Review Summary: Highly technical and equally harmonious musicians give us a satisfying traditional progressive metal album.
Whether or not you care for Dream Theater, it is clear that they have made one of the largest contributions toward the progressive metal scene. As a result, what you will find is that the underground prog metal scene reflects this by having an abundant amount of artists that stylistically replicate DT; they are a dime a dozen. This has its ups and downs for those bands of course. For one, they have an easy source of inspiration for a style they know is liked in the community. But because that sound is so common and so overdone it makes it ever so difficult for one of those bands to stand out in the larger scheme of things.
This is where Armed Cloud finds themselves in. They want to make music of this common style of progressive metal but are also trying to leave a lasting contribution toward that scene that gave their predecessors a musical home. What this album brings to the table if you are a fan of that older style of traditional progressive metal is great instrumentation both in technical solos and in the band member’s synergy with one another. In Torque, they also attempt to make this sound that is kind of symphonic and kind of electronic to convey a futuristic tone.
Let’s talk about what Armed Cloud did right in this album: their instrumental proficiency and deliverance of great performances are all there. The drums and bass do a good job at leading the rhythm of each of the songs of the album, the guitarist is great at delivering impressive solos on almost every track of the album. The synths play a key role in delivering Armed Cloud‘s best hooks on the album, as some of the high points are the way the keys are able to close songs with surprisingly heartfelt melodies that stuck with me more than any other instrument on the album. It feels like the instrumentalists go back and forth, taking turns to impress us with their high energy and admirable harmony.
Though this is Armed Cloud‘s most instrumentally technical album to date, their past two albums both had a more creative and defined atmosphere to them. In essence, their past two had a little bit more personality and aesthetic than Torque does. What I got from this album is kind of a replication of a highly technical, futuristic aesthetic that has been done in the prog scene over and over again, even when Armed Cloud makes their own interpretation of that sound.
When it comes to the bands mixing and production, all of their albums have been fairly mid-toned: where the keys, mid-ranged guitars, and the vocals have the most auditory priority while the bass gets lost in the background at times. It's all about where the band’s ideals are, and I think they were in the right place by highlighting the synths and lead guitar in the album as those make up the most interesting sections of the album’s composition. Aside from that, the album is fairly well produced for being as unknown as it is.
Unfortunately, though, that sums up the positives of the album. The main downfall of the album has to be in their vocals. Don’t make the mistake I made when giving my first few listens to the album: listen to it for its instrumental synergy, do not expect a high level of vocal creativity or any memorable choruses. Aside from the occasional scream, the vocals are the most disappointing thing about the album as they are fairly monotone.
Generally, a strong point at having an equally skillful vocalist is to convey an album’s best hooks and melodic material as we resonate with the sound of voices generally more than other instruments, and also because we remember melodies more if they are delivered through words. This is why for a lot of people, the vocalist is most often a make-it-or-break-it element of a band, maybe because the most is expected from them.
Furthermore, what is probably the case for very underground bands like this is that they have two main demographic audiences: people in their community, and people who are very invested in the niche section of their genre. We would probably represent the latter. And the problem with being in the latter demographic is that we already might be aware of 10-20+ bands that already make the kind of music that they do, and all are in competition with one another for our ear’s attention. This band is genuinely good, but I worry about where they fall in the line of this (traditional progressive metal) scene’s competition. For instance, if someone wants to listen to this style, they would first listen to Dream Theater, after that they might go to Circus Maximus if they want something a bit closer to Armed Cloud they might go to Savatage next, or a ton of other bands one could name. The point is that they need to make something truly outstanding to leave a lasting impression on the scene or else they will not be very prosperous. They are a long way away from reaching that point of colossal success, but this is certainly not a bad place to start.