The golden “Epsilon 2” is the natural follow-up to the blueish “Epsilon 1”, perhaps intended originally as a double album but any sane artist understands that releasing two double albums one behind the other can be artistic suicide. In 2012, Jeff Hamel released “V.O.Z.”, a stunning 2 disc set of volcanic proportions, a sensational heavy neo-prog recording that garnered rave reviews and a whole lot of adulation from Progland and even beyond. The first Epsilon chapter was a delightful package, a hefty mix of cosmic power prog a la Ayreon, some ambient splendor blended with outright heavy metal rifferama, wah-wah pyrotechnics and a cameo by terrific Brit singer Marc Atkinson (Riversea, Nine Stones Close). In fact the vocal display was quite extraordinary. Well this chapter keeps the coals burning bright, as guitarist/keyboardist Hamel and mega- drummer Mike Kosacek continue their rocket-fueled journey through the cosmos, with a flight crew of talented vocalists, namely helium-lunged Chris Hodges, the equally adept David Cagle and recurrent female vocalist Jessica Rasche.
“Generations” is a plodding opener which serves only to warm up the speakers, nothing overtly special or memorable. Soft, hard, soft structured instrumental that gets the juices flowing. The mood really takes off on the bruising “The River”, a 10 minute ride into outer space, shuffling guitars clang along unbridled, Chris Hodges crooning passionately, with a Hamel guitar riff that will make you flex your muscles. Subtle little shift then swerves this in an another direction, a sweet tone and liquid guitar leading the way, entirely riveting as Hodges looks beyond the stars , looking for answers. Lush choir synths maintain the splendiferous urgency as the fluid pace gets progressively heftier and more penetrating. Hamel manhandles his fret board, doing unthinkable thinks along its neck, strangling wild notes as they expel from the smoking amplifiers. Things get rabid, angry and insane rather rapidly, we are in space truckin’ after all.
The vibrant “Incandescence” is where things really heat up, the lava spurts becoming sulfurous and yet shrouded in eloquent cosmic beauty. Jaunty shreds of guitar slashes, pooling electric piano and slithering synths introduce Cagle’s higher pitched rant, a phenomenal voice not too far from Foreigner’s Lou Gramm. Hamel flings a monster guitar solo that hisses like some cosmic cat gone AWOL, with tons of effects, whirls and twirls amid the softer dream sections, celestial splendour with Cagle seizing the microphone and hitting all the high notes. Swirling sequencer-led electronics shove this craft into the twilight zone. Very nice indeed.
“Ancient Echoes” is introduced with an unexpected synthesized orchestra, deeply resonating like some Richard Strauss outtake, with Hodges pleading heavily amid more electric piano shimmers and clanging guitar squeals. The mood is definitely cosmic space rock, a modern rock adventure that reaches for the distant stars and serves as perfect escapist music but with balls. Great tune. Things get technical and hectic on the warp-speed propulsed “The Journey Back”, a chance for Kosacek to show off some serious bashing while Hamel unleashes a barrage of gritty sound that has a slight Deep Purple feel. This is an instrumental platform that permits the two musicians to show off their rather considerable chops as well as scouting out new sounds (the grunting guitar is quite impressive, Jeff), with layered flying synth carpets gliding the rhythm along, spiriting forward, boldly.
The sweet “Welcome Home” is too damn short, I really admire Jessica’s vocals but each second is precious enough. Acoustic guitar, piano, drum beat and Rasche’s voice are all just sublime. I would have loved to see this one a bit more extended with denser arrangements and a longer solo.
The longest piece is “Convergence”, a nearly 12 minute affair, built like a solar-fueled ballad that goes in all kinds of nebulous quadrants, then slings past whooshing asteroids, skirting the odd space debris , getting metalloid when approaching a moon and scouring the dark space ahead. The cataclysmic mid-section is growl heavy and guitar raging, almost psychotic (sci-fi-cotic?) and proves to be the most developed piece here. Hodges again shows off some angry lungs , to say the least.
“Rise” is a guitar-centric musical erection, nasty and loud, brash and bullying. The stuff Hamel and Kosacek do verge on sheer , weightless acrobatics, this will certainly appeal to the metal heads out there, as there is some serious head banging rage going on, with a mid-section that features a bizarre bubbly synth spot, a sadistic bass rumble, akimbo drums and a measured return to the original lunacy, axes grinding hard and fast. Think Deep Purple again but heavier. Chris Hodges is not a happy camper, which is good.
The disc ends with the more symphonic “Fade”, led by a slurring organ and aurora borealis-like orchestrations that include walls of electric guitars and tectonic drumming. The superb lead solo will cause quite a few eyebrows to raise in unison, a strong lyrical sizzle that will appeal to all six-string fanatics. Intense, fiery and yet very original. Love this one!
The two Epsilon discs are truly excellent, worthy successors of the VOZ marvel. I will have issues with the neo moniker, as this seems more space or heavy prog to me. Labelling notwithstanding, this is great music to gaze at the stars.
4.5 celestial Nebulas