Released By: Zeta Nemesis Records
Release Date: July 26th, 2017
Genre: Progressive Metal
Kelly “Sundown” Carpenter – Vocals
Stéphan Forté – Guitars
Franck Hermanny – Bass
Kévin Codfert – Keyboards
Mayline – Violin
Jelly Carderelli – Drums
2. The Ladder
4. The Grand Spirit Voyage
5. Darkness Machine
6. I’ll Possess You
7. Secluded Within Myself
8. Trippin’ Away
Sometimes, when an album is heavily anticipated and heralded in advance as a spiritual successor to another highly regarded album, it can be hard not to let the hype get the better of you so that the end result ends up seemingly not as impressive as you were hoping for. One very highly anticipated album that fits this description perfectly is Life, the fifth full-length album from French progressive metal band Adagio. The band has been around since 2000 and have released some great albums in the past, especially their highly praised second album Underworld, but their sound has changed a lot in recent years, with the band’s previous album Archangels in Black in particular feeling like a massive departure from their previous efforts, and while it was an enjoyable album, many fans were disappointed with it, and it is generally considered the band’s weakest album to date. It’s been over eight and a half years since that album, and now the band is finally back with Life, an album they had been hyping up for a long time, even involving their fans with a crowdfunding campaign in 2016. They hyped the album up as being a spiritual successor to Underworld, but while it does have some similarities, fans either out of the loop since that album or those simply hoping for the band to turn back the clock and make a direct continuation of that album, are in for a disappointment. Life is a very well made album, but in some ways, I can’t help but feel it isn’t everything I was hoping it would be.
A lot has changed for Adagio since their previous album, with several lineup changes, including new vocalist Kelly “Sundown” Carpenter”, new drummer Jelly Carderelli and the inclusion of violinist Mayline. It very much feels like the band wanted to change things up moving on from Archangels in Black, and that led to them taking a long time to work on Life, in order to craft the album they wanted to make, that would bring back some memories of past albums, while also having its own distinct sound. Their sound has changed a lot over the years, with Underworld being a mix of prog, power, symphonic and neo-classical metal, often managing to fluidly blend all those genres together into something that was equal parts atmospheric, melodic and complex. Their next two albums, Dominate and Archangels in Black felt a bit more straightforward by comparison, and while most of the same elements were still involved, they were more focused on the power metal elements and were definitely harder hitting guitar driven albums that focused a bit less on the melodic and progressive sides of their music, especially on the latter album.
Life, on the other hand, feels like a much different beast, as it makes the prog elements the main focus once again, and it definitely has a ton of atmospheric sections that remind me of the overall feel of Underworld, but I feel it’s a much different album overall, as the focus seems a little bit narrower and less dynamic. I feel it was a mistake to make fans think it would be similar to Underworld, as while the atmospheric sections are very nice and while it does have more complex arrangements again, I feel the songs lack energy compared to that album, and the power metal elements have been completely removed. Instead, the album is by far the band’s most progressive release to date, with almost every track being slower paced and having a strong focus on instrumental sections, as well as some orchestral work which is definitely a bigger focus than it was on the band’s two previous albums. In fact, the use of symphonic elements and keyboards to help add to the atmosphere of the music is where the album does remind me of Underworld, but everything else feels much different. In particular, where Underworld had a ton of neoclassical passages and more melodic guitar work, on Life the guitar work is fairly secondary a lot of the time, with the orchestras and keyboards taking the lead a lot of the time, and a lot of Stéphan Forté’s riffs are very chunky, feeling much closer to djent than anything he did on previous Adagio albums. Actually, his guitar work here shouldn’t be surprising for those who listened to his two recent solo albums, as he often uses similar sounding riffs here, and even his solos are often pure shredding, instead of the more classical flavored solos he did on previous albums. The solos, in particular, are still very impressive, as always, but I feel some of the djent sounding riffs are a little bit distracting and I definitely prefer what he was doing on past albums. Including a violinist into their lineup is an interesting move, and Mayline is used effectively throughout the album to give the album a slightly oriental feel at times, especially on “Subrahmanya”, though compared to the symphonic elements her violin isn’t used as often as it could have been. I’d say overall, the instrumental work on the album is very impressive on a technical level and the production is perfect, but the execution isn’t always as nice as I would like and the songwriting is good, but lacking in variety.
