Orchestral or Symphonic Rock has grown quite a bit in popularity over the last few years with many bands trying their hands at it. Two of my all times favorites is Epica, and HB. Two bands that mix a high level of musical ability with gritty production appeal. I actually a huge fan of symphonic music, and admire bands in this genre, as often the compositions are complex and intricate, and IA love a good composition.
I will start off by sticking my head in it; that Promised Land has that over-produced feel, and it’s by no imagination of my mind, in that the lyrical content can be a little Christian cheesy at times. That said, the musical accomplishments are actually quite good, and there is a high level of skill.
I could be wrong indeed, and I stand to be corrected. I am a big boy when it comes to this, but I have spent enough time mixing and in studio over the last few years to realize that the more you tweak your sound in house during the production process, which is from the moment you press record, is that you want to maintain the energy of the band. The term over production for me only officially has its place when through the production process due to tweaking, when the processes get fine tuned to death to such a point the energy of the band is almost extinguished. It’s in this part that no matter how good the arrangements or the musical skill that you can find what in all forgiving terms is a great album, lacking that quality that in fact would organically capture the band as they are, and not what a studio production has made them to be.
That said, I can hear the energy pulsating and beating, and Promised Land have some great compositions and movements that evoke emotion, and create landscapes and visual conceptualizations through their music, it’s just difficult for me to get over the over-production feel of the album. But once I get over myself and my criticalness, there is a good album here.
That out the way the album starts with an orchestral intro as an invitation or welcoming gesture to the album. Its dramatic feel and approach seems more fitting for a movie score. Look don’t judge me yet, I am not slamming the album AT ALL!!!, because the compositions, or at least most of them are well above par, it’s just the production that I find myself fighting with, it’s just too clean cut. Some might say what’s wrong with a clean cut recording? Well it is often more robotic and synthetic than organic.
Look to set forth the foundations straight this is a highly professional thought provoking release, bar the over produced feeling.
For those who favor this style of cinematic symphonic metal it will grab your heart, and race your pulse. Three years in the making, “Harmony in Ruins” fills me with mixed feelings; on the one side I like it a lot, and yet on the other side I have my concerns. It’s always a peculiar place to be perched on as a reviewer, as you almost grantee yourself being ripped apart, or questioned by people on both sides of the lines. But, I’d rather be honest and reveal my cards, than to hide them under the carpet. Have you never liked something, yet there are certain qualities you did not like of it? An almost 50/50 sway of emotion; well this is an album that does it for me. As much as I can sing its praises, its faults stare wide eyed back at me.
This PittsBurg band originally formed in 1997 as an acoustic duo has over the years been transforming themselves to what they are best known for today, as a Symphonic-progressive metal band. It was in 2005 that they released their new symphonic sound in a form of a demo. It’s through the demo release that their fan base grew both nationally and internationally.
The second track, the title track of the album, “Harmony In Ruins”, is a very cinematic assault of metal symphony. In fact, it’s quiet dramatic throughout. With some great technical guitar work this song falls in the category of an instrumental score, ideally scripted for a movie sequence.
The inner panel sleeves have a very gothic and dramatic appeal to them and in many ways compliments, and illustrate or highlights the songs. An album that can bring both the art work and the music together as a visual encounter helps draw the landscape of an audio symphony. This is where this album succeeds the most.
“Artwork description: The artwork tells the story of the title and lyrical theme of the album: Harmony In Ruins. The ‘Tree of Life (which now appears dead or dying) coming out of the scroll and showing the result of the fall in the Garden of Eden into modern times, which is depicted by the destroyed city across the water”. – http://promiselandx.com/news/ . This testifies to the complete thought process of the album, and the detail in which it has been crafted. The artwork design was done by Promised Land’s very own David Micheal. If I was to be reviewing the artwork alone I’d give it a 10/10. Too often bands get reviewed merely on what’s inside the album, but this is a band that clearly takes their skill and delivery past the music to convey their message.
“C.I.U.” Illustrates the scope that these guys process as musicians, the instrumentation on this release is always above par and the arrangements are fluid and move together effortless. “The Piper Illusion” is a symphonic metal waltz of sorts. It’s very clean cut sound gives it that poppy radio friendly bias and the lead guitar work is very progressive. “Leviathans Voyage” has a very large cinematic feel akin to a sound track to a start of an epic venture. The drums are prominent here in that they carry a lot of the cinematic epic appeal across. This song would be great for a Columbus, or Viking type movie. It carries a lot of well crafted movements across as if it was painted from a scene of a movie, rather than a song for a movie.
“Before Dawn”, is a great song, actually really like what they have done here, love the piano and the background vocalizations. The main vocals are thoughtful and powerful. Again the experience of Promise Land is one that is invested in a cinematic experience. Any one song could be part of a movie score. “Hiding Place” is pretty average, whilst, “Her Name” is has a very familiar sound, can’t place it, but it reminds me of a few other bands in this genre.
“Holy” though a great song and again you can hear the skill, and you can hear the passion of faith in the vocals, it does not stand proud from the album. It has a sense of familiarity of the album as a whole. I find that this song maybe played at a little faster pace might have been more effective and captivating for me. It drudges a bit for me in terms of that. I must say I love the faith and the lyrics in this song. Not many bands vocalize their faith so blatant anymore. So right here a shake the hand of the band for that. Really awesome to see their fervency, vibrancy and desire for God sung so passionately.
“Eclipse” is another cinematic experience. The album is different from the usual symphonic experience in that Promised Land are more cinematically inclined or influenced, and for the most parts their music revolves around movements and orchestral atmospheres of sound that can be easily adapted or translated to movie scores. The albums two last tracks are, “Harmony In Ruins (Orchestration), and “Hiding Place (Instrumental)”. I must say that as progressively influenced albums go it’s not overly long at all.
Bar my production indifferences this is a very high quality release. You can hear that a lot of time has been built into these release, and I think they can truly be satisfied with what they have accomplished. Spiritually the album is actually quite thought provoking and I find a lot of weight in what is said in the lyrics even though at time the steer to the cheesy. Just because they are cheesy, does not mean they are any less significant or powerful. What always amazes is how far the Christian music scene has come over the last few years. There are many Christian bands that are musically far better than their secular counterparts.
Even though that I have had some critical intake on this album, they are a lot better than many other bands out there. If you like clean cut symphonic, cinematic progressive metal then this album is designed for you, and you would be immediately caught up in its grooves, no doubt.
I know I have repeated myself on several fronts here, but hey, I felt very strongly I had to emphasize a few things here, and hopefully you’ll see my 25 years of collecting music and almost same length involved in the music scene, and knowing I have listened to thousands of bands over that period to see what I am giving is an honest opinion. These lads deserve to make it, and have a lot going for them, I love their faith, musically highly talented, and I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of them into the future, and to be frank, the Christian music scene is for the better with bands like this in the mix. At the end of this the one question I asked myself is would I play this on my radio show, and the answer is “yes!”.
Written by Donovan de Necker
1) In the Beginning
2) Harmony In Ruins
4) The Piper Illusion
5) Leviathan’s Voyage
6) Before the Dawn
7) Hiding Place (a remake version)
8) Her Name
11) Harmony in Ruins (Orchestration)
12) Hiding Place (Instrumental)
1st Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar – Rod Kozikowski
Lead Vocals 2, Lead Guitar, Keyboards and Composer – David Michael
Drums – Eric Bowser
Record Label: XNilo Records, Aug. 2014
Video below ‘Hiding Place’ (Corrie Ten Boom Tribute)
Soundcloud::”Harmony In Ruins” [album sampler]