In the progressive rock
and metal circuit, there’s a common notion that if you’re not keen on
the style of a particular song, just wait a minute and a completely
different one will come along and this is certainly true of Dutch band
Ulysses. Mirroring the slower tempo of past prog masters Yes and Asia with
galloping riffs akin to Iron Maiden, opening track ‘Family Portrait’
is a great way to kick off the album. And if anyone suspects that Ulysses
may have fallen into the classic prog trap that many others often fall
prey to, of prioritising fancy musicianship over actual song writing, then
they only have to listen to the beautiful male/female vocal contrast in
the chorus to immediately have their misconceptions dispelled.
Follow-up track ‘Guardian Angel’ starts off with the sort of grandiose, epic feel that Rainbow first coined on their Rising album and wouldn’t sound out of place in Ronnie Dio’s repertoire of songs. But of course, in true prog fashion, this particular style doesn’t last long and at around the five-minute mark the song transforms into a crazy blend of constantly changing riffs and what sounds like a mad game of one-upmanship between the individual musicians and although on paper it shouldn’t really work, it does and you can’t help but be intrigued as to where the song will go next.
After slowing things down with a ballad (hey, it had to happen at some point, right?), albeit one with a fantastic solo that catches the listener off-guard and breathes new life into the song, Ulysses pick up the pace once more with the 12-minute epic ‘How Much More’. It’s a full 3 minutes before we even get any singing but with musicianship of this quality, it really doesn’t matter and when the singing does kick in, vocalist Michael Hos doesn’t disappoint, putting in an awesome performance before the song changes direction once again with an absolute monster of a riff. The song, just like the album as a whole is a musical journey which strikes a great balance between keeping the listener intrigued with interesting virtuoso musicianship combined with head-banging riffs and epic, sing-along choruses.
Clocking in at ‘only’ seven
minutes long, the album’s title track ‘The Gift of Tears’ feels like
a short song by comparison and is probably the closest Ulysses come to ‘metal’
on this album but really serves only as a prelude to the record’s centre-piece, the 15-minute saga ‘Anat’ – an epic tale of two young
parents’ ordeal after unexpectedly losing their one-year old daughter (Anat)
to a brain tumour. The song has more style changes than a Hollywood
celebrity and so many time changes that you’re likely to get whiplash
from banging your head in time to all the different riffs. This is not to
say that the song is a musical mish-mash however, there is a method to
Ulysses’ madness. All the musicians manage to link together perfectly
while at the same time allowing you to hear each one’s talents
separately. The song is not for the faint of heart, either. Rather than
going down the metaphor-route with their lyrics, the story is plain and
clear for all to hear (“Anat, fight, don’t give up, we’ll be here
when you wake up”) which gives genuine feeling to the song and helps to
take the listener on an emotional journey which eventually ends in a
tear-jerking crescendo that you cannot fail to be moved by. If Ulysses get
the right level of exposure, then Dream Theater could soon have serious
contenders for their place at the top of the prog-metal elite.
Review by: Adam G
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