July 2021 Feature Release – The Infinite Edition
So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.
This month’s feature release for The Infinite has been selected by Saxy S. It's 2019's "Paragon Circus" debut album from French progressive metal outfit Altesia. I've never experienced Altesia before however Saxy's recent review of this release has left me intrigued so I'm looking forward to seeing what it has to offer.
Wow! What a great feature release selection this is. I'd never heard of Bordeaux-based progressive metallers Altesia before but I can honestly say that I've come out of my initial experiences feeling pretty amazed at how incredibly well written & executed this album is for a debut release. The ambition Altesia have displayed here is nothing short of amazing when you think about it & they've been blessed by the perfect production job to compliment their efforts.
It's probably worth mentioning up front that "Paragon Circus" isn't exactly the most metal of releases you'll find in the Metal Academy database. On the contrary, I'd probably suggest that it sits closer to progressive rock than it does to progressive metal when viewed holistically. The super-clean production job is a big part of that as this simply feels a lot like a prog rock record with the guitar tone not overdoing the distortion & the layered vocals coming across as pretty unintimidating. These are not meant to be criticisms but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that my score was limited by the lack of darkness & danger in Altesia's sound. I guess it just comes down to personal preference but if the band are reading this then they shouldn't take it to heart as I genuinely feel that any fan of prog rock giants like Porcupine Tree will likely go completely nuts over "Paragon Circus".
As a point of comparison, the Dream Theater influence is the most obvious in my opinion but it rarely highlights itself in the form of plagiarism. Altesia run their own race but have clearly learnt a lot from their idols & have mastered the tools required to compete on a similar level. There's definitely more than a hint of latter day Opeth about them too, particularly in the vocals of Clément Darrieu who often sounds strikingly similar to prog icon Mikael Åkerfeldt. The complexity in the song-writing is super impressive but you never get the feeling that Altesia are trying to be overly showy. These elements are used more as tools of expression than as advertisements of their technical prowess & they're performed with a smooth precision that sees them glide over the listener like a brush rather than savaging them with a chisel. It has to be said that the lead guitar work of Alexis "Idler" Casanova is utterly superb & consistently toys with my musical sweet spot through a combination of exotic melodicism & artistic experimentation. I truly love the understated extravagance in his tone, style & technique, all of which showcase a solid pedigree in the finer nuances of progressive music. Why do I feel that we're likely to hear a lot more about him in the future?
"Paragon Circus" is a splendid debut from a super talented band with enormous focus & an uncanny understanding of their own sound for such a new artist. The ability of the Metal Academy regulars to consistently highlight unknown releases of this quality is one of the biggest selling points for participation in our feature release discussions so I thank Saxy for bringing another strong outing to our attention.
For fans of Dream Theater, Opeth & Haken.
Thanks, Saxy and Daniel! Here's my summary:
Altesia was the result of a progressive metal brainstorm in France by vocalist/guitarist Clément Darrieu, a life-long passionate fan of music in general. Formed in 2017, it took two years to write and produce an album with members of a few other bands. With this new lineup and an album ready for release, they set off to play live shows until the virus put everything on hold. Fortunately, their debut had already came out in late 2019, their beginning offering Paragon Circus! Throughout these 57 minutes, you get 6 tracks (an intro and 5 long songs) that deal with the self-destruction of the society we've created and are trapped in, with issues including economic wars and lack of happy reasonability. That's what this "Paragon Circus" is, a circus we've designed but can't escape from. The style is basically progressive rock/metal with small hints of jazz, funk, and death metal. There's something special about this unity, especially the virtuoso guitar soloing and even violin and saxophone. You can hear them all in beautiful melody and varied rhythm to keep the music in interesting drift. However, it's not entirely perfect and a few things seem a bit lumpy, so it's better to be mesmerized by the entire album without thinking of those flaws. Perhaps one day I can like this album more after several more listens....
Wow, how good are these guys!? I've got to say up front that I really enjoyed this album. I wouldn't say there's a whole lot of metal on this record, other than the odd heavy section, but as a prog fan who prefers prog rock to prog metal, this is in no way a detriment for me. As to whether the album belongs in The Academy I'll let others debate, but I'm just going to enjoy it for what it is and what it is, is an album that takes a lot of cues from King Crimson, via Steven Wilson's Porcupine Tree and later-era Opeth (it is surprising how much vocalist Clément Darrieu sounds like Mikael Akerfeldt at times). In addition to the obvious influences it also reminded me of English band Galahad, a band I have been a big fan of for some time now. The songs are complex, but not merely to act as a showcase for the band's virtuosity because these guys don't sound like they are showing off for the sake of it, in fact some of the instrumentation is quite restrained - we don't have hugely overwhelming tidal waves of keyboards or indulgent guitar solos every few minutes. Rather, the complexity keeps driving the tracks forward and their multifaceted nature feels artistically rather than egotistically driven. True, there is nothing stylistically original here, but when the sources are so great and the execution is so immaculate, then there really is nothing to complain about, particularly in progressive music where there is so much variety available to the artists that out and out plagiarism is rare. So, despite me not usually being all that well-aligned with the monthly features for The Infinite, I have to say that I really loved this album, in fact so much so that I've just ordered the CD from Bandcamp. So that's a winner from me!!
For me, there's a subtle feeling in Prog Metal I love where an album just takes you along for the ride. You don't necessarily know where you're going, you don't know why you're here or there and don't have a singular clue as to how the hell you ended up where you did, but you enjoyed the journey immensely. Dream Theater originally gave me that feeling, but as I've explored more bands and albums within the Prog/Infinite I've found their extremely angular and basically random style unable to hold my interest anymore. Altesia's direction is much, much better, showing that Progressive Metal has actually progressed in a few ways over the past 20 or so years. These guys are a true fusion of all of the heavy-hitting Prog influences all at once and even though I mostly get an augmented Haken vibe from them, they cram so many familiar sounds together that it actually ends up sounding very original and interesting. They still have the angularity of Dream Theater's wild transitions but they're more gracefully written, adding small transitions within the transitional sections that makes everything flow rather well. It helps that the album isn't overly long either, with only 3 extended tracks and 2 interludes.
I don't really get a whole lot of Opeth from this to be honest, apart from the sweeping 6/8 time signatures in "Amdist the Smoke" and "Hex Reverse" being scarily close to a track straight off of Damnation. Plus the beginning of "Cassandra's Prophecy" as well. Maybe now that I look at closer, there might be a bit more Opeth in here than I originally thought. In any case this is a fantastic example of modern Progressive Metal that doesn't make me roll my eyes at obvious clichés or overly complex and confusing song structures. It has cool twists and turns and doesn't meander around too much, even in the 18-minute closer. I don't know if it has enough truly awe-inspiring parts to be incredible at the end of the day, but this is leaps and bounds above most of the Prog Metal I end up checking out. I'll look to get a full review written out for this one, have quite a bit to say.
As I said in my review, the Opeth worship on this album is blatant, but more than varied enough to keep it from sounding like a direct ripoff of that band. As seems to be the case with far too many modern progressive metal bands, their blatant worship of early Dream Theater and mid 2000s Opeth is becoming a tired shtick and Altesia understand this by having very little interest in DT noodling and (hot take incoming) being better songwriters than Opeth. Every note serves a purpose on this record and each riff is connected to every other riff. But Altesia true claim to fame for me is that they were able to blow me away with a trifecta of 10+ minute tunes! Cult of Luna and Wilderun, meet Paragon Circus by Altesia, the final piece of the 2019 trinity of progressive rock/metal!
They have a new album coming out on 25th September too gents.