Zero Hour
Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond


4.5
superb

Review

by jybt USER (24 Reviews)
November 23rd, 2011 | 16 replies


Release Date: 2006 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond sees Zero Hour taking progressive metal down less traveled roads, constructing an imperfect, but superb, effort at reconciling the seemingly contradictory states of dichotomy and unity.

Progressive music is my favorite genre, but using absolutely no keyboards tends to turn me off; keyboards are the most conspicuous difference between regular rock or metal and its prog variant. In between 2006’s Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond and its predecessor A Fragile Mind, California progressive metal group Zero Hour changed vocalists for the second time, now featuring the spectacular pipes of Chris Salinas from Power of Omens (a favorite band of mine), but also removed the keyboards completely. Stripping away this element requires careful attention elsewhere and intelligent use of every other instrument, and fortunately Zero Hour not only delivers the goods, but offers a consistently fantastic journey with classic moments; this happens because by stepping out of the traditional prog metal box, the band constructs a unique and purposeful compositional style.

The music of Zero Hour lies solidly within the technical shade of the prog metal spectrum, sometimes pure tech-metal, but in a markedly different manner than Dream Theater or even, despite the shared singer, Power of Omens. Sonically, the heavy parts number significantly higher than average, full of odd-metered chugging riffs, off-the-wall guitar and/or bass shredding by the band’s core duo Jasun and Troy Tipton, mechanical drumming by Mike Guy that mainly follows the riffing while establishing its own distinct groove, and aside from the energetic, diverse vocal style of Salinas, the occasional use of vocals as a true instrument (such as tracks 4 and 7). This sounds chaotic, but the music remains tight throughout, and the production is crystal-clear, warm and balanced between all four instruments. This is not to say the music is a wall of sound either, as it also contains an ambient ballad and extensive mellow sections in tracks 1 and 2; repetition as a musical device still remains in Jasun’s drifty arpeggios, usually backed by jazzy bass lines and Salinas’ vulnerable lower register. In many cases, the transitions between battering and calm are abrupt, but excellently orchestrated, and contribute to the purpose of Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond.

Aside from his gigantic range of well over three octaves, composed of falsetto shrieking, confident low tenor ranges and baritone crooning, speaking or whispering, Salinas has a penchant for lyrical poetry that matches the dichotomy between two opposite states of mind and their self-contained unity. While not all the lyrics are his own in Zero Hour, his interpretative skills are top-notch, testifying to his ability and professionalism. The lyrical contrast between the violent surge of the title track, where Salinas does quite the “metal god” impression and barely coherently moans underneath the hammering main riff, and the ambient, haunting I Am Here notes explanation; each of the five songs with lyrics has its own conflict and resolution, touching on topics like anxiety, perseverance, depression, and religious rebirth. This album reflects my own identical life journey, with tracks 4, 6 and 7 all representations of particular moments, and it appropriately inspires anybody that will care to pay attention.

Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond is also an inspiring musical odyssey, constructed with care and confidence despite its sonic bipolarity. Though highly respected in guitar or bass communities, the Tiptons rarely appear on lists of the best prog metal guitarists or bassists; the twins’ chemistry is impressive, winding impossibly technical scales or riffs around each other, and when they pull back slightly, one is still playing a complex melody while the other plays the main riff. The Falcon’s Cry is an album highlight that displays all sides of Zero Hour and their interaction, creating one of the band’s most distinctive pieces; it deserves a full analysis. It opens with the guitar, drums and bass playing at about the same speed, but with their respective melodies and rhythms repelling each other, until all three instruments converge in a crushing, deceptively groovy stop-start riff pattern. As Salinas’ voice enters, Troy’s bass tapping continues along with the drums while the guitar reduces to a mere chug; the music builds atmosphere for another two minutes through intelligently layered, experimental vocal contrast that almost passes for keyboards. The heaviness stops at 2:38, leaving Jasun and Troy’s soothing, climbing arpeggios alone with reflective vocals to carry the music for another three minutes. Salinas shifts to a high wail and the music dramatically returns to sweeping, resolute chords, as the lyrics impact in full. The song is about an old man’s exhausting final climb up the mountain that was a memory of his early years; the beautiful landscape below is even more beautiful to the man paying the price of sweat (representing his life) to see the world through wiser eyes, knowing he will never see it this way again. The song structure is non-traditional, moving from aggressive to quiet, then intense but triumphant, a perfect reflection of the lyrics; T.S. Eliot would praise this masterpiece as the musical illustrative of his folk wisdom that “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Rarely are music, lyrics and composition so perfectly integrated.

