Pagan's Mind
Heavenly Ecstasy

I usually cover a lot of black metal, tech death and the like for this site, but finding a great power/progressive album is a real treat. It’s also rare, because I tend to be pretty picky about the vocals. I like a strong balance between beauty and brawn, with just the right amount of bravado, but not so much as to tip the whole thing into parody. Russell Allen of Symphony X, Jan Thore Grefstad of Saint Deamon, and yes, James La Brie of Dream Theater (when he’s not trying to rap) – all great examples. The music, of course, is more important. Showmanship may get the initial wows, but songwriting is what keeps me coming back again and again. I expect strong melodies and cleanly crafted songs with surprising or stunning interludes. Need just the right balance of flash and focus. Too much noodling and you ruin the soup.

Norwegian power/prog metallers Pagan’s Mind seem to have struck the right balance over the years. Their first major release, Celestial Entrance, was an impressive slice of Dream Theater-worship, but some tracks’ serpentine, meandering melodies (and overwrought vocals) sacrificed flow for fireworks – a problem the band definitely cleared up on 2005’s much more focused (but still expansive) Enigmatic: Calling. Flash forward to 2011, and Pagan’s Mind has matured and grown even more. Heavenly Ecstasy offers appealing melodies, well-defined guitar riffs and more streamlined structures, and the entire package is immensely entertaining. The band definitely sounds more power than prog at this point, but Jorn Viggo Lofstad’s sizzling virtuoso displays are still here – they’re just largely saved for bridges and interludes, where they can pack more punch in a concentrated form.

Part of the success is due to a healthy degree of ’80s nostalgia, intended or not. Tracks like the galloping, ridiculously catchy first single “Intermission”, gloomy stunner “Walk Away in Silence” and album closer “Never Walk Alone” come off like supercharged power/prog versions of Pretty Maids, Dokken or Journey – no songwriting slouches, any of them. Heavenly Ecstasy crackles with big, bluesy, swaggering guitar riffs, unlike what you expect from the more pretentious strains of power/prog. Yet the guitars frequently have the space to launch skyward, becoming more nimble and heroic with every layer of the stratosphere. And then the spacey sci-fi synths throughout the album complete the transition from earthbound heaviness to glorious astral transcendence.

But that’s all starlight compared to the supernova powerhouse that is vocalist Nils K. Rue. The guy is a revelation, like Queensryche‘s Geoff Tate was back in the day, piercing and distinctive. Like the music, Rue is more focused and less theatrical than he was in the band’s early days, and that’s a good thing – he sings just what the song needs and doesn’t always go for prog-affectations or vibrato overkill. He carries the songs beautifully through the verses, but really shines in the juicy, hook-laden choruses. My favorite moments are when his chorus leads are paired with delicate piano, as on Eastern-inflected opener “Eyes of Fire” or the hurtling asteroid that is “Follow Your Way.” Rue also occasionally breaks into distorted screams which appear in two of the album’s most aggressive tracks, “Into the Aftermath” (yet another killer chorus) and “The Master’s Voice.” These aren’t not quite the growls that other power/prog bands have flirted with, more a mechanized rasp than anything, but it works, especially when paired with the band’s faster, more stuttering riffs.

Heavenly Ecstasy was a hell of a surprise, and delivers the same kind of melodic, cleanly-crafted ear candy as other genre favorites like Vanden Plas, Serenity or Threshold. Yes, it’s also less complex and dizzying than past efforts – sure to be a sore spot for longtime Pagan’s Mind fans who might see this as further simplification – but I think it’s also way more focused, effortless and listenable. I’m seriously addicted to this album, to the point where I haven’t played much else in days. And that makes Heavenly Ecstasy an instant add to both my to-buy and year-end lists. Ecstasy indeed.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
April 1st, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    Can’t wait to hear this!!!!!


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    here get started w/ this. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to this song this week. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMS9JZQKSA8&feature=related


  3. Commented by: stiffy

    Yeah this band was always aggressive and interesting enough to hold my interest. It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to them but this sounds great. Nice review as always Dr. J


  4. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    Sweet, thanks!


  5. Commented by: xBenx

    Sounds fuckin good!!!!!!!!!!!!


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