It’s been over four years since Zero Hour became the darlings of the prog-metal underground with their Towers of Avarice release. That may not seem like a long time for that genre, but seeing as this album has been ready to go for at least two years, it’s a bit more significant. The Bay Area-based band kept running into scheduling problems with their Texas-based vocalist Erik Rosvold, and the decision was made to replace him with the much more local Fred Marshall. Lyrics were written, vocals recorded, and after much anticipation, A Fragile Mind is here.
Putting the vocalist change behind us for a minute, Zero Hour is first and foremost about the music, and these guys are master musicians. Guitarist Jasun Tipton’s fingers fly effortlessly across the fretboard, with every solo, every riff, and every note in exactly the right place. His twin brother and bassist Troy Tipton does likewise on the fretless bass, laying down a dead heavy foundation that is made even more so by the precision drumming of Mike Guy. From the crushing opener “There For Me” to the epic title track and mind-blowing instrumentals, the music is, for all intents and purposes, flawless. These guys have shared the stage with some of the biggest bands of the genre at the annual ProgPower event, and can easily hold their own with any of them.
Getting back to the vocals now. While Marshall doesn’t quite have the range or power that these songs deserve, he does an admirable enough job considering his short tenure with the group before recording. The heaviness laid down by the band on “Brain Surgery” and “Twice the Pain” simply overpowers him, so it may not be entirely his fault. On the plus side, he never goes over the top or uses a high-pitched falsetto, so if that is one of your major turnoffs for this style, you can safely move ahead. Also, most of the tracks here clock in at under or around 5 minutes in length, so you don’t have to worry about a lot of overblown or boring bits. On the contrary, this CD is over before you know it, and you are likely to quickly hit the “play” button again for another ride.
The long wait for Zero Hour fans was more than worth it, as the band adds another excellent album to their catalog. A Fragile Mind has everything you love about prog-metal and none of the stuff you hate (unless you’re one of those vocal Nazis who can’t stand anything intelligible). If this one leaves you wanting more, fear not. The followup has already been written and the band is planning to release it in 2006. I’m already counting the days.