|Review: Isle of the Cross - Excelsis|
Label: Rockshots Records
Year released: 2020
Genre: Progressive Metal
Review online: January 29, 2020
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
Rated 1.5/5 (30%) (4 Votes)
Isle of the Cross is the brainchild of composer Je Schneider, who appears to have a very prolific career making movie and video game soundtracks along with various project albums. Learning that really put Excelsis into perspective for me, as it certainly sounds like the result of someone with a very high opinion of their abilities as a composer that wants to make it as clear as possible how very deep and artful they think they are. Emphasis on "think".
Musically, Excelsis sound something like if Symphony X and Opeth got in a loud argument about Greek tragedy, and it's about as obnoxious and pretentious as that sounds. You get plenty of technical riffage and impressive musicianship, but more often than not it's bogged down with that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink songwriting aesthetic that many before this band mistook for brilliance. You get some Tech Death, some Power/Prog, some folk music, some 2000s Hard Rock, some spoken atmospheric pieces, on and on and on. This album tries so hard to put in every idea it can to try and tell its story of lovers searching for each other in the afterlife, but even if that story were particularly engaging (it's not), the music is so busy and confused that it never has the narrative flow a concept album needs to be successful.
That's not to say it's without value, however. Opener "Sacrifice" starts out really well with sections comprised of driving riffs and chant-like vocals surrounding them, but they get ruined with some subpar growls put through a million effects and dull rhythmic chugging in place of riffs after each one. "Empyrean" is the one song I really like on here, as it goes for a more Power/Prog sound with some nice female vocals, even if the atmospheric bits don't work too well and it gets too poppy in places. Notice how even on the songs I like there's a catch, and that's a good way to describe the album: flashes of greatness that get ruined by some indulgent, wrongheaded choices shortly afterwards. The lowlight of this album, however, is easily the gag-inducing ballad "Stars", whose whiny falsetto vocals and poppy melodic cues make it sound like a song written by Air Supply for a TV Disney movie from 10 years ago.
This is a big album full of big ideas that took me many listens to fully grasp, and while I don't hate it as much as I initially did, I can't say I feel like this was worth understanding. It's clear that Schneider has chops and could easily make some killer Metal if he just settled down and figured out what he wanted to do with the genre. However, after giving this as much time as I could, it just sounds like he only cares about Metal as far as it can stroke his ego, and if this is just him getting started, I dread to think what a sequel album will look like. Tiresome.
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