Review Summary: Andromeda’s third album sees the band tightening up their sound, as well as exploring the darker side of their songwriting. The result is their strongest work to date.
It seems to be the general consensus that progressive metal act Andromeda’s 2001 debut, Extension of the Wish
is their best album. I, personally, am confused by this viewpoint; while that album is definitely a fun and adventurous debut, it’s not exactly unique. The Dream Theater
comparisons are obvious and hard to avoid; detractors will be quick to point out the weak vocals and indulgent instrumental sections that people love to hate about that band. II=I
was in some ways a step in the right direction, with new member David Fremberg presenting a great improvement in the vocal department, and with some darker, more unique compositional ideas starting to take form. Their sound really hadn’t solidified yet, though; not until Chimera
was released in 2006. This album saw the band’s own style really starting to come through, and Fremberg’s vocals also truly began to sound cohesively integrated into the music. As a result, Chimera
is the most inspired and convincing record in Andromeda’s discography.
The opening one-two combo of “Periscope” and “In the End” firmly establishes the improvements that Chimera
presents to Andromeda’s sound. These songs are both very catchy and memorable, instantly distinguishing the album from the more pointy-headed, introspective II=I
. The production packs a nice, crisp punch, giving these songs heaviness while also offering lots of room for atmosphere and melody. Fremberg’s vocals are allowed to shine right from the get-go, as both of these first two tracks have big, striking choruses and lots of dramatic development in the verses. His vocal style is smooth and melodic, yet gritty when it’s appropriate, much like the music itself. Compositionally, these songs have tons of material to work with, and the band takes full advantage of this without falling into self-indulgence. Ideas are thrown around and developed effortlessly, creating an opening to the album that is as thrilling as it is cohesive. There is a newfound darkness and determination to these songs that Andromeda truly has made their own.
While the first two songs are undeniably strong, Chimera
has far more intrigue to reveal in the remaining seven. The album is full of variety, and there’s no shortage of unexpected twists and turns. “The Hidden Riddle” presents the first of these, prominently featuring the acoustic guitar, complex harmonies and a subtly creepy atmosphere. “The Cage of Me” and “Inner Circle” are more expansive: the former is one of the most dynamic songs on the album, with lots of loud-soft contrasts and an explosive chorus; the latter, on the other hand, is very charming and positive, with a beautiful synthesizer introduction, an adventurous, light-hearted main motif that gets tossed between the keyboard and guitars, and an extensive, virtuosic instrumental outro. “Iskenderun” is another very well rounded song, with its exotic guitar/vocal intro, its labyrinthine, varied mid-section, and its haunting synthesizer outro that leads beautifully into the monumental closing track: “Blink of an Eye”. “Blink of an Eye” is easily my favourite song on the album, with its huge, menacing verses, hauntingly tranquil bridges, and the powerful, tragic chorus. The song is complete with a creepy piano coda that reprises the opening theme of “Periscope”, bringing the album full circle at its conclusion.
There are a couple of songs on this album that don’t stand out as much as the others; namely, “Going Under” and “No Guidelines”. While neither of these are bad songs, they just don’t seem to have the same impact as the other seven tracks. “Going Under” is a more upbeat track with a slightly Muse
-esque vibe; while it’s still perfectly well put together, it just lacks the memorable elements that the other tracks have. It’s also sandwiched between two of the strongest songs on the album (“The Hidden Riddle” and “The Cage of Me”), and that doesn’t help it either. “No Guidelines” features a groovy, Meshuggah-esque 7/4 guitar riff in the verses which holds some promise, but then the cheesy, poppy chorus completely kills the momentum. Again, it’s not exactly a bad song, but it’s not nearly as enthralling as the album’s stronger moments.
Overall, despite those two somewhat weaker links, Chimera
is a VERY solid, consistent, and exciting album. Its biggest strength is how skilfully Andromeda develop the melodies and themes on each track, resulting in a perfect balance of cohesion and complexity rarely found in progressive metal. The darker, heavier sound of the album is also a huge success; while still having its share of strong influences, Chimera
is the first album in Andromeda's discography that really feels unique and distinctive. It should come as no surprise that this is the sound that the band continued to explore with their next two albums, settling into their own niche and yet always remaining fresh, unique, and purposeful. Bottom line: Chimera
is Andromeda’s best album to date, and fans of their first two albums are doing themselves a disservice by neglecting it.