Artizan – The Furthest Reaches (Pure Steel Records)Tuesday, 14th April 2015
Ambition, drive, and purpose fuel artists to unforeseen new horizons. In a risk/reward model, many musicians in heavy metal once established wrestle with meeting expectations of your burgeoning following but also satisfying and sustaining their very own desires in the songs that they put out. Thankfully, Florida power/progressive metal act Artizan believes the time is right in their career to deliver an ambitious sci-fi concept album in their third studio offering The Furthest Reaches – which lyrically and musically pushes the quintet to heights rarely attained in the genre for adventurous, intelligent, and thought provoking discussions.
The story in capsule form involves an alien race returning to Earth after a distress signal is sent into space – inspiration coming from authors like Arthur Clarke, Carl Sagan, and the Alien movie saga. Three short narrative segments appear at various points of the album – as the seven full songs contain a wide tapestry of melodic power metal that can be quite heavy at times, while also reaching into progressive territory. Vocalist Tom Braden is a special breed – channeling his multi-octave range and note holding abilities like the greatest singers of the genre. You will think Alder, Dio, Dickinson, and Tate at various times from the striking burst “Summoning the Gods” to the rhythmically mid-tempo marching “Supernova”, always conscious of injecting hooks and proper phrasing through his melody choices.
Guitarists Shamus McConney and Bill Staley lay down a bevy of thick power chords and harmonic tricks to tie these songs together seamlessly. A host of images come to the forefront on “Hopeful Eyes” and “Into the Sun” from Iron Maiden to Thin Lizzy, Randy Rhoads and even a little bit of Crimson Glory in terms of their dual attack and shifting gears from measure to measure. The rhythm section of bassist Jonathan Jennings and drummer Ty Tammeus showcases their chops in the nine minute plus title cut, starting off very doomy and then at the 2:30 mark transforming into this magical, progressive journey.
Add in the fabulous contributions from Seven Kingdoms’ vocalist Sabrina Cruz for “Wardens of the New World” (truly a performance for the ages) and ex-Iced Earth/Ashes of Ares singer Matt Barlow for the vicious “The Cleansing” plus eye-popping artwork from Marc Sasso (standard version) or Eliran Kantor (limited edition with Styx “Come Sail Away” as bonus track) and you have a record that rivals possibly the standard benchmark metal concept album of all time, Operation: Mindcrime.
Recorded again under the expert mind of Jim Morris (Iced Earth, Crimson Glory), Artizan have offered a record that should appease every traditional, power, or progressive metal follower. With hundreds of releases coming down the pike every month, rare is the time when an album can be the gold standard that other musicians should use to strive for more in their art and output. The Furthest Reaches will be appreciated beyond the moment for all eternity.