Factory of Dreams – A Strange Utopia


Factory of Dreams – A Strange Utopia – 4/5
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Oddly referred to as ‘progressive metal,’ this descriptor should be used in the same manner than Within Temptation’s last effort was called Gothic ‘Metal,’ or even how Ayreon is referred to as ‘metal’ as well, and interestingly, whilst one is often the subject of elitist derision, the other is praised endlessly, and yet both remain superb comparisons. Now don’t misunderstand me, I have nothing but respect for Arjen’s masterful creations, but there is a limit to the versatility one man can accomplish, and when this is reached it is time to hand over the reigns and let your work influence others. This feels like the next evolutionary step, maintaining that same type of rich tapestry of composition to form a lavishly surreal atmosphere, worked by the Portuguese multi-instrumentalist Hugo Flores.

Not without its shortcomings; the manner in which styles collide initially sounds horrendous and is sure to turn many off, but it is when you become accustomed to the rapid fluctuations and fighting between styles that you come to comprehend their purpose. The occasional use of polyrhythms feeling as though multiple separate backing tracks are vying for dominance of the piece, leaving only the solitary frightened vocals over the cacophony of the rapidly shifting landscapes. Sadly, at 70mins, this is no short album and becomes to feel tired by its end; it’s superb variation still only capable of carrying things for so long, and whilst difficult to find specific areas that could do with a trim, the slightly quicker pace could have worked to its advantage.

Furthermore, the electronic tone feels out of place until you come to understand why its there. This isn’t just a collection of conveniently themed titles; the middle of a three-part epic story that takes place amongst the stars, it is from the first album (poles) that we learn about the two poles, the light and the dark ruled by the powerful overlord; the Generator of Illusions; The Factory of Dreams, fueled by the human mind with rivers of emotion his lifeblood. With this abstract, sci-fi, sociopolitical philosophizing running at its heart, the open ended questioning of our current civilization, and how any Utopia would ultimately feel so alien that we may never fit there (or at least this is my impression but it really is very open to interpretation) it actually makes an odd sort of sense. It doesn’t click at first but it has evidently been carefully thought out, treated like a piece of art to be studied and appreciated, rather than merely a collection of generic themes gone a little wrong.

The vocals of young Swedish woman ‘Jessica Lehto’ lend the rooted feel to the music; the only constant that we can be sure of, she is readily comparable to the likes of Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) in her reluctance to add excessive vibrato, resulting in a delicate and emotional simplicity that counteracts the complex backing wonderfully, allowing it to meander and shift around her. Not outstanding against the tough competition, the occasional lack of power – particularly during the higher notes – is weighed up against the control over the breadth of her voice, allowing her to either drift off in an ethereal manner or come boldly into the forefront.

It is the backing, however, that has seen the greatest level of attention; both acoustic – 6 string and 12-string – as well as electric guitars, fretless bass, (guest) violins, sitar, keyboard synths, acoustic drums over programmed drum loops, and apparently even a berimbau (a sort of acoustic African violin). Impressively, he has managed to work all this into a coherent composition; the fretless bass pounding away like a mechanical buzzing over the drum loops, the synths maintaining the backing chords, sharing duties with the electric guitars as they perform in a virtuoso, at times almost floyd-esque manner. Then a sudden pitch shift emerges, seeing a far earthier gothic violin harmony come forth, accented by gentle acoustic guitars, slowly transitioning into the more aggressive electric chords sequence and acoustic drums. Clearly a very competent virtuoso guitarist not obsessed with speed, all this will happen over and over again, resulting in a rollercoaster of emotions and atmospheres that leaves you constantly questioning the direction the track will take next.

People often like to make comparisons to what they know, finding familiar ground from which to base their opinion from, but in this case that only gets you so far. It’s perhaps interesting to think that I initially passed this for review, for only on subsequent listens did it really dawn on me what what was trying to be accomplished, allowing the music to rapidly grow on me, and it is this that’s partly what separates this from other artists. It unashamedly has its own purpose in mind, the crashing of styles too overt to ignore; we are instead left to question the reason behind it, and whilst it fails to live up to the natural compositional fluidity of Ayreon’s “Into the Electric Castle,” or the epic heights of Kalisia’s “Cybion,” these are mighty high targets to aim for and it doesn’t fall far behind.

Highlight: The Weight of the World, The Road around Saturn, Garden of all Seasons, Chaotic Order

Comments

Anonymous said…
I do not want you to pirate this release, it cost us a lot of money to put out and it isn't your right to give it away.
Tom B said…
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