This is an album that seemed like a no-brainer for me to love. First off, the all-star lineup: Truls Haugen of Circus Maximus on bass, Bobby Jarzombek on drums from Fates Warning and Riot, Scar Symmetry guitarist Per Nilsson, and Kelly “Sundown” Carpenter on vocals. All of them are led by the man who wrote it all, Danish keyboard virtuoso Finn Zierler. “ESC” is the result.
It took Finn quite a while to put this album together and while the album has a billion notes flying all over and tons of layers, it winds up sounding like way too much of everything. It almost sounds like the band is at war with the songs. With SO much over-the-top playing and vocals by Carpenter that are often way, way too much, the album becomes a 73 minute marathon.
Each song has about 5 different directions that EACH goes in. While some moments work, they are often followed by another that left me scratching my bald head. It does feel like a mix of Dream Theater, Scar Symmetry, Xerath and Devin Townsend. All are among my favorite artists, but instead of really mixing these elements together, they are all left as separate sections of each song.
Carpenter frequently sounds like he is over-singing and trying way too hard to be Devin Townsend. It’s a shame because the guy is a great singer. He is just on 11 most of the time. Dial it in once in a while. He does but it’s not often enough and sounds contrived. Zierler is a great keyboard player so most tracks are led by keyboards and symphonic blasts. Those are very much like Xerath but Xerath is better at crafting something cinematic from it.
There is no denying all of the talent on this album. The songs are not allowed space to breathe and to be honest, they aren’t very distinguishable from each other. This isn’t to say that the music as a whole are not good. The playing is quite amazing. But for me to figure out which song as which piece in it, I really can’t recall. Maybe more time would allow each song to develop.
For example, “Dark to the Bone” and “Evil Spirit” are both very dark and heavy songs and really interchangeable. I find myself wishing a section of a song would continue longer and then NOT go into the next section. “Evil Spirit” starts slow and suddenly hits a fast Liquid Tension Experiment part and then a quick symphonic moment before slowing down. It’s like this throughout the album. “ESC” tries way too hard to be difficult and prog versus feeling natural.
In many ways, Finn Zierler reminds me of Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon fame. You can take that as a complement if you like but I think both men are forcing songs to be prog and be what they believe to be prog, rather than just writing good songs. I have no doubt that this album will appeal to many fans of progressive metal so, as always, take my review with a grain of salt. This is my opinion. Listen to “ESC” and form your own opinion. Perhaps you can tolerate it more than I can. “ESC” is an unwieldy, unyielding complex beast that tends to overstay its welcome long before its 73 minutes comes to an end.
1. A New Beginning
3. Darkness Delight
4. Dark to the Bone
5. Evil Spirit
6. Married to the Cause
7. No Chorus
9. You Can’t Fix Me No More
Label: Vanity Music Group