Edition: 60
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Album reviews:
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01. R.O.C.
02. My chrysalis
03. Whole in pieces
04. Run & hide
05. Holding on to better days
06. Voltage
07. End of the line
08. Brighter kind of light
09. Part I: Aenigma
10. Part II: Make it happen
11. Part III: Mystified
12. Part IV: Confusion collision
13. Part V: My saviour
14. Part VI: It all ends
Before the second album by Dutch progsters Xystus came out, the one million dollar question question was: will they be able to top their very good debut Receiving tomorrow? Well, Surreal has landed and the answer is: yes!
Bas Dolmans (vocals/guitar), Ivo van Dijk (drums, synthesizers), Bob Wijtsma (guitar) and Tim van Dijk (bass; replaced after the recording by Mark Brekelmans) have put together an album that is loaded with good ideas, melodies and musicianship. The best thing is, though, that these guys know how to write songs that have an identity of their own, a skill not common in this genre where the technical aspect of the music is often overrated. Surreal is brimming with life and real songs. Prime example is the second track My chrysalis, a gem with some of the finest melodies and vocal lines that the Dutch prog scene has produced so far. The keyword here would have to be ‘emotion’ – that’s what Surreal is about and it produces loads of it in the emphatic, positive sense of the word.
Funny enough, the album starts of with the excellent uptempo cut R.O.C. and the infamous violin theme that Bernard Herrmann composed for Janet Leigh’s shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
From the first track to the last, this is a highly enjoyable piece of progpower with a typical Dutch touch, reminiscent of Silent Edge or the sadly defunct Symmetry. In stead of going the heavier and sometimes too artificial Dream Theater/Symphony X-route of recent years, Xystus have chosen a far more natural style that focuses on the traditional harmony between a fine riff and vocal melody. You’d be more inclined to hear some Enchant or earlier Poverty’s No Crime influences here, if any, although Xystus’s brand of prog is much more metal with lots of double bass fire.
Bas Dolmans’ clear and warm voice is exactly right for this band. Although here and there there may be a slip-up (in the otherwise rather finely executed ‘Brighter kind of light’) and there’s the non-native speaker factor to take into consideration, it’s the vocals that make this album even more of a pleasure to listen to. Very few things here feel strained (apart from some spoken word parts), which is rare enough for the genre. And if the band throws you a fastball like the dynamic Whole in pieces, you know that this is going to rip live.

Halfway through the album, the band kicks into the six-part conceptual title track - and of course they pull it off. Many an aspiring progband would be well advised to take notes here, because the lightness of touch and feeling for coherence and accessability (of each part and of the track as a whole) are refreshing. And mind you, the ability to actually live up to your ambitions as a musician/band is definitely not an everyday occurrence, as many a demo or album will prove. Ideas and concepts in the mind are one thing, translating and realizing and them, well, they are another thing altogether.
The transparent production (by Ivo Severijns and drummer Ivo van Dijk) and mix (courtesy of the infamous Oscar ‘Vengeance’ Holleman) fit the material like a glove. Synthesizers (as of late June 2007 handled again by former bandmate Joost van de Kerkhof) are well integrated, as opposed to the often detached sounding layers of keys found elsewhere. Here also, the track ‘My chrysalis’ surprises with its splendid mix of strong guitars, great vocal parts and beautiful piano themes. Hell, if this music was played on the radio, I’d actually tune in!
There’s one thing that puzzles me, though. What the hell were they thinking when the go ahead was given for the logo and cover design? Surreal it is indeed, but bargain bin surrealism if you ask me. The fold-out digipak format (designed to fit an accompanying limited edition 3-track single) only makes it slightly less of a disaster. Nevertheless, this a must-have album for progmetal fans - and for people who are unjustly biased toward homegrown metal. Xystus prove them wrong in every aspect.

  Rating: 90 /100

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