Cloudscape – New Era
One is not supposed to take an album’s cover art into account when it comes to reviewing, but would you just look at that? If I had never heard of Cloudscape, and was rich (none of which are true), I might just pick this up blindly in a store. And it wouldn’t be a shopping misfire at all.
My strongest experience with this Swedish progressive metal outfit is their second album Crimson Skies, which I still enjoy with some regularity. I listened to the successor Global Drama only briefly, so I had no idea what to expect from New Era. Luckily for me and the credibility of this review, the new record reminds me a good deal of Crimson Skies. It shares its sense of pervasive melancholy and a taste for (relatively) short, catchy songs. This is not meandering prog with guitar and keyboard solos that last half an hour, this is punchy and to the point.
Yet at the same time it feels lighter, and a lot of that has to do with the production. Now I usually don’t care too much about that, nor do I claim to be some sort of expert. But the guitars on New Era are simply too low into the mix. Sometimes it feels watered-down, close to progressive rock instead of metal. It threatens to take the edge out of the material, which is a shame with the range of diversity on offer. Keyboards and vocals are very much in front, often lacking the sufficiently audible foundation of the rhythm section. It gives the whole affair an air of eerie- and elusiveness, which tends to glide off you with too much ease.
Still, a quick look at the tracklist immediately results in some standouts. Be it more readily accessible sing-alongs like “Share Your Energy” or “Seen It All Before”, or the Eastern-tinged “Kingdom Of Sand” and “Before Your Eyes”. “Voyager 9” is the closest New Era comes to a long song, and its astronomic theme results in a dense atmosphere, thus conveying the feel of space with what I assume is some accuracy. Obviously I have never been there, though, so who am I to say? A few other oddities are the strangely titled “Simplicity…Huh…” and the Viking-inspired “Into The Unknown”. Somehow, Cloudscape is the last band I would associate with Northern lore.
There is a degree of filler on New Era, but the experience is easy-listening enough to sweep such complaints under the rug. Despite its flaws in production, Cloudscape’s latest is an enjoyable album of light melodic prog that should appeal to the majority of fans of the genre. Those who prefer their progressive metal more complex, intricate, or otherworldly might best be served looking elsewhere. I’m sure there are tons of records out there that mere mortals “just don’t get”.
Arno’s Rating: 3.75 out of 5