Album Reviews

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home Review

Released By: UPRISING! Records

Release Date: May 20th, 2022

Genre: Progressive Metal

Links: https://www.facebook.com/SphericUniverseExperience

 

Line Up:

Frank Garcia – Vocals

Vince Benaim – Guitars

John Drai – Bass

Fred Colombo – Keyboards

Romain Goulon – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. On Board SUE5-2469

2. Final Fate

3. Where We Begin

4. Transcending Real Life

5. Senses Restored

6. Legacy

7. Defenders of Light

8. Synchronicity

9. The Absolution pt. 1

10. The Absolution pt. 2

11. Rebirth

12. Of the Last Plague

13. Dreams Will Survive

 

 

One thing I’ve always found interesting is tracking the evolution of a band throughout their career, seeing how much or how little change their sound goes through overtime. Being willing and able to evolve your music is very important, to avoid becoming stale, but there have certainly been many cases over the years where trying to evolve has led to great disappointment for longtime fans. I also find it interesting to see how bands respond after releasing a particularly divisive album, one that alienates many of their longtime fans, while attracting some new ones, seeing whether they decide to shift away and make it and done deal, or if they double down and try and make it work in the long term.

One particular band that attempted a rather big shift in sound years ago is the French progressive metal band Spheric Universe Experience. The band started as a fairly traditional prog band along the lines of Dream Theater and Symphony X, with slight hints of power metal here and there, and their first two releases Mental Torments and Anima were particularly well received. I noticed a slight change in direction to a more modern sound on their third release Unreal, but then in 2012, with their fourth release The New Eve, the band changed, switching to a somewhat alternative metal influenced sound, with more down-tuned chugging guitars, and an attempt at more straight-forward, accessible songwriting, with some very pop, influenced choruses. Needless to say, the album was very polarizing, with many longtime fans being quite disappointed, and the band went quiet for quite a long time afterward. Skip ahead nine and a half years to 2022, and the band has just released their fifth full-length release, Back Home, whose name is both a reference to the space-themed concept, involving humans who left Earth long ago finally returning home, as well as being somewhat of a metaphor for the band themselves, looking to come back home to their prog metal roots. As someone who enjoyed their last two albums somewhat, but wasn’t overly impressed, I was quite intrigued by Back Home, and was hoping it would be a return to the glory days of Anima, while having an identity of its own. Needless to say, the band did not disappoint me!

While I enjoyed The New Eve the first few times I heard it, an attempt at revisiting it in advance of this album immediately failed due to the abysmal opening track “Shut Up”, so I was hoping this album would help make me forget about that and be a fresh start for the band. Thankfully, that is very much the case, as this feels like a slightly updated take on their Anima sound, representing a return to a classic prog sound with a bit of a futuristic feel to it, complete with some very technical, often aggressive guitar work and a pretty strong focus on ambient keyboards. As expected, there are a ton of extended instrumental sections, including a few entirely instrumental tracks, and these bits tend to be very impressive, with some very technically impressive work from the musicians, while also having some great melodies and some of the solos are truly breathtaking. At the same time, there are also plenty of hard-hitting riffs, upbeat keys, and soaring melodies to help hook the listener in, and I find the band strikes a nice balance between being complex and showy, while also having slightly more accessible songwriting than on their first two albums, with some very strong vocal melodies and some excellent choruses. There are also plenty of speedy power metal passages, often with a slight thrash feel to them, and there’s quite a bit of variety to the album, with a nice mix of very heavy tracks, some lighter tracks that fall into more melodic prog territory, and some very complex tracks. The band pulls everything off wonderfully, and despite clocking in at over an hour, the album stays consistently fresh and engaging the whole way through. I’d say while it’s mostly a return to their classic sound, the band has learned a bit from their experiments on The New Eve, especially when it comes to making some more memorable vocal sections, and obviously, Frank Garcia sounds excellent, as always.

