part epic is an ambitious undertaking for a young band, but Antiquus succeeds in creating an interesting listening experience that grows with each listen. Incorporating elements of power, thrash, and prog metal this album should appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Track Listing
1 Empire Rising 4:27
2 Changeling 5:34
3 Tanlin Bridge 5:30
4 Battle of Eylau 11:13
Ramayana - An Epic in Six Parts
5 Part I - Ayodha 1:06
6 Part II - A Beautiful Stag 6:02
7 Part III - The Hunt 4:08
8 Part IV - Hanuman 4:11
9 Part V - Sri Lanka 5:52
10 Part VI - He Who Makes the Universe Scream! 10:56

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