I am amazed. These guys managed to get the attention of Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Guilt Machine, Stream of Passion, The Gentle Storm), plus secured the services of a felt gazillion of additional guest performers from 12 countries. As if this weren’t enough, they got Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios to do the mixing and mastering piece. Then the band forged ahead and landed us with 74 minutes of progressive goodness on 12 tracks. Wow!
And this raised a major concern right from the beginning. Do we have another case of extensive, badly managed complexity that raises its ugly head? It for sure sounded like that to me at first. After all, this kind of pitfall already was a point of major discord in many a prog record in the past.
Now, every concoction that has the combination Lucassen / Bogren written over it will for sure get my attention real quick. And looking at the amount of effort spent to get this record on its feet, one would expect one of the big prog outfits to perform. But no, the sounds reach us from the Levant – again; Lebanon to be precise. Ostura is the name and their sophomore full length album The Room is the game. Not a band often heard this side of the Alps – not until now at least.
Another Progressive Metal outfit from the area – Scardust from Israel – just made it to the top of the 2017 Top 10. Incidentally the latter also employed Bogren to keep them bricks of sound in check. And indeed, what went through his studio usually has promise. It is thus of no surprise that this also goes for The Room. The epic soundwaves floating over to us the lands of olives and mystique for sure have the ability to captivate right from the start.
The Room bases itself on a storyline of a girl getting into a room and thus shutting out the harsh realities dwelling outsides. The record describes the journey of the young lady into an imaginary world. And back out again. I particularly admire the lyrics, consisting of some sort of dialogue between the three main characters. None of the silliness so frequently found with other bands displays on this record. And THAT is definitely one of main positive aspects of this record.
Ostura call their style Cinematic Progressive Metal. And they have a point. Albeit that the song structures are quite close to what Ayreon did in the past, moins the scientific part that this particular outfit likes to indulge in. So, indeed you’ll find Progressive Metal with a dose of Power Metal reminiscent of Arrayan Path and Avantasia in a way. Ostura displays a similar knack for melodies and catchy, orientally tainted chorus lines of the former and a certain taste for the bombast from the latter. With orchestral parts aptly managed through the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra with choir and acoustics included at every corner of the road.
You’ll even find a sprinkling of Industrial here and there, yet this is something quite commonly found on modern prog pieces. All this serves on a foundation of epic soundbites with Symphonic Metal reminiscent of Nightwish and Evanescence to keep it all together. And the story indeed bleeds into the tune and paints these large, lush soundscapes that continue to impress. Some sort of rock opera – without the play.
Harking back to the record’s proximity to Ayreon, why am I not surprised to find Mike Mills (Toehider, Ayreon) on the list of vocalists. Thus we got the Lucassen / Mills influence weighing relatively heavily on this album. Which in a way works against the distinct qualities The Room openly displays. Yet, the record actually boasts three vocalists. The aforementioned Michael Mills as Utopia, Youmna Jreissati as the Girl and finally Elia Monsef as Erosion. And all of them with a stellar performance and outstanding vocal range. They all work the storyline through a symbiotic discussion in this vast universe Ostura created.
Luckily there’s not much of an intro starting with The Room – the title track. This first offering steps right into the story with not one second to waste. And already this cocktail of Power and Prog bubbles to the surface. Yet, the solo on this track really saves the day. But the record really goes full tilt with Beyond (The New World) and this remodeled beauty and the beast approach. Lucassen lent his guitar to Darker Shade of Black and created one of the best tracks on The Room. Typical guitar solo included towards half-time – just splendid.
As to the rest of the track list, it would go too far to describe all of them in detail. But – in addition to the aforementioned ones – you surely want to check out Escape, Erosion and the epic Duality.
In the end Ostura managed to avoid the inherent complexity of their work to get the better of them. Neither do the lengthy tracks display any of the intrinsic faults often found on other prog records. The Room carves an imaginary lush soundscape out of a harsh world with a perfectly arranged, astonishing and very emotional musical performance. A record best consumed in one piece, in a quiet moment in front of the fire. I am truly impressed.
The Room will air on 23 February 2018.
[Editor’s note: The record successfully made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome VII. Contrats!]
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