While the rhythm section has been changed since their last album, with bassist John Drai and drummer Romain Goulon joining the band and both making a strong first impression, the core of the band remains the same as ever, and they’re certainly in top form on Back Home. The guitar work, in particular, stands out as being some of the best I’ve heard on a metal album in quite a long time, with Vince Benaim delivering plenty of awesome riffs, often falling somewhere between the crunchy, shredding style of Michael Romeo and the heavier, darker side of John Petrucci, especially reminding me of his work on albums like Train of Thought and Black Clouds and Silver Linings. The riffs are consistently great throughout, as are the solos and everything else he does. Keyboardist Fred Columbo also does a fantastic job, often being more in the background and providing extra flavor to the tracks, but there are times when his spacey keyboards become the center of attention, and they always sound incredible. I also love the more retro sound he uses on occasion, most notably a solo section on “Senses Restored”, where he goes for a sort of NES videogame style sound, which is cool! And of course, vocalist Frank Garcia has always been an important part of SUE’s sound, and he stands out even more on this album, being given plenty of room to showcase his smooth, powerful, sometimes animated vocals. He mostly stays in a mid register, but he does get to for some high notes on occasion, and they can get pretty epic. The production is also perfect, and everything in general sounds fantastic.

I won’t do a fully detailed song-by-song review here, since there are plenty of tracks and fully discussing some of them would take a long time, but I will list some highlights, as always, as well as give a general overview of the album. Following The New Eve, this album needed a strong start to avoid one of the biggest issues that the previous album had, and thankfully the band pulled through this time, with the brief intro track doing a great job of setting the tone with some very nice ambient keys, before giving way to some heavy guitars near the end. The opening track “Final Fate” is also fantastic, offering a mix of some very aggressive riffs and some strong vocals, with a very hooky chorus, as well as excellent instrumental work all around. The first huge standout, though, is the lead single “Where We Belong”, a progressive power metal track that alternates very fluidly between intense, guitar-driven verses that move along at a frantic pace, as well as a soft, very melodic, and catchy chorus with some fantastic vocal melodies and a very strong performance from Garcica. It also has a beautiful instrumental section with a bit of a Queen feel to it, which is also fantastic.

Next, are two more classic prog-sounding tracks in “Transcending Real Life” and “Senses Restored”. The latter has that excellent keyboard solo I mentioned earlier, and is an excellent track all around, while the former has some very tricky rhythms, which enhance an excellent chorus, as well as some very memorable riffs. Both are more moderately paced, but with a few explosive sections, and they alternate nicely between heavy and calm passages, which is a recurring theme for the album. The second single “Legacy” is a case study on the latter, being equal parts heavy, calm and melodic, with furious verses and a very wonderful, laid-back chorus.

The second half in general is a bit more laid back and melodic compared to the first half, though it does have two very strong heavy hitters in “Defenders of Light”, perhaps the most aggressive, most power metal influenced track on the album, as well as “Of the Last Plague”, which has a very angry feel to it, and it’s quite dark and intense throughout, with some very heavy riffs. Otherwise, there are plenty of instrumental tracks here, including the mostly ambient “Synchronicity”, which gives way to “The Absolute pt. 1”, a brief intro of sorts for the following track, which is largely ambient and keyboard-driven, though it introduces some choir vocals and symphonic elements, which are very prominent on both pt. 2, as well as the closing track “Dreams Will Survive”. Both of these tracks do a great job of alternating between heavier and soft passages as usual, and I find the latter has some of the strongest vocal sections on the album, especially a final chorus of sorts right near the end, following a stunning extended solo section. While the first two instrumental tracks are brief and mostly keyboard-driven, the four minute “Rebirth” is a true showcase of Benaim’s talents, as he alternates between furious riffs, epic solos, and some wonderful melodic leads throughout the track, with a bit of symphonic accompaniment for good measure.

Going into this album, Spheric Universe Experience is bad I largely had mixed feelings towards it, despite loving their second album Anima. For some reason, their two albums following that one left me with rather mixed reactions, and so I wasn’t sure whether or not the band just wasn’t for me or if those albums were just missteps. After hearing Back Home, I can officially confirm whatever went wrong with those two albums has not been repeated here, as this is easily their best since Anima, but I’d say it even surpasses that and is their best album to date. It offers up everything fans of the band should expect, with plenty of fantastic, super technical instrumental work, some very heavy riffs, wonderful vocal melodies, strong performances all around, and quite easily their best, most engaging songwriting to date. Longtime fans who were a bit disappointed with The New Eve should be very pleased with this one, while any prog fans, especially fans of Dream Theater or Symphony X, are also highly recommended to give this a few listens, as it’s sure to be one of the absolute best prog albums released this year.

 

Ratings: 10/10

Written by: Travis Green

My Global Mind – Staff Writer

Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.

 

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