When you first arrive at college for your freshman year, at least in the United States of Student Loan Debt, you’re forced to take a bunch of core courses. These are courses that the school has decided are important as a base for your continuing education at their [overpriced] institution of higher learning. When we discuss metal this would be your foundational bands that inspired the genre and first stepped off the cliff of hard rock and into the abyss known as heavy metal. Your sophomore year is exciting. You get to declare a major. If you’ve been raised in the United States this is likely the first independent decision you’ve ever made. It’s thrilling. With trepidation you grip the pen and write in whatever subject you think will garner the most “oohh’s” and “aahh’s.” Whatever you write in will have no actual impact on your future but it’s exciting because now you’ve left the core curriculum and ventured into your own forest of knowledge. In metal, this would be the foundational bands of whatever sub-genre you feel like discussing.
Your junior year of college is mostly uneventful. You get alcohol poisoning and your first STD. You stop calling your parents every week and you take on a major personality change. Maybe you get dreadlocks or experiment with drugs. Maybe you become super-religious and start attending church regularly, much to the dismay of your Jewish parents. With regard to heavy metal, your junior year is really just a blur. It’s likely comprised of the bands you thought were the most important ever but now hardly remember, and the youth large t-shirt you used to love is just collecting dust in cabinet where you keep the dog food. But your senior year… Oh, the senior year.
Your senior year feels like a victory lap, when in truth it is the year that will cement your identity for the next few years. You cobble your experiences of the last few years into a patchwork quilt that highlights the parts of yourself you think are great. You combine personas, update your fashion, over-commit to a failing relationship and generally fall headlong into the second major awkward phase of your life.
While all of these negative progressions are occurring, something magical is beginning to blossom: you’re actually putting your knowledge together and forming nuanced, multi-faceted opinions and arguments while seeing all sorts of connections that you hadn’t seen before. For metal, this area is where bands like Tanagra exist. They have slogged through the swamps of defeat and singular-lens thinking. They have combined their base of knowledge and their interests, likes and personality quirks into something that is beautiful, diverse and special.
While relying heavily on progressive, symphonic and traditional composition, Tanagra creates something uniquely their own. Through a myriad of vocal deliveries, some lackadaisical and others gut-wrenchingly urgent, Tim Socia weaves tales of anciently futuristic dreamlands—mystical lands that combine and intertwine the past with the future. Melodic guitar lines interweave and create a sense of profound loss—a mourning for the lost ruins of the ancient past and a life more intimately connected to nature. It’s an overlaying emotion across Meridiem that creates a ceaseless tension between remaining in a time long passed that’s nevertheless entangled in the future. What will the hero choose? Will the hero stand defiant against the shores of time? It’s within the multiverses and interdimensional planes of existence that Tanagra’s tales lie expertly supported by hyper-emotional, technically proficient, brilliantly composed and balanced musicianship.
“Etheric Alchemy” functions as a perfect intro track for those curious about what makes Tanagra such a terrific band and moreover what makes Meridiem a must-listen for music fans. A plethora of rhythms and melodies dot the landscape of the roughly one-minute intro all building to the climactic verse marked with heavily-layered vocals. While vocal lines roll softly across the chorus like hills leading ever downward from the mountains to the sea, the guitars drill away with rapid precision creating a sense of urgency. Alternately, the verses find the guitars picking out meandering melodies underneath etheric vocal lines. It’s these melodies—heavily ridden by the guitars during the verse, along with a careful and predictive bass line—that will move into the vanguard position as the track swells into a clamant, nearly ferocious verse that in turn gives way to a guitar solo that’s rife with harmonies and comforting melodies and a surprising divulgence of tremendously restrained talent. The track culminates in a layered, multi-tracked affair with all instruments working in unison to bury ancient secrets.
Unafraid to push their symphonic leanings to the forefront, tracks like “The Hidden Hand” reveal their main thematic-melody via keyboard. While the track begins in a fury with guitars picking out single-note riffs while a lead guitar hurdles melodically over the top, the rapid decay of the intro opens like the electronic gates to an ancient city to expose a soft electric piano plucking counter-melodies that foretell the centerpiece of the vocal line. Later, as the verse bleeds into something of a bridge, a galloping rhythm is punctuated by an organ—simple, yet distinct. That organ line will undercut the instrumental bridge/pre-chorus and remain heavily influential and prescient during the segments to come.
On the more progressive side of things, “Across the Ancient Desert” opens simply with dissonant guitar intervals that will be a mainstay of the piece. The second guitar relies on a fuzzed-out melodic version of dog-chasing-its-own-tail. Then, something altogether astonishing happens: Jake Rogers steps in to deliver backing vocals. Rogers provides the perfect vocal foil for Socia. Where Socia restrains himself and keeps his range somewhat narrow and focused on precision and a dream-like narrative, Rogers relies on flat-out booming vocal talent to carry his delivery. It’s something of a sign of absolute confidence to allow Rogers to show up so briefly and unleash his diaphragm all over your track. He’s such an instantly recognizable tour de force that his mere presence becomes a testament to Tanagra’s dedication to their overall vision at the cost of ego. Face it, plenty of vocalists, no matter how talented, would keep Jake Rogers as far away from their band as they could, lest he accidentally avow an interest in joining. You’d end up with a Fleetwood Mac or Velvet Underground situation on your hands.
Bafflingly released independently, Meridiem is another jewel in the trunk of America’s continually-burgeoning power metal scene. Despite a run-time of more than an hour, at no point does Meridiem feel tedious like the middle pages of the 30th volume in a fifty-six volume fantasy series. Josh Kay and Steven Soderberg work like a seasoned pair of pistons in a two-stroke engine, firing out line after riff after solo in perfect harmony. Erich Ulmer quietly plays the oh-so-familiar role of unsung hero on bass, effortlessly grounding each track and presciently guiding chord progressions into more complex terrain. Behind the kit, Christopher Stewart is stalwart and unmoving in his effort to keep the cavalry in lockstep. Also, not enough can be said about the support staff and the orchestral assistance the band received on Meridiem.
Tanagra is something to be loved by music fans, cherished by power metal fans and salivated over by fans of progressive metal.
When a band or an album resonates with you completely, you know that something special has been found. It doesn’t happen very often. And we all know the excited feeling we get when it has. It’s like when you find a new favourite brand of chewing gum that will change your future minty mastication forever.
I have listened to Tanagra’s two songs on repeat for the past hour whilst studying. Beware those that have to listen to me rave about them for the rest of the year.