Review Summary: A great offering from one of metal's vastly underrated singers.
When hearing the name "Dominici," most metalheads or progressive rock fans will think of "that guy who got replaced by James LaBrie in Dream Theater." It's a sad truth to accept, seeing as Charlie Dominici's solo work has been quite solid, including his epic O3 Trilogy. As the name suggests, these are indeed concept albums, deftly combining pounding aggression (at least Parts 2 and 3) and narrative into a very complete package. Part 2 of this trilogy just happens to be a very underrated gem that fans of Dream Theater or Queensryche should seriously own.
Opening with a daunting 8.5 minutes of instrumental work to kick things off, it's clear that these guys are setting the bar high from the start. What's refreshing is the lack of wankery and useless mechanical shredding that's become so common in progressive records these days. As soon as the song wraps up, a narrative section segues into the next track, "Nowhere to Hide." These segments are what move the plot forward as the album goes, and this seems to be the story in a nutshell: A sleeper cell preaches against societal evils while in America and gets wrongly convicted by the law. Dominici does a commendable job keeping the character convincing throughout the album with the conviction in his vocal performance.
One thing that's extremely pleasing about all this is how tight the band sounds; nothing ever sounds out of place, and the songs rarely sound aimless. For instance, look at highlight "Greed, the Evil Seed"; the initial riff sounds a tad generic, but the way the synthesizers layer over the heavy guitar work and the drum work stays varied throughout makes it so the listener doesn't get bored until Dominici's vocals spice things up.
If there was an album peak or centerpiece, it'd have to be "School of Pain." I could go on for HOURS about how good this song is... between the way the guitar sends the listener into an Agalloch-style pit of depression, how immensely effective Dominici's vocals are in sounding like he was really thrown into the hell his character was sent into, and how smoothly the transitions in dynamics are in the song. Everything feels like it was put here for a reason, and the atmosphere is exceptionally powerful.
If there was any flaw, I'd say it's the fact that occasionally the band fall into that Dream Theater-style trap of repeating riffs or motifs; this doesn't happen often, but sometimes over the course of the album you'll find two songs sounding really similar when put side to side. It's a minor gripe, though, a small blemish on an otherwise excellent record.
Many bands and artists try the whole concept-album route these days, but Dominici and co. are able to pull it off WELL, and have damn good progressive metal to boot. Highly recommended.