Sphere of Souls' 13-track debut release, From the Ashes ..., succeeds in bringing its own identity to Progressive Metal. Although the album exhibits intelligence, theme, melody, accuracy, and atmosphere, what it needs to round out its own musical sphere is, ironically, more soul.
Former Sun Caged vocalist Andre Vuurboom wrote the music and lyrics for the album; he also delivered the vocals and played rhythm guitar. Joost van den Broek, also formerly of Sun Caged, co-wrote one track and handled keyboards and all production duties. The remaining line-up includes Kees Harrison (ex-Equinox) on bass, Ruud van Diepen on drums, Rob Cerrone (ex-Imperium) on rhythm guitar, and Anand Mahangoe on lead guitar.
Generally the music is in the vein of Sun Caged. While it tends to show more maturity in terms of composition and arrangement, it lacks the fire of guitarist Marcel Coenen, as exhibited on Sun Caged (2003, Lion Music). Mahangoe shows technical proficiency and gives a basically admirable performance, but in the final analysis, the lead guitar work doesn't quite take charge as it should during the solos. Too much reverb adds to the leads' intangible feel.
Contributing to the overall sterility is Vuurboom's voice, which is comparable in quality, range, and style to Tony Harnell in TNT's post-80s, Pop-flavored years. That is, the approach is on the conservative and light side, with a smooth feel typical of Pop. The vocal melodies are memorable, if you want to remember them. The thin vocal quality, however, may overpower the strong melodic flavor, depending on the individual listener's taste. In any event, the melodies make an impression as a defining characteristic of the music, for better or worse.
The other defining characteristic is the music's atmosphere, which is usually on the dreary side and strangely monolithic, a result of the combination of a congested distortion sound on the guitars, spacey keyboards, and lackluster singing. It all rides a paradoxical line between entrancing and uninteresting. Despite an occasional, uplifting (and rather welcomed) Dream Theater-ism, Sphere of Souls' music may prove to be an acquired taste for most.
Forget about catchy guitar grooves. This is not about grooves. Forget about riffs. If there is virtue to be had here, it is in the atmosphere, melody, and general thematic quality. Think Alan Parsons crossed with Mr. Mister, turned heady Metal. Then give From the Ashes ... a listen.