This one is for all you sci-fans out there. Finnish progressive metal band Simulacrum has recently released its newest album “Sky Divided,” an album influenced by various sci-fi movies, literature, and video games. I may not be too much of a sci-fi reader or gamer myself, but I can definitely feel its impact on the sounds behind the album. I also have not heard Simulacrum before this album, but with a special thanks to Inverse Records, I was able to check this album out. With the challenges that come with writing a themed album of this magnitude, I applaud their ambitiousness.
“Sky Divided” pushes the boundaries of progressive metal, incorporating elements of power and heavy metal throughout. After a symphonic introduction reminiscent of Waken Eyes’ latest effort, the vibe bleeds into the next track “Behind The Belt Of Orion.” The deep, galloping guitar rhythms is a foreshadow of the aggressiveness of this album, containing numerous technical grooves. Guitarist Nicholas Pulkkinen shreds consistently and passionately throughout, but I especially admire his work in the songs “Embrace The Animal Within” and “Enter Hyperion.” Both songs contain seemingly straightforward chord and strum patterns, but are a powerful driving force for the song. But the album isn’t entirely speed or sludge-driven, as the ballad-like “Broken” slows down the pace with powerful chords and a saxophone solo.
Drummer Markus Wallasvaara and bassist Olli Hakala provide an astounding rhythm section in “Sky Divided.” I’ve mentioned in the past that sometimes these two positions in progressive metal bands tend to be shadowed by the others, but I feel their presence is made known here. The double-bass drum patterns add to the heaviness of the intense guitar rhythms, and is the most under-rated factor on the entire album. The entirety of his work on epic “A New Beginning” shows the union of the subtlety and the greatness of his performance. Shifting between softer, symphonic and thrashing, edgy sections, the listener is immersed into the incredible display.
The musicianship behind the band is easily apparent with their different guitar, drum, and keyboard styles. The heavy keyboard presence provided by ChrisM creates the sci-fi atmosphere one would expect right from the start with “Timelapse.” The dramatic rise and fall of the keyboard sections set the stage for the album’s concept, what I could only guess as post-apocalyptic from the album cover. I feel like I’m floating in space with these guys, especially in the song “The Abomination” (which, by the way, contains an amazing bass solo in the beginning). Reminiscent of the keyboard sounds of the equally spacey progressive metal band Sky Architect, I enjoyed its different shades and textures throughout the album, complementing the ferocious and nearly-chaotic nature of the band’s orchestrations.
This album’s greatest feature is also its greatest weakness, being vocalist Niklas Broman. A voice eerily similar to Symphony X’s Russell Allen, I had a hard time not comparing the two vocalists. So which one of the two is better? It’s tough to say. There are some moments when Broman absolutely kills it, particularly in lower-registered vocal sections like “Broken” and “Enter Hyperion.” Ironically, it is these moments where he sounds the most like Allen, but I feel his range is more adequately represented. As great as his lower vocals are, I can’t help but cringe a little while hearing some of his upper-register voice. Not that his voice is bad, but that I appreciate his other vocals so much more. There is so much more angst and precision in his lower vocals, I can’t help but be moved by his delivery. The higher vocals simply don’t satisfy me as a listener; I feel he is always reaching for those high notes when an octave lower would have been enough. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but I’m hoping for a more simple approach to Broman’s vocals on their next album.
Overall, Simulacrum’s “Sky Divided” is a massive sounding album thanks to the instrumentation of its members. There is a healthy dose of heaviness to complement the progressive nature of the album, something that I always love to hear in progressive metal albums. The vocals, although hit-and-miss, match with the album’s out of this world, sci-fi concept. For fans of bands like Signum Regis, Intronaut, and Native Construct, I recommend you check out this album. You can support Simulacrum by checking out their website, and by following their Facebook and Twitter pages for band updates. They are currently wrapping up some European tour dates, so those who are attending should share their experiences with me.
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