Something you quickly learn as a devoted music enthusiast is the fact that there really should be no lines drawn in the sand when it comes to appreciating the things that resonate with us. Just because someone pokes fun at “Come Sail Away” for being ‘dad rock’ doesn’t mean you should feel ashamed about it tugging at your strings. There are no guilty pleasures.
Following this edict will open yourself to a level of deranged joy previously unimaginable, shining a glorious spotlight on a wide array of unique discoveries, such as the parallel mood shared between the opening moments of “The Living Years” and Burzum’s “Tomhet.” Bless you, Mike and the Mechanics. Bless you to Hell.
“We have such sights to show you…” ~ Pinhead
Naturally, talk such as this essentially equates to one thing in the realm of heavy metal: Another exciting journey into…
Amen, you scurvied hosebags. Put another notch in heavy metal’s belt for the clean-singing heroes. And I might as well over-emphasize that “clean-singing” bit right off the bat, because you will run away yipping like a yorkie with burning nuts if you’re one of those types who doesn’t mesh well with an unblemished voice that soars through sci-fi adventures in a particularly lustrous manner. Tom Braden has the smoothest of smooth voices – something that’s more comparable to the Dennis DeYoungs or Tommy Shaws of the world, as opposed to the gravelly approach of someone like Nils Patrik Johansson. He’s justly spotlighted throughout The Furthest Reaches’ fifty minutes, but notable peaks hit throughout the infectious “Hopeful Eyes,” and when his polished delivery floats alongside a guest appearance from Sabrina Cruz (Seven Kingdoms) throughout “Wardens of the New World.”
Braden’s fluid refinement aside, what’s particularly satisfying about Artizan on a personal level is the fact that I’ve witnessed the band’s progression basically from day one, and full-length #3 does an impressive job of showcasing a unit that’s fully secured their own niche within the recently burgeoning U.S. power metal scene. Instead of the prevailing Blind Guardian blueprint, Artizan opts for a more progressive crux that’s ripped from the pages of bands such as Fates Warning, Psychotic Waltz, or Threshold. Just listen to the way the lengthy title track navigates light orchestration, a satisfyingly weighty riff (2:15), and the exquisite acoustic play around its half-way point – that’s some clear Jim Matheos-inspired writing there, and it’s a very fitting model for a band that pushes an epic sci-fi adventure angle as hard as these Floridians push it.
Where Artizan has improved the most, however, is in their collective decision to further illuminate the value of 1) enticing lead guitars, and 2) that most dynamic of duos: The riff & heft. Point one is managed as a result of adding a permanent new member, guitarist Bill Staley. Melodic bursts fire all over The Furthest Reaches, but the fantastic “Hopeful Eyes” is exceptionally satisfying in terms of melody, and it also flashes one of the album’s most infectious examples of point #2 just before the 2-minute mark – one of those moments that requires an immediate rewind, and one that also confirms the fact that Artizan has identified the fundamental code necessary for executing a Holy Shit Riff. I’d call it the best on the record, but I don’t even know how to begin clarifying how much I love the sassy lick that kicks off the closing “Into the Sun.” Jake E. Lee would trade a hundred pairs of stretch-leather pants for that riff.
The additional priority given to heft also helps The Furthest Reaches. In the past, much of Artizan’s weight relied on the heavy hitting style of drummer Ty Tammeus, and while he still hits the skins like a hostage depends on it, there are plenty of instances where the guitars are crucial to a song’s overall heaviness. Also commendable is the fact that, unlike many of their European counterparts, Artizan delivers density in a way that’s modern, but not “djenty,” leaving the heavier parts feeling more Jag Panzer than Meshuggah.
The only gripe I can muster has to do with the three interludes used to help guide the storyline. Honestly, the use of actors in this manner really isn’t all that necessary, particularly considering the fact that it adds less than 2-minutes to the overall album. Plus, the poor kid playing the child needs a red bull. Or maybe they could’ve used a Sour Patch Kids bribe to coax a little added enthusiasm. Kids will mow a flaming lawn with a pair of safety scissors for some Sour Patch Kids.
Obviously this sort of record ain’t exactly intended for all audiences. People who can’t hang with power metal will go right on hating it, and there’s always a likelihood that someone will blow into the conversation with some terribly clever quip along the lines of “these guys look like the IT Department where I work.” You know what, yeah, maybe they do, but so will you once the realization sets in that the ambient crust collective you play in doesn’t exactly bring home enough bacon to cover that VW GTI payment. Big fucking deal.
If smart, melodic, pleasurable power/progressive metal is the sort of thing that lands in your wheelhouse – and oh my LORD, it’s okay for heavy metal to sound pleasurable – you should give The Furthest Reaches your attention. Artizan’s continued upward swing in momentum has secured the band a cozy corner within the current US scene, and it’ll be very interesting to hear where they plan on leading listeners next.
Oh, and a cover of “Come Sail Away” is offered as a bonus track on the limited edition release. BOOM. Full circle.