Adagio has gone through several different vocalists over the years, with no one sticking around for more than two albums, so it’s not surprising to say they once again have a new singer for this album. This time around, they have brought in Kelly Carpenter, a very experienced vocalist who has performed with many bands, but has yet to land a real long term time gig, so hopefully this will be the one that finally works out for him. He has a very powerful voice and his delivery is very animated throughout the album, which often fits in nicely with the overall dark feel of the music, as he has a very sinister sounding voice that matches the atmosphere perfectly. He’s definitely a lot rougher sounding than previous Adagio vocalists, so he may take the time to grow on some fans, but I think he does an excellent job overall and fits in nicely with the sound of this album.
Songwriting is the one area where I struggle a bit with Life, not because I think there are any weak songs here, but because of a problem I’ve had with many recent prog albums, and one thing that has kept me from listening to the genre as much recently as I have in the past. Basically, it feels at times like bands who use a progressive label are limiting themselves in such a way that their music is always forced to stay at a certain tempo throughout, which I find to be problematic on lengthier tracks and within lengthy compositions, as one thing that can help me enjoy every second of a really long song or album is if the tempos are changing constantly, and a lot of my favorite prog albums do this, including Underworld, but sadly Life is not one of those. There’s the very rare section where the tempo picks up slightly, but for the most part, the music crawls along at a pace that could only possibly be described as slow. The songs themselves are all very good individually, but I find listening to them all stacked together gets to be a bit challenging after a while, so this definitely isn’t one of those albums I can listen to several times in one sitting.
Moving on to highlights, the title track is definitely impressive. The track opens with a lengthy orchestral section which does a great job of setting the tone for the album, and then the very chunky sounding guitars come in and the track gets heavier for a bit, before settling down and allowing the keyboards to take over. Throughout the verses, it’s the atmospheric keys and symphonic elements which dominate the sound, and this is very indicative of what the majority of the album is like. It’s very much an atmospheric track with occasional heavy sections, and some great solo work in the second half. The chorus is very nice and does a great job of showcasing Kelly’s voice, and overall the track does a great job of introducing fans to the bands current sound.
Next is “The Ladder”, which opens up with a very proggy intro, with some great keyboards and solid guitar riffs, before the track again slows down and allows Kelly to take over, while the background music is very atmospheric. I will say, while the music often lacks the kind of energy I’d like, the band really does an excellent job of using the keys and orchestra for atmosphere and they set the tone of the album very well, so anyone looking for some moody prog is sure to love this album. Other highlights include “Subrahmanya”, which has a nice intro where Mayline does some great work, and the track overall has perhaps the most impressive symphonic elements, as well as some of best instrumental sections overall, “though the djent sounding guitars are especially dominant here and detract from everything else, “Grand Spirit Voyage”, a very progressive track which has a ton of stuff going on and even has a brief explosion of speed at one point, “Darkness Machine”, a very hard hitting track which has easily the best guitar work on the album, with some great riffs, that feel less djent influenced and more pure classic metal compared to most of the album, and that track also has a stunning instrumental section and a great chorus, “I’ll Possess You”, a nice ballad where the pianos dominate, and it’s another very moody track, and “Torn”, the shortest and most direct track on the album, with a very catchy, somewhat speedy chorus. Out of the other two tracks, “Secluded Within Myself” is another solid, largely atmospheric track, while “Trippin’ Away” is a decent ballad that serves as a nice enough showcase for Kelly, though I find it nowhere near as strong as “I’ll Possess You” and it drags badly in the second half, making me hope for it to end.
Life is a great album, for sure, and one that will please some fans, but I think the band made a mistake by comparing it to their career high point to date, that being Underworld, as it lacks that album’s more dynamic songwriting and energy. The reduction of power metal elements is also sure to disappoint some, while personally, I think everything here works well and I especially enjoy how effectively the keys and symphonic elements are used to create atmosphere, but the songwriting is definitely not as varied as I’d like. Overall, Life is an album I can recommend to prog fans looking for an album with excellent musicianship and a great use of symphonic elements, and I’m sure most Adagio fans will find something to enjoy here, but I can’t help but feel it’s not quite what the band promised.
Reviewer: Travis Green