One of the joys of progressive metal music is also one of its inherent frustrations, namely that much of it is the result of elaborate creativity. Sometimes our prog metal heroes can try too hard to differentiate themselves, leading to acts of self-indulgence matched only by horny teenage boys. Conversely it can produce passages of such sublime beauty that 300lb hulks can be reduced to quivering wrecks.
But then there is another type of prog metal band, one that eschews over-indulgence to focus on the quality of a song first, preferring to nail the structure and then, if it works for the song, add in passages of colour. Shadow Gallery are a good example, as are Queensrÿche, and after hearing Swedish act Seventh Wonder’s fourth opus, also puts them firmly into this category.
The Great Escape is the natural successor to their second album, 2006’s Waiting In The Wings, (2008’s conceptual Mercy Falls was a more complex affair) but boy, have they upped the ante this time around. The production is dynamic without being overbearing, the performances are out of this world and the album’s pacing is just about perfect. But all of this is overshadowed by the sheer superiority of the songs. From the hammer-blow of opener “Wiseman” to the last notes of the epic title track, almost every moment here reeks of quality and, most importantly, care.
The thing that also differentiates Seventh Wonder is the fact you’d never know they are European; Sweden has a rich history of producing high quality rock & metal, but in some cases the desire to insert Scandanavian elements can become a distraction. Most of rock’s best songs transcend international boundaries and Seventh Wonder seem to be acutely aware of that fact (when I first heard them I was convinced they were American).
So to the album itself. The aforementioned “Wiseman” kicks straight in with a staccato guitar riff from the heavens, awash with orchestral synth that adds beautifully to the drama, then strips down to bring the guitar to the fore and set the scene for vocalist Tommy Karevik to shine. Karevik has an ear for vocal melody that most would kill for, and the kind of voice that could sing the phone book and sound good.
“Alley Cat” follows, a melody reminiscent of US ‘90s prog metallers Enchant, and keeps the momentum flowing with some of the best guitar work from Johan Liefvendahl. The only thing that lets it down are some truly cheesy lyrics that even David Coverdale would wince at: “…baby let me stay your Alley Cat” anyone?
“.The Angelmaker” (and the dot is not a typo) is up next, a keyboard/ piano led mid tempo killer of a song, both evocative and powerful, taking the listener through a truly worthwhile eight-minute journey. “King of Whitewater” produces another heavy duty delivery, the band as tight as a tourniquet (thanks Roger Waters) and showcasing their ability to move from fast and powerful to orchestral and delicate at a stroke.
The album’s most straightforward offering, ballad, “Long Way Home” is ironically the best example of Seventh Wonder’s song-writing prowess, as it proves they don’t need to write in six time signature changes to get from A to B. It also happens to be rather good, which is an understatement! “Move on Through” brings things back to the land of milk and metal, a clever use of metal riff and piano underpinning yet another great vocal. Which leaves the truly monumental, thirty-minute title track to close things off. There aren’t many bands who would have the ability to pull off such a huge musical undertaking and keep it interesting, but with “The Great Escape” they have not only achieved that but surpassed it. Based on Nobel Prize winner Harry Martinson’s space epic Aniara, the song weaves its way through multiple stages, each one carefully crafted to both enhance the journey and tell the story. It achieves both incredibly well, and on repeated listens delivers new moments you didn’t realize were there last time around.
The Great Escape is a triumph from start to finish, and Seventh Wonder is on a mission from prog to blow your socks off. If you’re not standing barefoot by the end of the album, you must be dead.