Despite the strength of much of the songwriting, there are minor flaws in this album, and the biggest is ironically in one of the band’s strongest tricks: repetition. Throughout much of the Tiptons' discography, including their new project Cynthesis featuring original Zero Hour singer Erik Rosvold and Enchant drummer Sean Flanagan, a particular riff idea and a particular melodic idea are reused with only slight alterations in multiple locations. For example, the crushing riff that opens the title track is also heard in a quite similar form early in track 7 and translated onto bass and clean guitar in tracks 1 and 5, the latter of which also contains the heavy form of the riff. This isn’t intrinsically problematic, but it definitely reduces the value in the CD’s grand scheme of the short self-titled instrumental mostly based off this riff. At barely 43 minutes, Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyondcannibalizes itself somewhat and simply feels too short as a result.

Overall, the material remains strong enough to sustain itself through repeated plays, as while the foundation for Zero Hour’s music remains simple, inspecting the relationship between its different parts allows a listener to map out and navigate a surprisingly dense sonic maze. As the churning closer Evidence of the Unseen returns to its addictive, climactic 4-4-12 chugging pattern, relentlessly driving towards ultimate resolution, Chris Salinas begins whispering his closing epiphany into a willing listener’s brain. It is easy for the attentive listener to react like me: close your eyes and transcend the plane of matter to discover another world...

“Say the words that part the sky
and the stars will be your compass to eternity.
There is no barrier to withstand the love that drives...”




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user ratings (17)
Chart.
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
jybt
November 23rd 2011


344 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

A tad shorter than my usual length, but I'm happy with it. This album came around to me at a time when I needed it, and though I explain this much less than in the Redemption review, I'm happy to dive into further detail. The concise answer is that several of these songs reflect personal experiences of mine. The Tiptons are brilliant musicians and wonderful people, but Salinas is just on another level...so appreciative of my support and one of the most professional singers I've come across. This is for you, brothers...peace.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011


6145 Comments


MAJOR KUDOS FOR REVIEWING THIS!!

Zero Hour are huge.




Will read later.



:edit:

excellent review, pos, however the third paragraph from the end could be missing (that's just me, though)

Digging: Raven Throne - ???????? ?????????

bloc
November 23rd 2011


34872 Comments


I just cannot get into this band. This is the only album of theirs I haven't heard though.

jybt
November 23rd 2011


344 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

LargeTalons: I mentioned the length of the album once and explained what it means in the context; what else is needed? Sometimes I am told my reviews are lengthy, but I'm working on detail, coherence and less wordiness each time; this is about 10 lines shorter than the usual.

bloc: I couldn't dig this style for several listens; it reminded me of Meshuggah, a band I respect but simply cannot stand. It sunk in with further listening, and especially when the lyrics clicked with my mood. Some people won't ever like this, though, and that's an acquired taste. Try this one, though, especially tracks 2, 6 and 7.

Voivod: Sometimes criticism isn't necessary, but I'm a picky sort and will try to nail down the rating exactly. This is about 87 or 88% on a 0-100 scale (50 being average), with the repetition dropping a few points and a slightly weaker opener dropping some others. It's still an extremely high score.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011


6145 Comments


@ jybt

My criticism accounts for the non-zero possibility that some users might be discouraged from reading your excellent review due to its length, but as i said it's just me ;-).

jybt
November 23rd 2011


344 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oh, I meant my own criticisms of the album, not yours...lol. Album progs hard.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011


6145 Comments


Review The Towers of Avarice, which is huge.

jybt
November 23rd 2011


344 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I have only heard that album once, yet to pick up the real thing. It was pretty good and Erik's vocals are awesome (ouch, the anguish on the closer...), but the music hasn't fully clicked yet. The production is rawer and colder, not my type, but it's an album I'm willing to devote time to.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011


6145 Comments


@ LargeTalons

please write with lower case letters, upper case letters are tiring, and you seem like you are shouting.


pizzamachine
November 23rd 2011


12571 Comments


The Towers of Avarice is pretty good, might as well check this out.

pizzamachine
November 23rd 2011


12571 Comments


I'll do do

pizzamachine
November 23rd 2011


12571 Comments


poopsies

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011


6145 Comments


And something about your summary:

Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond sees Zero Hour taking progressive metal down less traveled roads, constructing an imperfect, but superb, effort at reconciling the seemingly contradictory states of dichotomy and unity.

Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond sees Zero Hour taking progressive metal down less traveled roads.



I think it is better that way, imho.

Zettel
November 23rd 2011


598 Comments


You are one of a very small group of writers whose lengthy reviews I do not mind. As long as you back up the in-depth analysis, do not pay particular attention to those who criticize your reviews on its length alone. I wish I could be this descriptive and analytical in my reviews, which, on the other hand, tend to be much more concise. Keep them coming.

Zettel
November 23rd 2011


598 Comments


"My criticism accounts for the non-zero possibility that some users might be discouraged from reading your excellent review due to its length, but as i said it's just me ;-)"

I bet you most people do not read whole reviews anymore. As you said, it is their loss in this case.

Spag
April 30th 2013


1772 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

UNDERSTAAANNNDD I AAMM AAA MAAAAAAAAAANN

Digging: Drawn - A New World?



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