Released By: Frontiers Records
Release Date: October 12th, 2018
Genre: Progressive Metal
Tommy Karevik – Vocals
Johan Liefvendahl – Guitars
Andreas Blomqvist – Bass
Andreas Söderin – Keyboards
Stefan Norgren – Drums
2. The Everones
3. Dream Machines
4. Against the Grain
6. Farewell (Part 1: Tiara’s Song)
7. Farewell (Part 2: Goodnight)
8. Farewell (Part 3: Beyond Today)
9. The Truth
10. By the Light of the Funeral Pyres
11. Damnation Below
Some things are worth waiting eight years for! Yes, it has really been that long for fans of Swedish progressive metal band Seventh Wonder. The band started off with a pretty good debut, titled Become, before bringing in vocalist Tommy Karevik in time for their excellent second release, Waiting in the Wings, and from there it had been nothing but pure magic for four years, with the band releasing the highly praised, masterful concept album Mercy Falls in 2008, followed by The Great Escape in 2010, which featured six amazing tracks and one mammoth 30 minute epic title track, which has gone on to become my all time favorite prog song. With the kind of creative peak the band had reached, it seemed it would take something from outside to slow it down, and of course, longtime fans know what would happen next: In 2012, Tommy joined Kamelot, and the rest is history. That band has since gone on to release three albums over the last six years, including The Shadow Theory earlier this year. This has left Seventh Wonder fans craving new material from the band for a long time, with the only release during this period being Welcome to Atlanta Live 2014, which contained two new tracks, both of which were very much up to par with the band’s usual work. Well, it’s been a long, slow process, but after eight years, the band is finally set to release their fifth full-length release, Tiara, and it’s another absolute masterpiece, which takes the band’s sound to a whole new level!
Despite the long gap in between releases, it feels like the band has picked up right where they left off, almost literally, as opening track “The Everones” certainly sounds very similar to a particular track from The Great Escape, which I’ll get to in a bit. As expected, the band’s unique brand of melodic, technical prog is in full force here, striking the perfect balance between being heavy in bursts, while being extremely technically proficient, as one would expect from the genre, without losing any of the band’s usual knack for writing some of the absolute best melodies in all of metal, both musically and vocally. Stylistically, this is still the same mix of prog, power metal, and symphonic metal as usual, though the power metal elements are surprisingly held back for most of the album, only to make a grand appearance in a flurry of speedy, explosive tracks right at the end. It wouldn’t be fair to say the album is a slow starter, as every track here is excellent in its own way, but it does take a bit of time to really get going, as expected. A more accurate statement would be that it’s a very backloaded album, as once you get roughly 40% of the way into the album, it goes from excellent to absolutely stunning, and never looks back. One thing I’ve always loved about Seventh Wonder is their ability to write some of the most emotional music I’ve heard from any prog band, and that’s another thing that’s fully intact here, as everything from the guitar tone at times, to the vocals to the lyrics, and even orchestral arrangements, all have a special feeling to them that really helps sell the story.
Speaking of which, Tiara is a concept album, and very much feels like a spiritual successor to Mercy Falls, in how it takes a while to set things up, before delivering a mix of explosive moments, big emotional payoffs, and some more introspective moments throughout the middle and second half. At times it reminds me a bit of Dream Theater’s The Astonishing, in that the band is willing to use more extended softer, somewhat theatrical passages than one may expect from the genre, as well as having a similar approach where one vocalist portrays different characters, but I feel the band has pulled it off in a more convincing way than the latter did both lyrically and musically. I won’t spoil the story, as it’s one of the main highlights of the album, but I will give a brief summary. The plot focuses on an alien race, called the Everones, who are unimpressed by the human race and are set to bring judgment upon them. A young girl named Tiara, the only human who can understand messages the aliens are sending is chosen to travel into space to communicate with the aliens, in an attempt to save humanity. As always, the band does a great job of exploring some dark themes, while managing to throw in an occasional lighter, more uplifting sections, all while delivering some very emotional passages. The story keeps me engaged from start to finish every time I listen to the album and is definitely one of my favorite things about it. I also love how the band constantly makes callbacks to previous songs, but with slight alterations, with one such example being a particularly epic moment during: ”Tiara’s Song”, that calls back to the previous track, “Victorious”. I always like when concept albums feel cohesive and well linked together, while still allowing room for individual highlights, and this album is a perfect example of that.
One of my most anticipated things about Tiara was getting to hear how Tommy Karevik would sound back with Seventh Wonder, after spending three albums with Kamelot, using a much more measured approach, focused largely on his lower register. I find with Seventh Wonder, he tends to be more diverse, still occasionally singing lower, but he has a lot of room to really stretch for some huge high notes, which allows him to show his full talents, as well as giving him room to really fully invest himself emotionally in the songs, as I find his deeper voice doesn’t quite resonate as well. It’s safe to say, he hasn’t skipped a beat, as he sounds absolutely perfect on this album, going for some bigger notes than ever, while still excelling on some of the quieter, more emotional passages, as usual. He’s asked to portray a young girl at times, and he pulls this off much more convincingly than James Labrie did, singing high, with subtle changes from his normal voice, but still sounding sincere and convincing the whole time, which allows to fully sell the lyrics, and get the most out of the songs. This only happens occasionally, though, and for the most part, he’s still singing like he usually does with the band, getting to be as dynamic and intense as ever, delivering both some of his most powerful vocals ever, as well as some of his most beautiful. Every album he’s done with Seventh Wonder has a been vocal tour de force, and Tiara is certainly no exception, being perhaps his absolute best yet.
