Without Face – Astronomicon
13/01/2006 § Leave a comment
Dual vocal prog-metal seems to be some kind of bastard child of the genre. Ironically, my search for ever more progressive music seems to have led me away from Without Face but in my ignorance I had no idea just what I was missing out on. Looking back now, they seem to have been a bit of a fated ensemble. The band only produced two albums, albeit two short ones, though neither of them are mentioned that often in the progressive metal scene which in retrospect is heresy, not to mention a great anomaly.
Astronomicon offers six tracks of progressive metal, its distinguishing feature being that it’s not too distinguishable from a lot of other progressive metal; however, what sets it apart from its siblings, more than anything, are the wonderful vocals of Julie Kiss, which immersed and bewitched me from the outset. It’s very difficult to find a decent vocalist in femme-fronted metal, though contenders seem to be all over the place, baying at the gates and desperate for a piece of the action, though none of them are that good. This is what makes the Sharons, the Floors and the Annekes of this Earth something to write home about and though Julie is not quite in their league she does possess something that many female singers do not – a personality to her voice, a richness which curls itself around the vocal melody and fills it out beautifully.
In addition to the vocals, Without Face also have an ingenuity to their songwriting, a mastery that comes from crafting vocal patchworks with obsessive intensity and there are moments when the dual vocals of Juliette and Andrs intertwine wonderfully and, dare I say it, ingeniously, and nowhere is this shown better than in the first track, Weird Places. The music is unpredictable though they do seem to be quite fond of their artsy drumming and the old power chord mirroring the drum beat stunt, stopping and starting all over the place and though it does sound quite impressive it gets quite tiresome later in the album. In this way Without Face are a bit of a one-trick pony – they have clever musical devices at their disposal but later in the album, short though it is, these seem to sound a little overused and as a result there is little variety on show.
However, even though the album is quite short in numbers it still manages to rack up nearly forty-five minutes’ worth of music, with every track apart from the short outro song being longer than seven minutes. The songs themselves are mini opuses but not with all the different sections that we might expect from progressive metal numbers, but repeats of other parts of the same songs, interchanging randomly within the few minutes given to them. Nevertheless, what the songs offer is all pretty good – which is just as well given there are so few of them. Weird Places is a wonderful opener to the album, where In The Garden’s vocals get better and better as the song progresses. There are even moments where the music veers off into some kind of progressive BnB a la The Provenance, which does work but in a very unusual way. By far the most wonderful moment of the album comes in the final track which only features the fantastic vocals of Juliette and it is three minutes of silky, sublime bliss.
Astronomicon in indeed a competent piece of work though what it shows, more than anything else, is a band who did not realise their full potential. Shortly after it was released, Julie Kiss left the band under bad terms and as a result only two works hold testament to what they were really capable of. Indeed, the album leaves us gasping for more and with a feeling that there was so much left to be written and that the best was yet to come. In this way Astronomicon comes across very much like a teenager whose promising life was cut short tragically – there was so far to go and so much to go with but the cruelty of reality cut things short.
Julie has since gone on to start the Hungarian/UK fusion To-Mera, which looks equally, if not more promising. Astronomicon may be a fine piece of carefully woven metal but it leaves us gagging for more and querying what there could have been had the band gone on further and it is this hole that leaves us feeling, more than anything, a little undersatisfied and almost hard done by. Thankfully though, with To-Mera, we may not have to wait too long to hear the next instalment.