I always feel like I'm unnecessarily lenient with progressive metal. I mean, it is my favorite genre, and I like to try and hold it to a high standard as much as I can...but damn, I hear those prog melodies and get those nice time changes and I'm just like "mmmmm...yes".
BUT, sometimes I just have to pull back the veil of mindless enjoyment and look at some of these works critically. This brings me to the debut of German progressive metal act Dreamscape, a band that I've enjoyed songs from here and there in the past, but never got around to actually listening to a full album. And me being me, when I'm really interested in a band I feel the need to go through every album chronologically. In my journeys through many of these discographies, I've found that it actually seems to have been a pretty common thing for 90s prog rock and metal bands that their debuts are one of the weaker efforts in their catalogues. They're trying to set themselves apart and show what they do, but their writing is a bit rough around the edges and they so often seem to start out sounding like so many other bands before or around them.
Dreamscape is no different in this regard. Trance-Like State comes off very much like a hodge-podge of various other acts from the genre. Usually it's reminiscent of contemporary names such as Conception, Threshold, 90s Fates Warning, or the proggier moments of early Kamelot. Other times, though, it sounds as if they've ripped pages straight out of the Queensrÿche/Crimson Glory progressive heavy metal songbook. In fact, vocalist Tobi Zoltan here often sounds very much like a cross-breed of Midnight and Roy Khan. His performance on this album isn't half-bad, but it never goes beyond simply good. He does an adequate job carrying the music and nothing more...although there are times in which he hits his lower registers softly and you can barely hear him buried underneath the instruments.
Speaking of the music, it's honestly the biggest flaw here. Now there are some great moments all throughout just about every track, with "Fateful Silence" being the biggest standout here (although "Streets" comes damn close for the first half), but so many of the songs fall short of their potential. Only a few of the tracks here have actually significantly weak musical ideas in of themselves; the issue lies in the half-baked and sloppy song structures. If a song isn't hopping around between passages that feel rather unrelated, glued together regardless, it's meandering along with a decent idea that gets a lot of the life and interest sucked out of it as it keeps going.
The two things that save it all are 1) the diversity of the music, which goes between solid moments of traditional prog metal, power metal, 80s-influenced progressive heavy metal, and occasional melodic prog rock, and 2) the quality of the musical passages themselves. Most of the music here is really quite good! The band has an ear for great melodies and an eclectic enough style, and can even create great atmospheric material as a lot of the more ballad-y songs show; it's just the sloppy song structuring that mostly brings it down, and the vocal performance that, as stated above, is at its absolute best just adequate.
All-in-all it's a really quality debut effort that just suffers from being largely poorly put together. The musicianship is fantastic and the potential for greatness is there, it's just in need of some serious refining.
Enter: a completely different beast from what everyone knows Within Temptation for today.
Within Temptation has made quite the name for themselves with their very accessible, alternative-tinged brand of symphonic metal. Most fans going back to this first release of theirs would be shocked by its drastic stylistic difference, however. Enter showcases a sound that is very similar to that of 90s beauty-and-the-beast metal pioneers Theatre of Tragedy: a melodic yet very melancholy blend of death and gothic doom metal. Heavy riffs and dark melodic leads abound on this album, along with symphonic keywork that is significantly more haunting than anything they would have on subsequent releases of theirs. Another big difference here, that I mentioned just earlier, is the inclusion of prominent growled vocals by guitar player (and future husband of lead vocalist Sharon) Robert Westerholt. His vocals sometimes even take the forefront over Sharon, with the track "Deep Within" not featuring Sharon whatsoever. Sharon is mostly the lead voice on here, regardless, and Robert's harsh vocals compliment Sharon's beautiful timbre very well.
All in all, this is what was a very different band from the one we would come to know by the name Within Temptation. Performances of songs off of this album during the band's live shows are exceedingly rare these days as they've moved past this style completely, forging their own identity for good. Still, this is a very good album in the same vein as early Theatre of Tragedy, and though it's not their most inventive and catchy, it's certainly one of their best anyway.