Review Summary: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight
Taravana’s 2013 full-length debut is an impressive work that demonstrates an immense amount of potential. The album is a conceptual work dealing with the topics of adventures on the high sea, mythological beasts, and the tragedy of unrequited love. The music presented on the album can be best described as a unique form of keyboard-driven progressive metal; while project mastermind Alex Newton “loosely” describes the genre of his project as progressive rock, there is an undeniably strong power metal influence throughout the album, especially present in the drumming and vocals. This is an album firmly grounded in the realms of heavy metal, despite the fact that there are no guitars present on the recording.
Newton's musicianship is top-notch on the album, particularly in regards to his piano work and his strong and varied vocals. While the mix of only keyboards, drums, and vocals is certainly an interesting and unique feature of the project, one has to note that at times the music does lack a bit of low end; one has to wonder whether perhaps adding a bass guitar would have assisted in thickening the sound on certain parts of the album. Overall, however, the piano work fits the style of music very well, and electric guitars are not missed. Taravana’s keyboard-driven sound does not lack a bit in effectiveness; it took me no less than three listens to notice there were no guitars featured on the album.
Regarding the songs themselves, the songwriting is genuinely of a professional quality. This high quality of songwriting is particularly impressive when one considers that Newton wrote a significant portion of the material for the album while he was in the studio recording the album. While this means that a certain amount of the material was put together at essentially the last minute, none of the songs come across as being thrown together or rushed; each track on the album is a well-developed piece that contributes meaningfully to the overall work. There is no filler.
Album opener "Six Grand Fathom: Act I" serves as an excellent introduction to Taravana's sound, and sets the groundwork for the album's engaging concept. The track begins with beautiful symphonic keyboard work, and slowly builds up, transforming into a strong power metal piece driven by a strong piano rhythm. The ever-present piano is backed by synthesizer at appropriate points in the song, adding to the depth of the piece. While the opener is one of the best tracks present, the album's standout track is by far the seven-and-a-half minute "The Irons". “The Irons” is an absolute masterpiece that is guaranteed to have you singing along before the end of your first listen. The song combines beautiful piano work with excellent lyrics and a surprisingly powerful chorus, driven by Newton's confident vocals. While the song is the longest piece present, it does not drag on in the slightest; there is enough variety present on the track to merit the long running time. The song is an instant classic, and stands as a must-listen track.
One weak moment in the songwriting should be noted. The six-minute “Toxicodendron”, while well written musically (its outro is especially good), has some questionable lyrical delivery; the “found your secrets, your deepest secrets” segment is just a bit too cheesy to be able to pass without comment. This segment serves as a bit of a distraction from an otherwise brilliant track. Overall, however, the vocal delivery on the album is excellent, and the lyrics on the album are surprisingly well-written; they are wordy, but sincere enough to avoid coming off as pretentious.
Although the songwriting and Newton’s technical performance on the album is certainly outstanding and deserving of earnest praise, there is one point of severe criticism that must be made. Owing to the somewhat rushed conditions under which Newton recorded the album, the finished product is rather lacking in production value. While understandable, given the circumstances, this poor production unfortunately takes away from the listening experience a great deal. It is an absolute shame, for the album is genuinely a work deserving of being heard; the featured songs certainly deserves better. The album was remastered earlier this month, which did improve the sound quality a bit, but overall the production is still lacking. One cannot help but wonder, given the recording quality of the tracks, if this album would have been better released as a demo, as opposed to a professional quality full-length.
Even with the regrettable production, it must be said to Newton’s credit that the strength of the songwriting manages to shine through regardless of the production, and all fans of progressive metal are encouraged to give Taravana’s debut a listen. It is truly a rewarding and refreshing experience, and with a running time of only 32 minutes, it is an album that can be given a chance without too much of a time investment. Check it out.