Age Of Artemis – The Waking Hour
Reviewed by Arno Callens
An amazing debut can be an amazing curse. In a time where great first records are an unwritten rule (instead of slowly building up to that one defining masterpiece), and quality rules over quantity, that quality can be a very hard target to hit indeed. Take Age Of Artemis, blowing a hole in Brazilian power metal history with its debut Overcoming Limits, which was the best Angra-album Angra never made. How do you top that one? Do you repeat the trick and hope the audience isn’t tired of hearing it yet, or do you take a radical turn in a different direction so comparisons with the debut will feel off-topic?
In my review of Overcoming Limits, I spoke about continuation versus progression in what seems to have been one of my trademarks back in the day. Age Of Artemis fell firmly in the former camp, choosing to adapt the formula of post-Rebirth Angra Brazilian power metal for a new decennium. On the heavily anticipated successor The Waking Hour, the band seems to have all but abandoned that path, instead attempting to create something more unique, defying direct comparisons. Overall The Waking Hour is a little slower, a little darker, and a little bit more mature. Come in expecting another round of soaring ecstatic numbers and you’ll walk away disappointed.
To be fair, that’s exactly what I expected. But from the tribal percussion of opener “Under The Sun” onward I was sold to this new (if not necessarily improved, but rather coexisting) version of Age Of Artemis. Surely it’s not as immediately gripping as “I am tired of this fiiight!”, but the second time around I found a lot of the melodies and riffs had already subtly embedded themselves in my brain. The opener and single “Broken Bridges” doesn’t have the pumping adrenaline quality of “Break Up The Chains”, but they are both spearheaded by impressive choruses, displaying a wider range of moods than just unfiltered joy. Not that there’s anything wrong with “happy metal”, but it can be a bonus when an album feels like a journey from one place to the next, and that’s precisely how The Waking Hour feels.
Sometimes that journey is a far angrier one than the lowest growls of “Gods, Kings And Fools”, by far the grimmest track on Overcoming Limits. “The Waking Hour” and “Melted In Charisma” both feature tight riffing before unfolding their wings into ominous refrains. On the other hand, Age Of Artemis strikes a wistful note on the slow and plodding “Hunger And Shame”, and a helping of ethnic instrumentation with the nostalgic “Childhood”.
The second half of The Waking Hour is a bit more diffuse. “Your Smile” is a ballad so slight it nearly evaporates among the other tracks, let alone all the other ballads in the form of “Winding Road” and an alternative version of “Take Me Home”. Luckily there’s the snarling “Exile” and somber “New Revolution”, both of which manage to find nifty melodic touches despite the darker atmosphere.
How to follow up an amazing debut? There is no single answer. In the case of Age Of Artemis, the band opted to broaden its horizons and branch out in different moods and genres. Long-term that can be as effective a strategy to keep your name on the map as endlessly trying to put another bolt of lightning in a bottle. The Waking Hour showcases a band attempting to evolve beyond its conception, and doing so by establishing a new name for itself, while it could just as well have cashed in on its firsthand reputation. In the end not only is the attempt admirable, so is the result. The Waking Hour may not be an instant classic like Overcoming Limits – any band can only dream of writing one of those at best – but it sets a new course for a band that could easily have watered down said classic with countless variations on it. Long live the old, welcome to the new Age of Artemis.
3.75 // 5