Ashes To Ashes - Shapes of spirits - 2000
What is heavy prog?. Questions such as this have tormented humanity through the times. I don't want to enter in this polemic, but I have had the opportunity to see classified inside progressive or symphonic metal bands as disparate as Helloween (will it be because they have two conceptual albums?), Iron Maiden, Strato -ehem - Varius, or even the kings of viking metal Manowar. The case is that there are bands that possess elements that we can frame them inside the prog metallic label (or doom or black or....) as Lacrimas Profundere, Therion, Nightingale, Anathema, In the woods, etc. Bands that practice music with more roots in the heavy metal than groups like The Gathering, After forever or Within Temptation. This is the case of the Norwegian Ashes to Ashes, band formed by Michael Stenberg (guitars), Björn Luna (bass), Kristian Johansen (drums), and Kenneth Brastad (voice). Surprisingly, although an official keyboard player does not appear, the music of ATA is very based on keyboards, played by Thomas Sörlie.
The CD begins with "Shapes of spirits" (1:36), a solemn and epic introduction that introduces us in the first "Gabriel" (11:22) that, in spite of a beginning a la Metallica, moves around hypnotic moments in which masculine and feminine voices are inserted, along with epic poetry and arabesques, interludes of synthesisers full with force, rhythm changes with arpegio guitars, and, mainly, a good sense of melodic riffing by Michael. "Castle in the air" (8:05) lowers the progressive level -this is not a heavy metal web- and it is just a song that can remind us from the Maiden in "7th son of a 7th son" with all the clichés of the Britons (rhythm changes, quick and epic riffs,..). In the middle of the piece there is a very good acoustic part with a good work of guitars and rhythm section and, to conclude, a more Maiden cut than the own Maiden would play. "The mourning" (7:10) is a treasure full with melancholy and hope in which the keyboards are absolute owners of the situation. The Norwegian show here their more melodic inspiration and get an A+ grade. After the calm, the tempest (or was it the other way around?) by means of "Dying room" (6:46), a song with many rhythm changes that fluctuates amongst metal, the proposals of bands like Moonspell, and moments of calm thank you again to the keyboards. Other heavy instrumental is "Divide & conquer" (3:12) that precedes to the last suite of the disk "Sacrilege" (11:12) with an amazing start with sitar and intoxicant Arabic atmospheres. The song moves around the leif-motiv of the Eastern sounds treated with an epic heavy pattern, and the truth is that the result is very good, mainly in a wonderful middle section in which the soft voices and the synthesisers return us to the sand of the desert. To end, another instrumental "Ad infinitum" (2:36) very obscure and quite boring.
In definitive, if you like bands of the style of Therion, Lacrimas Profundere or In the woods, Ashes to Ashes won't defraud you at all. From the progVisions point of view the progressive level is acceptable and I believe that they deserve one listen.