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Assignment – Reflections

by Ian Yeara at 01 August 2020, 12:56 PM

I’m rather surprised I haven’t heard of this band before, they’ve been around since 1996 and they have a pretty prodigious lineup. Diego Valdéz obviously being known for a few bands including IRON MASK, HELKER, and LORDS OF BLACK. In that spirit I feel the need to be somewhat sensitive when talking about this album, because judging from Encyclopedia Metallum people consider their early work to be Thrash/Speed metal masterpieces. I’m going to be upfront with you, Thrash Metal and Speed Metal are probably my least favorite genres of metal, they’re just not my bag, however this album does hold some interest on the Progressive Metal front. If anything I would qualify this as more Prog/Thrash than Prog/Power, but now I’m quibbling over genre labels.

I'm going to be real upfront with you, I don't like Diego Valdéz's voice. This is just a matter of personal taste, I've never been a fan of Thrash, Speed, or even traditional metal vocals. There's no emphasis on melody or harmony, it's just Valdéz yelling at me for 58 minutes and however much I may like a lot of the music in this, his voice makes hit hard for me to stay immersed. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's get to the positives of this album.

The best thing about this album is by far the guitar work, Goran Panic is one hell of a guitar player and boy are the riffs on this album meaty. The mix is mostly great and I can hear clearly through the wall of sound that develops at times. Although sometimes the vocals do almost get overshadowed by the guitar and drums. Also, the keyboards are either completely absent or buried in the mix most of the time, and I think for me personally more keyboard involvement would have helped this album a lot because the production feels very dry. Still, the energy is there, this is a very vibrant and high-octane sort of sound that never really takes a break.

For anyone who likes more technical Thrash/Speed metal this album is likely going to blow you away. For me, outside of the riffs I'm just not very excited by what's happening here. It's proggy and technical which is cool and my favorite parts of the album are when the band is switching time signatures and messing with polyrhythms. Outside of that the music just feels kind of empty to me, like I said before there's not much of a melodic focus on display here and the hooks are just not really there. Memorability is my biggest issue with this album, the choruses are all pretty similar and there's nothing here I think I liked enough to ever consider revisiting. I would say the best hook on the whole album comes in track 3: "Obsession," in fact, it's probably the only song I can remember at all after listening to this album multiple times.

Now seems like the time to dive into the songs. It almost seems like the band thinks that being Progressive means switching back and forth between fast and riff heavy, or mid tempo and more melodic. We go from "Corporate Men" which has a rather limp chorus, to the title track, "Reflections" which actually has some melody to it as well as guest female vocals. Unfortunately, I feel like the female vocals are wasted, they don't mesh well at all with Diego's and they also don't entirely line up, which is definitely a production issue, but I like "Reflections" enough because of how it uses the keyboard.

As a general criticism of songwriting on this, no matter how good the guitar work and riffs are, if there's nothing going on underneath your verses they get repetitive and boring. Of course, for me, I already don't like the vocals so that just makes the verses that much more arduous to get through. "Submission" is just not memorable, I can't remember a thing about it, but then we get "Timeline" which is a lot more interesting.

I guess if I were to describe this album in brief, it wildly rises and falls in quality, like a metronome set to 200. With some songs being very riff centric and sounding more like actual Prog Power, some songs are just straight up Thrash, and some of them are this weird in between of mid-tempo Thrash and Prog. "Timeline" is a good example of this, it has bursts of speed, but the verses aren't just focused on the vocals we also get keyboard strings and some odd time signatures. However, this song doesn't get a pass from me because there's no hook, once again I can't remember a thing.

After "Obsession" I think my favorite song would have to be "Endlessly," they bring back the female vocals and this song probably has some of the strongest melody and harmony in the whole album. This song probably has the most dynamic range in the entire album. It's heavy, but then it winds down in the development section just to build back up to the climax which is a lot of fun. Variety is the name of the game my friends, and if you want to know why I don't like Thrash Metal it's because there's usually no variety in dynamics and often no variety in tempo.

The last three tracks of this album are by far the proggiest part of the album and that's why they're the best parts of the album. "Unknown Hero" has some excellent sections where the keys play alongside the guitar and it really enhances the sound. Also, I should note that I don't mind the vocals on these songs as much because there's so much more going on with the instrumentation underneath, as well as the female vocals that I can't hear Diego as well most of the song.

I have to acknowledge the last and longest song of the album, because once again, variety is the spice of life. I'm usually a fan of longer songs in general (7+ minutes) just because it gives a song proper time to rise and fall, tension and release. This song actually has the first proper development section of the album and I really like what they do with it. Like I said Goran Panic is an awesome guitar player and he and Gert Sprick (the keyboardist) have excellent chemistry. Panic can play quiet and emotive moments and transition back to heavy riffs at a moment's notice, not to mention the different tones he can get out of his guitar, all very nicely done.

I feel like I've been building up to this, but the instrumental, proggy elements of this album are awesome, the musicianship on display is fantastic most of the time, and with the last three songs being longer and more involved, it makes the middle of the album feel like filler, and songs like "Submission" almost don't feel like they belong on the album.

The quality of songwriting is all over the place, but there are legitimately great moments, especially in the last three tracks. The first two and the last three make this album worthwhile, unfortunately the rest are unmemorable and entirely disposable. Let me reiterate though, this is all me and my personal taste.

I can tell you for sure, I know plenty of people who will eat this album up and love every second of it, so for those of you who are more into the US Power Metal style, this should appeal to you greatly and maybe it'll even knock your socks off. If you're more of a European Prog/Power fan like me I think you'll find this album does little to surprise or delight. The only surprises came for me when the songwriting got more complex and allowed the keys and guitar to really show off, because damn can they play.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 5
Production: 7

3 Star Rating

1. Trilogía Balkánica
2. Merciful Angel
3. Obsession
4. Corporate Men
5. Reflections
6. Submission
7. Timeline
8. Endlessly
9. Unknown Hero
10. Silent Nation
Goran Panic – Guitars
Heiko Spaarmann – Bass
Michael Kolar – Drums
Gert Sprick – Keyboards
Diego Valdéz – Vocals
Maria José Ledy Pot – Vocals/Backing Vocals
Record Label: Massacre Records


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Edited 28 January 2023

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