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Review of "Tug Of War" by Progressive Ears

This is the album will put Enchant on the map, and in the charts. It must surely be voted one of the top 10 of 2003.

Enchant has been producing progressive/neo/semi-metallic music since 1995. Tug Of War is their 7th album, and by far, their best. It is metal, with a level of progressive complexity, that should warm the heart of any discerning listener. But be advised - it may take several listens before it sinks in.

From the first track this album sparkles with Echolyn-like complexity - sudden rhythmic changes, changes of key, surprising breaks, and elaborate textures. Ted Leonardís vocals are a little atonal in mid-ranges but he really comes into his own when pushing the high notes, in almost a James Labrie/Geoff Tate style. Most tracks feature long instrumentals which are very compelling, and very tight. A pattern found on several tracks is an excellent guitar solo with simple piano accompaniment. Different, and effective. Tug Of War features an opulent range of keyboard sounds, and the synth has particularly rich tones. (But then Bill Jenkins has a day-job working for Korg.)

In "See No Evil" several spots feature vocals with a synth in very high notes, a palm-muted guitar bobs along in the mid tones, and a very deep, heavy bass rumbles at the very bottom of your wooferís range - making a piece with interesting tonal variety. Then the guitar creeps in and develops with one of those beautiful solos that punctuate almost every track.

"Beautiful" is just that. An emotional piece, it is driven by a fast tempo, led by piano and bass. Perhaps Ted Leonardís vocals are shown off to better effect on other tracks (e.g. the title track, and "Holding The Wind"), but the song has great mood and tonal range. Yet one canít help thinking that a more deliberate delivery would yield a more compelling song.

"Progtology" is an instrumental track featuring excellent guitar work in the low and mid ranges. Half way through the track, there is one of those surprising breaks: A guitar repeats a simple riff, after a few bars the keys and drums enter the mix, then bass and another guitar, then the piano enters with a wonderful development on the riff and it builds into one of the most comprehensive wall-of-sound passages anywhere, and each instrument remains as a clear as a bell. A beautifully crafted progressive metal piece, there is no doubt that this is the best track on the album.

The final track, "Comatose", is a 9-minute ballad that starts with vocals and piano. Whoah - did Neal Morse join Enchant? In the early and late stages of the song, the vocals sound just like Morse! "Comatose" starts with just piano and vocals, then for just a few seconds we hear one of the most haunting guitar sounds ever. Way in the distant background, a short solo with lots of fuzz and lots of reverb, sounding like the skirl of bagpipes echoing down a valley on a highland morning. It is soft enough to be missed by most people - so listen for it! About a third of the way into the song the drums, bass and guitar enter, and "Comatose" becomes a power ballad. (And thankfully, the Neal Morse sound goes away.) Then the lead guitar throws in a slow and emotional solo, followed by a variety of sounds, complex and varied. Then - oops - Neal Morse is back! The song ends with soft, sustained, key-driven notes, and you know this is one of the better power ballads out there. Anywhere. (Okay - so maybe this is the best track on the album.)

Enchantís NEARfest 2002 performance was okay, but the standard of this album is a pleasant surprise. These songs are beautifully structured, and the production quality is excellent. Tug Of War belongs in your CD collection - and donít forget to buy a second copy for your metal-head cousin!

Rating : 4 / 5