Album: The Dragon’s Year
Label: Ranka Kustannus
There has been a lot of excitement buzzing around about the new Psychework album, because it marks the official comeback of the much-beloved Antony Parviainen [ex-Machine Men, Raskasta Joulua], as well as J-V Hintikka [ex-Machine Men, Red Eleven]. I can’t say I’ve ever really listened to Machine Men, nor was I overly excited about Psychework based on the snippets and singles, but I nevertheless was curious to see what sort of album Parviainen’s experiences and inspirations would produce, particularly after hearing how much Lene enjoyed their debut live performance. September 2nd, 2016, marked the digital release, with the physical album out on September 9th, 2016.
Listen along here:
To be perfectly honest, while I enjoy this sort of music well enough, it’s not something on my list of preferred metal genres. However, on turning this album on, I was immediately surprised. “Hand on Heart” is a really good starter song and it seems illness has not stripped Parviainen of his ability to sing. It feels like classic heavy metal with a bit of a symphonic, perhaps even neoclassical twist, nicely mixing a bit of a heavy march with some proper melodies. With some church organ sounds and a nice solo, the song proves that Parviainen did indeed try to create some dramatic arcs in the music from the get-go.
“Bullet with My Name” was the second familiar song, as I believe it was the other track that was released early on as a teaser. While I find perhaps the vocal line to be a bit duller than its predecessor, the song makes up for it with its strong symphonics, perfect singalong part, and powerful dynamics otherwise. “Tide”, the shortest song on the album at just under 4 minutes, brings the energy up to a new level with its fun guitar solo intro and super catchy vocal lines. Every time I hear the song, I wonder if it’s some sort of nod to Tuomas Holopainen or Nightwish in general – ‘dark passion play’ is a rather specific phrase that is also the name of a Nightwish album. I’d be curious to know why Parviainen used it in particular. In all honesty, I find it a little distracting because of that. Apart from this, it’s a quite energetic song, showing a lower level of depth to Parviainen’s vocals and a lot of really delightful input from the keys and some more classic heavy metal guitar sound, such as the solo.
“Keep the Flame” feels somehow less like a song to me and more like I’m being sung a story. It’s got darkness in the beginning, but as the song’s dramatic arc continues, it reaches a hopeful, light point, somewhat akin to that feeling in certain movies where someone ascends to heaven. It doesn’t forget that it is a metal song though, and continues onward with a guitar solo. “Barricades Won’t Fall” is a textbook ballad with its lovely keyboard melodies and the wonderful inclusion of violin to accompany said keyboards. Parviainen’s voice is almost a tad harsh against the gentle instruments and maybe should’ve been turned down just a touch. However, when the full band kicks in, that’s where this song really begins to soar. There is a hint of ominousness in this song which creates several layers that leave you with a song that you’ll hear in different ways every time you listen to it. It closes again with the beautiful harmonizing between the piano and violin, and I have to say that this is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
Drums, drums in the deep! “Vale of Tears” is up next and feels particularly heavy in its place following “Barricades Won’t Fall.” Parviainen has often been compared to Bruce Dickinson [Iron Maiden], but it wasn’t until I heard this album that I really noticed it, and if you haven’t heard it yet, you certainly will in this track. I can hear many eras of Dickinson’s voice in Parviainen’s sound, though he’s far from a straight-up rip-off. He just has that same sort of sound and style. I’d go so far as to say that Parviainen is a bit more… nasal, perhaps? There is something that is clearly different between the two vocalists that I can’t place. However, what’s really interesting about this is that both of them have developed a bit of a strained sound in recent years that they didn’t have back in the day. This song has some of the catchiest riffs and best energy on the album.
The drama gets cranked up a notch when “Tear of the Phoenix” starts up. If you want a real stage-performance style song with some fierce dynamics, this is for you. Somehow songs like this seem to require strong keyboard melodies – have you ever heard a truly excellent epic song without keyboards? If so, I’d love to know what it is. We are also graced with a choir in this one, so we are getting drama in full force. And if you think of the songs individually with their dramatic arcs, you may find that the album itself seems to have one, with “Tear of the Phoenix” as the climax and “The Dragon’s Year” as the finale. The final track has a dark, beautiful keyboard intro and some of the heaviest double-kick on the album. Parviainen’s Dickinson-esque vocals truly show their power in this conclusion to the ‘story’ and the album leaves you with an overall satisfied feeling.
Overall opinions then. First off, if you were expecting this to be a revival of Machine Men, shame on you. If they were going to do what Machine Men did, they likely would have just called the band Machine Men and continued where they left off. So if this is what you were hoping for, prepare to be disappointed.
Now, with that out of the way, I will confess that this album is pretty good. Strong salutes to Otto Närhi‘s [keyboards] presence throughout this album, as the keys added a lot to the otherwise classic heavy metal sound. As well, further props to Hintikka’s touch of classic metal that is ever-present in the guitar solos. Musically, this album is technically wonderful and beautifully constructed. You can feel how personal it is and the symphonics and dramatic arcs turn this into a unique and cleverly crafted piece. It isn’t without its flaws though, but my complaints are largely minor in nature (relating to lyrics or technicalities that come from being an English native), and are quite easily overlooked. I suspect that if you heard any of the teasers for this album and if you weren’t expecting Machine Men 2.0, you are going to be very satisfied with this as a whole.
Rating: 7/10, 4 stars
1. Hand on Heart
2. Bullet with My Name
4. Keep the Flame
5. Barricades Won’t Fall
6. Vale of Tears
7. Tear of the Phoenix
8. The Dragon’s Year