Hemina – Synthetic – 3.5/5
With or without my help, it would seem that this debut album from Hemina is already making quite a splash with no shortage of reviews singing it's praises. Indeed, from the album teaser alone I was convinced I ought to have pre-ordered the release in preparation, but this epic progressive metal concept album from the land down under for all it's ambition doesn't quite stack up, all the small complaints I have mounting up steadily into a pile of reasons against it to the point they can no longer be ignored. Certainly fans of artists such as Dream Theater, Mechanical Poet and Ayreon might find something amidst the layers of atmospheric synth work and their strong focus on ambience, and I suspect much of how much you enjoy this release will depend on the listeners ability to feel the atmosphere they create, but to my ears it just reeks of everything it could have been.
The first issue doesn't take long to present itself with a lengthy and meandering album intro that lasts until the mid-point of the second track – a full seven minutes! – which whilst not monotonous does nothing to set the scene. The atmosphere is wholly vague and so just feels superfluous and lengthy for the sole cause of being lengthy, and this isn't an isolated incident. Indeed it is the main issue I find myself confronted with here, passages simply going on for longer than required. Often slower passages are lacking in specificity for the story the scene is meant to set (or at times impossible to comprehend and so come across as little more than a bit weird) or even during their greatest work, seems to be used for far longer than is really needed leaving you waiting for the next passage to arrive. “For All the Wrong Reasons,” for example, starts off with a simple but effective melody accompanied by the vocals, but for almost the full five minutes fails to provide any variation; any climactic points or emotional peaks, and the problem is only exacerbated when we consider the lengthier tracks or the fact certain passages are repeated at later points in the album.
The instrumentation is often fairly lacklustre but not through any incapability, the guitars and keyboards in particular proving their worth many times over, if not consistently, far too often relying on the most basic and simplistic of monotonous riffs and drab synth chords. The simplest of lines can remain effective, but it's the passages where nobody seems to be doing anything of particular note that everything crumbles. The drumming often feels uninspired but is no slouch, and the vocalist just feels as though he's straining in hitting the most powerful and higher pitched notes, lending a lacklustre performance when he's needed most. If he spent more time on the deeper notes his whole performance would have been elevated, his gorgeous baritone too often forgotten for a more conventional soprano effort. His diction also lends something to be desired, often annunciating the lyrics in a manner that makes them difficult to comprehend which whilst ordinarily is not a major issue, when involving a story being told, suddenly their importance becomes magnified.
And there is a story to be told here involving Angels losing their wings and being forced to live out their lives on Earth, at least to the best I can decipher. Too many of the details get lost and short of reading the lyrics, something the music doesn't compel me enough to warrant doing, is likely to stay that way. You can have the greatest concept ever devised but without drawing the listener in through the music will fail to make any impact whatsoever. But beyond all this, without a doubt the absolute worst issue I have with this album – and certainly the one I find most frustrating – are the moments when everything manages to come together; the melodies are powerful and the drums find themselves able to vary, even the vocalist's apparent shortcomings are less noticeable due to the work going on around him and then the guitars manage to carve out epic solo's and instrumental pieces that can bring a tear to your eye. There are moments of absolute genius littered all over this release and with that comes the promise of perfection. Hemina's debut feels like a brilliant forty minute album stretched out to twice that length.
Highlight: For All Wrong Reasons, With What I See, Even in Heaven