It’s hard to really go into detail about the songwriting of Tiara and what makes it click without spoiling the whole experience, so I’ll keep descriptions to a minimum here, as much as I can. The album has the expected brief intro track, meant to signal the arrival of the alien race, before triggering into the first full song, “The Everones”. Right away, anyway who’s heard The Great Escape should recognize the guitar notes, as they sound nearly identical to “Wiseman”, though the keyboards have a much more sinister tone to them, which helps give the song its own feel. It’s a dark, heavy track, with some very hard-hitting riffs compared to the band’s usual, while still having some excellent vocal melodies, especially during the chorus, where Tommy really excels. There are also some pretty interesting digital effects used, to give some of the vocals a mechanical sound, though these are thankfully used in short bursts, so as to be effective, without becoming intrusive. Next is “Dream Machines”, another slower, heavier track, which has a nice groove to it. The verses are heavy, while the chorus is soft and extremely catchy, in an epic way, and it’s a great track which mostly serves to introduce the concept of the album, along with the previous track. One last setup track is “Against the Grain”, a softer track, which has some nice acoustic sections and is probably my favorite of the first three songs. It has some extended softer passages, with some beautiful vocals, as well an upbeat, very fun chorus, which foreshadows a big passage to come later on the album. It’s a very eventful song, with a lot of different passages, and it’s by far the most instrumentally adventurous track in the first half, while still having some emotional lyrics and excellent vocals from Tommy.
The first big highlight is “Victorious”, a smartly selected lead single. It’s another mid-paced track, but it has a nice rhythm to it, and it has that familiar Seventh Wonder sound to it, with fun, quick moving verses, a huge chorus, and some truly inspiring vocal melodies and lyrics. It’s a very melodic track overall, with one excellent heavy burst in the second half, as well as an incredible chorus, especially the last time through. I already mentioned that chorus being revisited in “Tiara’s Song”, the first of a three-part suite titled “Farewell”. That particular section comes towards the end of the track and is one of the most awe-inspiring moments on the entire album, but right from the beginning, it’s an epic, upbeat track with excellent keyboard melodies, slow but engaging verses, another huge chorus, and some incredible vocals from Tommy. It’s another track which manages to pack a lot in, and it’s the song where the album officially starts to take off, and become the kind of masterpiece very few bands are capable of producing. The second part, “Goodnight”, is a softer, largely piano-driven track, with more excellent vocals. While the first part is send off for a Tiara on a larger scale, this one has a much more personal feel to it, making it more emotional and heartfelt, with the chorus, in particular, is absolutely stunning, as Tommy uses his softer vocals to amazing effect. Closing out the set is “Beyond Today”, a shocking highlight, as it’s a full piano ballad, but it’s extremely effective one, as Tommy gives us a look into Tiara’s feelings, both on what she’s asked to do as well as contemplating whether she’ll ever have the future she wanted. It’s a very emotional track, where Tommy absolutely kills it on vocals, and the band takes it an extra level higher with some amazing backing vocals from his sister Jenny, who’s provided some vocals on each of their albums since Tommy joined. This album is probably the best use of her so far, particularly on “The Truth”, a very pivotal track in the plot, as well as the most epic, cinematic track on the album, with a film score, feel to it. The track is amazing the whole way through, but Jenny steals the show in the second half, with an absolutely stunning performance.
From that point on, the album goes all out, with “By the Light of the Funeral Pyres”, in particular being the closest to straight-forward power metal the band has ever come. It’s a very fast paced, hard hitting track with some excellent riffs and an extremely intense chorus where Tommy gets to show us his power metal chops. It’s a brief track, but still manages to include some excellent instrumental work, and is a definite highlight. Next is “Damnation Below”, and while it’s another fast-paced, explosive track, it’s interesting to note a very subtle shift between it and the previous track, as while it’s still intense, it doesn’t sound quite as urgent, instead allowing for more the band’s prog tendencies to come through, with some nice grooves, as well as giving more room for lighter vocal melodies, as usual. It has an excellent chorus and strikes the perfect balance between melodic, epic and intense. After a brief interlude, the band closes things out with “Exhale”, the lightest, most upbeat of the last three songs. It’s still fast paced and still has that driving power metal feel, mixed with some prog rhythms and great instrumental work, but it has by far the most uplifting chorus of the three and is another instant highlight. I especially love the triumphant sound of the orchestra at the end, as well as the incredible vocals from Tommy during the final chorus. It’s an absolutely stunning ending to an absolutely stunning album.
Some bands just always manage to rise the occasion, even with insane expectations, and Seventh Wonder is definitely one of them. I had sky-high hopes for Tiara, both because of how much I loved the band’s previous three releases, and because I was excited to finally hear Tommy Karevik fully unleashed again, but even then, I could not have in my wildest dreams expected the end result to be as glorious as it is! Suffice to say, this is a must hear for any fan of the band, as well as any fan of prog or anyone looking for a masterfully done concept album, and this is simply perfect on every level, with fantastic musicianship, great melodies, some huge emotional moments, intense power metal sections, great lyrics and one of the very best vocal performances I’ve ever heard on a prog album. Easily my album of the year, and it’s safe to say it’ll have a place in my personal top 5 favorite albums for quite some time, possibly forever!
Written by: Travis Green