Review Summary: What happens when a prog band dumps Dream Theater and takes on Nevermore as an influence? You get Sunless Skies.
Pathosray made an auspicious debut in the world of progressive metal with their first, self-titled, record. Displaying a flair for the Dream Theater styled music that has become a movement in their native Italy, the band produced an album of technical, but highly musical songs that were both progressive and accessible. In a genre where many bands lose their way amid their instrumental prowess, Pathosray was a shining example of the right way to make progressive music without forgetting that the artist has to give the listener something to grab hold of. Critics were impressed with the band, giving them glowing reviews normally withheld from such a young upstart.
Two years later, Pathosray is back, leaving behind much of the sound of their debut. While hundreds of bands around the world are copying the Dream Theater style of progressive metal, Pathosray has now chosen a different path. Trading in their six strings for sevens, the band has carved out a new, deeper, more aggressive sound for themselves. Bearing more resemblance to Nevermore than Dream Theater, this new emphasis on the darker side of their music allows Pathosray to stand out in a crowded field.
When "Crown of Thorns" kicks the album into gear, not a second is wasted before the thundering seven string attack reveals that this is a new beast. Throwing out a riff reminiscent of Nevermore, Pathosray makes an immediate statement. They are a band here to push the boundaries of what they can do, and they are going to amaze you while they do it. The deep resonance of the guitars spit out riffs that would not be out of place coming from guitar god Jeff Loomis, but carrying an air of melody that his claustrophobic playing often lacks. The music here is as aggressive as anything Loomis would create, but always reigns itself in to allow for melody to creep in, giving ample room to singer Marco Sandron.
Sandron's voice effortlessly soars over the churning guitars, the lower register helping to keep his voice from roaming out of his range. His voice is a high tenor, holding the slightest bit of grain to the tone, sounding much like Urban Breed of Bloodbound. He puts his voice to good use, emptying his lungs when the songs call for power, pulling back and showing a warm tenderness when the songs call for emotion. His control is superb, far beyond the vast majority of singers in the genre.
"Behind The Shadows" is an anthematic rocker, colored with tasteful keyboards, with a hugely sung chorus by Sandron. The middle eight before the solo is crushing, the seven strings showing their teeth. "Sons of the Sunless Sky" is the heaviest song on the album, the music an absolutely oppressive wall of vicious playing until the chorus kicks in to bring melody back to the proceedings. The album is much the same, marrying the metal fury of the guitars with sweet melodies from Sandron, never forgetting about the song. The band are terrific players, but know when and where to play, and when to hold back. Guitarist Alessio Velliscig puts on a clinic, supplying snarling riffs, anthematic melodic sections, and technically marvelous solos that still retain the emotional edge of a player like Slash.
The only place where the band falters is on the multi-part "Quantic Enigma". The song opens with an almost flamenco acoustic section, peppered with the classic Hammond organ sound of Deep Purple, before giving way to a polyrhythmic verse. The song falls away in the middle to a section of piano and voice, showing the beauty the band can create. The song lacks a gripping hook, but has enough to offer in the instrumental to keep the song from being a bust. The ballads, "In Your Arms" and "The Coldest Lullaby" both benefit from the seven strings, the deeper sound giving a greater impact to the emotional vocals. "The Coldest Lullaby" brings in female vocals to sing the chorus, drawing a stark contrast between the strength of the music and the frailty of voice.
"Poltergeist" is the epic of the album, an eight minute thrasher that pulls out all the stops. Machine gun riffs propel the song, which rises and falls with melodic sections that make the pounding riffs sound even harder and faster. It is a thunderous and exhausting way to end an album that has shown so much. The bonus track, "For The Last Time", is a fingerpicked acoustic number, giving a relaxing end to the journey, allowing the listener time to absorb the sheer weight of what has just been heard.
Pathosray made a loud statement with their debut record, and have taken to the mountaintops to shout with Sunless Skies. This is a progressive record that is heavier than almost anything else to wear the label, while still maintaining an ear for melody that keeps them from falling into the pile of bands that forget to write songs around their guitar wizardry. Pathosray has moved in a new direction, and while there are few bands playing this kind of progressive metal right now, Sunless Skies will inspire many to follow.