Review Summary: A fun modern melodeath album. Not without its shortcomings, but enjoyable for what it is.
Christian Älvestam is known for his not inconsiderable vocal abilities and the plethora of projects he partakes in. He is also quite known for not being very keen on performing live, so most of these projects have been kept as studio-based. Solution .45 is one such project, brought to life just after Christian's controversial removal from the line-up of Scar Symmetry (though it allegedly had been in the works even before Christian left that band). Out of his many metal projects, this one is by far the least focused on pure heaviness of the bunch, and also the most melodic. Comparisons to Scar Symmetry are therefore inevitable; the timing of the release of the band's first CD set not long after the singer's departure from his biggest band was also received as convenient, and so "For Aeons Past" has been considered by many to be Christian's comeback at Scar Symmetry. Some have even labeled the band a "Scar Symmetry clone", even though the songwriter and guitarist Jani Stefanovic (Miseration, Divinefire) was rather adamant in his denial of things being so.
Yet, regardless of intentions, this album is indeed - for all intents and purposes - a carbon copy of Scar Symmetry's sound. Or at the very least an album based on formulas which are the closest attempt thus far at approximating Scar Symmetry. There are of course differences, as different composers will inevitably carry different flavors and nuances into the music, and indeed - Solution .45's work is more based on traditional melody and more emotional than Scar Symmetry's rather intellectual approach - both in music and in lyrics. "For Aeons Past" may therefore feel more approachable to those who are put off by the comparative lack of emotional investment in Scar Symmetry's music and particularly the lyrics - while Henrik Ohlsson's lyrics are precise in their form and nicely structured, they are rather dry and lack that emotional poignancy that makes one relate to a song on a personal level. The lyrics on "For Aeons Past", most of which were penned by Mikael Stanne himself with only one or two songs written by Älvestam, are much more straightforward yet still adequately poetic and convey a strong emotional load.
The music can be compared to Scar Symmetry's using the same analogy: while the aesthetics are generally modern and there are some electronics to spice things up, more emphasis is put on ultra-emotional melodies in minor keys - stuff definitely a notch cheesier than the first three albums of Christian's former band. The song compositions are definitely adequate and varied to a satisfying degree, yet don't show the virtuoso songwriting touch of Per Nilsson. This is especially apparent with "Clandestinity Now" - a song that is 16 minutes long and has great moments, but these are too dispersed and the song overall could have been so much better.
That being said, there are some absolute hits on this album. The title track "For Aeons Past" for example, is a practically flawless track: full of energy, with great verse riffs and a clever and memorable chorus practically devoid of cheesiness. Songs such as "Bladed Vaults" or "On Embered Fields Adust" provide some of the catchiest choruses ever sung by Christian, while "Lethean Tears" and "Into Shadow" are power ballads which explore a more sensitive side of the band - the former being painfully predictable and completely mushy musically, but at least with surprisingly un-cringeworthy lyrics as a redeeming quality, while the latter is an all-around decent power ballad in its own right.
The problem of this album, as with many others, is the fact that there are many great moments, but much fewer entire great songs. In that regard the spotlight definitely goes to the title track and the bonus track, "Spirit Side Dreaming", which are the two best standalone tracks on the album. Yet, even with most other songs lacking something, they are still rather not a chore to listen through and the album as a complete experience manages to be enjoyable.
I would say the musicianship on the album is top-notch, but in fact it's a notch below the comparison model band mentioned many times before in this review. Despite Stefanovic's insistences, at times one cannot shake the feeling that Scar Symmetry's guitarists are being imitated, at least to a degree. The lead guitarist Patrik Gardberg (also playing alongside Älvestam in Torchbearer and The Few Against Many) cannot entirely match Per Nilsson, but does a very good job as it is, and his soloing stands out among his peers. As far as drumming goes, this album is not very drum-centric - I'm not sure if there's even one passage with the slayer beat under it, let alone blast beats. Which is alright, since we have that in spades in other projects that Älvestam partakes in. As for the man's singing: this time you'll hear some of his highest notes ever, perhaps even higher ones than on "Holographic Universe", while his growls remain as unrelenting as ever. This doesn't mean his timbre doesn't distort when he sings super high, a thing others such as Dan Swanö have called him out on. He does sing high a lot of the time, though, which can be annoying - he doesn't do that as often as Periphery's Spencer, but it still manages to get tiresome at times.
The album is a good attempt at making "neo melodeath": independent of Gothenburg riffing patterns that permeate the genre at large, featuring singing as well as deep growls and shrieks alike and adding more than a bit of electronics to build ambience. Basically this band is the closest alternative that I know of to Scar Symmetry's music, but at the same time feels much different in terms of goal and melodic influences. Add the fact that the singer most of the fans felt had been one of Scar Symmetry's strongest points is on this release and you have all the encouragement you need to give it a try.