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Aeon Zen - "Enigma" (CD)

Aeon Zen - "Enigma" CD cover image

"Enigma" track listing:

1. Enter The Enigma
2. Artificial Soul
3. Divinity
4. Seven Hills
5. Warning
6. Turned To Ash
7. Still Human
8. Eternal Snow
9. Downfall

Reviewed by on February 10, 2013

"A victim of tripping over its shoelaces, 'Enigma' fails as a concept album, but makes for a hellishly good, emotionally-disconnected listen for its neck-breaking musicianship, large production, and even musical flow."

For the act’s third album, UK-based progressive outfit Aeon Zen brings forth "Enigma," the title an apt description of the album as a whole. The album's sound is derived from several genres, the most notable of which comes in Aeon Zen's rhythm section, which rips through tight riffs in the fashion of Necrophagist and Between The Buried and Me. The odd thing is that this is juxtaposed with mostly clean vocals throughout the album (excepting several death growls) and a clearly prog-oriented direction. Synthesizers take on a large role, too, making the album quite enigmatic, indeed.

The pleasant thing about being an enigma is the almost universal intrigue -- Something difficult to understand is startling by default. The other side of being an enigma is closer to how this album comes off -- it LOOKS important, but might not actually be. The album is backed by a lyrical concept and loosely tied together with one or two musical themes that reappear. A successful concept album will get its story across to most listeners with expediency without getting lost in its own mythos, and will usually have songs that can stand on their own but work together as a whole. "Enigma," however, fails to give listeners any reason to engage its concept.

Luckily, songs like "Divinity," "Warning," and "Still Human" provide enough firepower to engage anyone by the music itself aside from the concept. Piano, various synthesizers, saxophone, and a slew of intricately arranged vocal lines make "Eternal Snow" and "Seven Hills" stand out as intoxicatingly beautiful tracks. "Warning" is rife with Devin Townsend Band references with its spacey guitar delays, unfurling bright synths, and chunky major-toned simple guitar riffs backed by technical prog in-the-pocket drumming. Great tracks aside, there is the issue of the lyrical concept.

The first song's first vocal lines are sung by a third person narrator about some as-yet-not-introduced "He/Enigma" character, presumably portrayed by Above Symmetry vocalist Atle Pettersen. Atle's expressive rage and vocal range are both utilized usefully in conveying the feelings he is singing about, but the voice of the narrator fails to define what makes this person important, other than the fact that he has "lost his mind with nowhere to hide until he is back on track." The lyrics are broad generalizations like "how can I move forward when I don't know who to trust?" and "rising and falling from the ashes," which humanize the character but leaves the listener out of the loop about why he feels this way, making him and his struggles un-relatable.

The lyrics carry forward, developing various emotions and hinting at things the Enigma character has done to bring himself to his point of present turmoil. However, even on the next-to-last track, the story still feels static and still. It's only on "Downfall," which displays an impressive number of musical shifts and excellent playing, that the story moves forward. The band might have an elaborate design behind the concept, but it simply does not come across to the listener. A victim of tripping over its shoelaces, "Enigma" fails as a concept album, but makes for a hellishly good, emotionally-disconnected listen for its neck-breaking musicianship, large production, and even musical flow.

Highs: Drastic shifts of genre are handled professionally and meaningfully, with skillful musicianship.

Lows: Completely unrelatable story with vague feelings where development should be.

Bottom line: An exceptionally played progressive metal record with flaws only in the lyrical concept.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)